Polling info near on tax for arts center in North Little Rock; also add a potential contributor | Arkansas Blog

Polling info near on tax for arts center in North Little Rock; also add a potential contributor

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NICE VIEW: The Little Rock skyline is part of the appea l of North Little Rock property Mayor Joe Smith would like to see developed as a cultural center.
  • NICE VIEW: The Little Rock skyline is part of the appea l of North Little Rock property Mayor Joe Smith would like to see developed as a cultural center.

North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith
says he expects by the end of the week to have results of polling done by an unnamed private party about the receptiveness of city residents to a one-cent sales tax increase that would be split between public safety and support for a bond issue to build an arts center complex downtown on riverview property between Main Street and Verizon Arena.

Key players in the discussion include the Stephens family investment interests, major supporters of both the Arkansas Arts Center and the Foundation that owns the Arts Center's collection and owners of significant arts holdings that are loaned to the arts center.

Though no one has been willing to say much on the record, the Arts Center Foundation has indicated its belief that the current arts center needs work and possible expansion. It has  said its leaders have talked to people in both cities about the needs. Smith has spoken of a multiple-building project in the range of $100 million or more, matching a $60 million local bond issue with private contributions.

In addition to potential Stephens backing, I've learned that the project also  looks to the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation for a significant contribution if local matching money is available. The Foundation at one time had nearly a billion in assets from the sale of the Donrey Media corporation to the Stephens family. It is winding down and plans to distribute all its remaining assets — some $160 million according to the most recent federal tax return on file — in about three years. Its gifts to Arkansas have included major grants for the Razorback football stadium, UAMS projects and others. It has given to a number of arts enterprises in several states.

The concept in North Little Rock encompasses potential venues for the Arts Center, the Arkansas Repertory Theatre and the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, all now based in Little Rock. This has perturbed some on the Little Rock side of the river because of a belief that the cities wouldn't target each other's "assets." No organization has confirmed any discussions about potential moves.

Smith said, "Nobody believes in regionalism more than I do. What's good for Little Rock or North Little Rock is good for everyone — Maumelle, Sherwood and Bryant."

"I never recruited anything away from Little Rock," Smith said. "This group came to me." He said North Little Rock just happens to have a perfect piece of property, including a beautiful view of the Little Rock skyline, to create something "people across the world would want to see." The project would benefit all of Central Arkansas, he said.

UPDATE: Leslie Newell Peacock also reports on some related news trickling out at the Arkansas Arts Center. Center needs are being discussed.

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