Posted on June 23, 2016
Published by El Dorado News Times
By Tia Lyons
EL DORADO — The El Dorado Works Board approved Tuesday two economic development funding requests, one of which was a nearly $10 million allotment for the massive project to develop an arts and entertainment district in Downtown El Dorado.
The other request of up $53,000 will go toward the installation of water and wastewater infrastructure for two industry prospects who are looking to move into the business park on Champagnolle Road.
Austin Barrow — president and chief operating officer of El Dorado Festivals and Events, Inc., who is implementing the $80 million plan for the new entertainment district — requested $9.47 million on behalf of EFE to help complete elements of phase one of the project, which is centered around Jefferson, Cedar and Locust streets in the Union Square District.
EFE will transform several buildings in the area — including the Rialto Theater and the Griffin Auto and McWilliams buildings — into a variety of performance venues, a restaurant and an art gallery.
Also included in the project is an amphitheater/open-air market and children’s playscape, all of which will be flush with the Griffin Auto building on the east.
The building itself will house a cabaret, restaurant and music hall.
Barrow said the Griffin Auto building, the adjacent amphitheater/open-air market, and playscape comprise phase one of the overall development project, explaining that the $9.47 million will focus on the latter three elements of the project.
Oil Heritage Park, which is located in the northwest corner of Jefferson and Cedar, is also part of phase one, and work has already been completed on a conversion project there, Barrow said.
In addition to the existing oil heritage monuments, the park now has seasonal plantings, benches, brick pathways, lighting and plaques and bronzes that detail El Dorado’s boomtown history.
Barrow said the playscape had not initially been part of the conceptual idea for the entertainment district, but in surveys that were conducted to develop the concept, a space for children consistently ranked at the top.
Plans for the playscape call for wet and dry play areas on more than one and a half acres of gated property on the east side of Hill Avenue, just south of First United Methodist Church.
The cost of the project has been set at $2.65 million.
The amphitheater, which is already under construction, has an anticipated cost of $6.3 million.
Combined with work already done to Oil Heritage Park, the combined cost of construction and land acquisition for all three elements of phase one is $9.47 million.
Barrow and Robert Reynolds, chairman of the EWB, explained that the funding request was broken into two parts: the remainder of $9.02 million the city approved in 2013 from the former El Dorado Forward economic development and an additional $3.2 million from the El Dorado Works tax, which voters approved last June.
The 2013 award was for downtown sidewalk improvements, property purchases and renovations.
Reynolds said 12 percent, or a projected $5 million, of the year-old El Dorado Works tax was dedicated to implementing the Festival City brand idea.
“I wanted to come to you with clear, quality plans with hard numbers, not with budgets and arm-waving ideas,” Barrow told board members.
He said earlier that $52 million has been raised in public and private funds, all within Arkansas.
Board member Alison Abson inquired about efforts to incorporate a marker signifying a piece of the city’s history along a section of Hill Avenue.
Janice Bush, representing the NAACP-El Dorado Branch, previously noted that the area used to be home to cluster of businesses and professional offices that were owned by and/or served the city’s African American community during the days of segregation.
Barrow said EFE representatives have met with Bush, who is working to form a committee to help come up with ideas and a design proposals to incorporate such a marker into plans for the entertainment district.
Abson and EWB member George Calloway, who was out of town Tuesday and joined the meeting by phone, said they would both like to serve on the committee.
In other business, the EWB voted in favor of the $53,000 request from the El Dorado-Union County Chamber of Commerce.
Mike Dumas, interim chamber president and chief executive officer, and Brandon Barnette, economic development associate, said the chamber is working with prospects who are looking to purchase and occupy two lots in the business park.
The land is owned by the Union County Industrial Board.
Dumas declined to name the prospects, saying the deals had not yet been finalized and were pending a commitment of community support for the needed water and wastewater infrastructure.
One prospect is an existing building who is looking to build a two-story headquarters building, Dumas said.
The other is a national distribution company (lighting and plumbing fixtures) with plans for a 25,000-square-foot facility that will start with eight to 10 employees and an eye toward future expansion.
Dumas said the work will include a grinder that will serve the two businesses, a wastewater line to feed into an existing lift station at the nearby El Dorado-Union County Recreation Complex, water-line tap and two fire hydrants.
He and Barnette said Union County is building an access road on the site that will tie into Commerce Drive and lead to Champangolle.
In response to a question by EWB member Greg Downum, Dumas said the water line will accommodate future business/industrial expansion in the area, but the wastewater line will not.
“We need to get some kind of utility grid out there or that property is no good, even if we have to make improvements in the future,” Hash said.
The mayor and Reynolds said the city used economic development tax dollars for similar projects for a Hugg and Hall expansion/relocation and to improve the recycled wastewater irrigation system that serves Lions Club Municipal Golf Course, the El Dorado Golf and Country Club golf course, and the El Dorado School District soccer fields.
Downum made a motion to approve the funding request on the condition that a simultaneous commitment is made by both parties follow through with their plans.
“Say, hypothetically, one guy backs out?” Hash asked.
“We’ll have to serve the other one,” Reynolds said, with Hash adding that the infrastructure will be in place for other interested prospects.