- Associated Press - Monday, October 17, 2016

EL DORADO, Ark. (AP) - Two checks - one in the amount of $5 million, pledged by Gov. Asa Hutchinson on behalf of the State of Arkansas and the other in the amount of $220,000 from the Delta Regional Authority - were presented last Tuesday during the inaugural dedication ceremony for the El Dorado Arts & Entertainment District.

Around 500 people gathered in the former Griffin Automotive Building at South Jefferson and Locust, to hear updates on plans for the arts and entertainment district and comments by Hutchinson; Chris Masingill, federal co-chair for the Delta Regional Authority; Terry Stewart, chief executive officer of El Dorado Festivals & Events, Inc.; Austin Barrow, chief operating officer for EFEI and Madison Murphy, founder and director of EFEI.

Barrow announced last week that Phase I of the festival district, which will include repurposing the Griffin Building for a restaurant/cabaret in the front of the building and a concert hall, designed to seat 2,500 people, in the back of the former automotive building, will be completed by September 2017. Phase I will also include an amphitheater, farmers market, splash pad and children’s playscape to be located behind First United Methodist Church on Hill Street.

The El Dorado News-Times (https://bit.ly/2evLPTd ) reports that Phase II will include restoration and repurposing of the McWilliams Building for an art gallery and restoring the Rialto Theater on Cedar as a multi-use facility to seat 850 people.

The El Dorado Arts & Entertainment District will connect the educational part of El Dorado and South Arkansas Community College to the historical downtown district, Barrow said, with a six-block area creating the theater complex.

The arts district is expected to provide venues to showcase nationally recognized musicians, touring Broadway shows, comedians, world-class traveling art exhibits, outdoor festivals and a farm-to-table restaurant in the central hub of the district.

“This is the most significant, transforming thing to me,” Stewart, who previously served as the president of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, said during the ceremony. He thanked members of Boomtown Sounds, a group of well-known local musicians, for performing for the ceremony and announced they were the first act to perform in the future music hall.

“This has been a long time coming,” Barrow said, explaining that he has been working on the project for five years. He thanked El Dorado Mayor Frank Hash and members of the El Dorado City Council, elected federal, state and city officials, construction companies - Nabholz and Milam - and other local companies that have contributed to making the vision of the arts district a reality.

He also thanked El Dorado’s “cultural warriors,” and asked those who had ever served with the South Arkansas Arts Center, South Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and Main Street El Dorado, to stand for recognition. “All these groups are working with us,” Stewart said.

It was announced last week that over $65.5 million of the $80+ million needed for the arts district has been raised for the project in donations and pledges from Murphy Oil, Murphy USA, The Walton Family Foundation, the City of El Dorado Economic Development Tax, The Murphy Foundation, Deltic Timber Corp. and numerous individual donors.

El Dorado Festivals & Events, Inc. was created in 2011 after a study of the city was completed by developer Roger Brooks. EFEI spent the next three years developing a credible plan to create a regional arts and entertainment district centered around El Dorado’s historic Rialto Theater.

“This kind of project is important to recruiting new talent and retaining existing talent,” Masingill said, adding that the arts district will increase the local tax base and support the economy of this area. “Thanks for the community involvement and leadership,” he said

“There is no better job than governor of the State of Arkansas,” Hutchinson told the crowd gathered for the ceremony. He said Madison Murphy had told him about the project and said state support would be needed. “When I saw that the people of El Dorado had voted to tax themselves (for economic development), along with private money for the project and the leadership talent in Terry Stewart and Austin Barrow - I could see that this will work,” he said.

“I’m glad the state can participate (by contributing for the arts district). It’s important to partner with the state,” the governor said, explaining that the district will add to the economic value of this area, improve the quality of life and is also providing jobs for Arkansas contractors and workers.

“This project reflects the progress of El Dorado - to see El Dorado thrive and grow and this project reflects the commitment to the project - which shows the value of arts, culture and entertainment. I like arts and music and I will come back,” Hutchinson said.

He also told those at the ceremony that the unemployment rate in Arkansas is now 3.9 percent, the lowest in several years and over 54,000 jobs have been created since he became governor. “We outgrew Florida, Texas and California,” he said.

The governor said the new arts district will enhance tourism in the state, which is the second leading industry. He said in 2015, 28 million people visited Arkansas and spent $7 billion in the state. “This entertainment district is a key to bring more visitors to the state,” he said.

Tuesday’s event concluded with a ceremonial signing of the topping beam and entertainment provided by El Dorado’s Jason D. Williams.


Information from: El Dorado News-Times, https://www.eldoradonews.com

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