by Max Brantley
Proposals for use of Ray Winder Field, the former minor league baseball park in War Memorial Park, are headed to the Little Rock Board of Directors, where sentiment is split. It will be a political process. The Zoo would like the land. UAMS was recommended by an ad hoc study group. A youth baseball proposal also was made.
UAMS has begun its campaign. A letter to friends, on the jump, outlines its case.
I heard the same arguments Friday from campus officials and I do not discount them. But I'll repeat myself: UAMS is a nearly unbelievable economic contributor to the city -- I don't think I exaggerate when I say as much as 10 percent of the city's population may depend on direct or indirect employment and spending by the campus. It contributes more than just money. It contributes public works, education, a staff important in its contributions to more than medicine, a worldwide reputation.
UAMS also happens to be at ground zero of a decision that will say something about the soul of this city. The question: Is there any value in the city that doesn't fall to money? You might say that question is unfair here, given the particular parcel of land and the particular bid to use it. But if this case can't be fairly seen as a symbol for the resolution of all future conflicts between green space and development, what concrete assurances are on offer -- and believable -- that we should see it otherwise.
To Our UAMS Friends and Supporters:
A special advisory board recently recommended that the Little Rock City Board sell its portion of Ray Winder Field to UAMS. About half of the almost seven-acre field is owned by the city and the other half is owned by the Arkansas State Hospital. Other groups asked the advisory panel to recommend that the city’s share of the property be used for two other worthwhile causes, youth baseball and the Little Rock Zoo.
I presented UAMS’ proposal to the city advisory panel and was joined by two prominent Arkansans, Jimmy Moses and Jerry Adams, both of whom supported our bid as the best thing for the economic vitality of the city and the health care of Arkansans.
The Little Rock City Board will vote soon on the advisory panel’s recommendation. This has been and will likely continue to be in the news. As a valued supporter of UAMS and its missions, I wanted you to know our rationale for bidding on this property.
As the state’s only academic medical center, UAMS has experienced enormous growth since 1985. In that time our employee count has grown from 3,881 to 10,236. More than 8,700 of our employees work in Little Rock and almost 5,000 live here. In the last eight years, the student population in our five colleges and graduate school has grown from about 1,850 to almost 2,700. We have committed to increasing our class sizes even more as the demand for physicians, nurses and other health care professionals increases with the aging of the baby boomers. In the last four years, we have experienced patient growth of 18 percent. UAMS receives more than $265 million annually in payments from patients outside of Arkansas. Patients come to UAMS from every county in Arkansas, every state in the union and many foreign countries. Thanks to the outstanding research done by members of our faculty, federal research dollars have increased to more than $60 million per year. All of this revenue stays in Arkansas.
The growth UAMS has experienced and the advances that growth has allowed us to make in fighting and treating disease have helped us attract and keep world-renowned faculty members. It has also allowed us to have a direct impact on the economy of the city and state through annual revenue of more than $1.1 billion and more than 270 new jobs created at local companies formed through UAMS BioVentures.
If UAMS’ clinical, education and research programs are to keep pace with the future needs of the people of Little Rock and Arkansas, they must continue to grow and thrive. But without adequate space, they won’t be able to do that. UAMS is landlocked on the west by the State Hospital and the Department of Health, on the north by Markham and on the south by I-630. We could expand to the east but only by encroaching on surrounding neighborhoods and buying up houses, one by one. We don’t want to do that because it would hurt the neighborhood and the city by removing existing homes from its tax base. The Ray Winder land is part of the last potential piece of property close to our campus.
Much has been made in the news about plans to turn that property into a parking lot. I assure you this is not the long-term plan for that property. While I don’t have a crystal ball and can’t tell you for sure what the ultimate use for Ray Winder will be, there are many, many possibilities. Those include a new institute, a continuing education building, a dental school, a biotechnology corridor, a center for public-private research collaboration or lodging for patients.
We hired an appraiser and a hazards expert to evaluate the Ray Winder property. They told us the current structure is full of lead paint and other hazards and is unusable in its current state. Because we appreciate the historical significance of the property we have made the commitment to preserve the scoreboard and other parts of the field for a future commemorative display. We have also offered to let youth baseball proponents use the stadium until we need the property, if they are willing to make modifications needed to make it safe.
This will be my last few months as chancellor. The candidates for my position, by all accounts, are wonderful and have the potential to build on what Chancellor Harry Ward began and so many of us have contributed to over the last 30 years.
UAMS plays a leading role in the Little Rock economy. It is committed to improving the health of Arkansans. Ours is an industry that isn’t in jeopardy of leaving the state. But it is one that must be nurtured and have the opportunity to expand. We hope the city board will agree and accept the recommendation of the advisory panel. Please support our position and, if possible, communicate your opinion to our city directors.
I. Dodd Wilson, M.D. Chancellor, UAMS