Now that North Little Rock voters have OK’d adding a penny to their sales tax to fund a new ballpark for the Arkansas Travelers, there are all kinds of possibilities for raising Central Arkansas’s quality of life.
We wonder if Little Rock would dare add even a quarter-cent sales tax to raise enough money to fund the Little Rock Zoo’s ambitious plans. They need a few million here, there and everywhere for what the zoo’s board chairman, Blair Allen, showed us a few weeks ago: an elaborate African penguin home, a large amphitheater, expanded homes for the existing animals, more animals.
It’s already one of the state’s leading tourist draws, and easily one of the best spots for families to spend a day, and yet I hear constant gripes about the zoo’s condition, size and lack of attractions compared with other metropolitan zoos.
The African penguin project, which was kicked off recently, is a good start. The St. Louis Zoo’s penguin exhibit is one of its favorite stopping points for the zoo train for both kids and adults, and everybody loves a 48-degree building to slip into for a minute during a 96-degree summer day.
Ray Winder Field needs the wrecking ball and the zoo needs its land for expansion. An idea being tossed around is moving the elephant exhibit there and leaving some of the stands for the crowd to watch elephant performances.
Whatever is decided, the sentimentality some have for Ray Winder Field just astounds. If Ebbets Field in Brooklyn couldn’t escape demolition, surely it’s no surprise tiny Ray Winder Field can’t. You don’t save a rundown bunch of stands and say, “that’s where we played pro baseball in Little Rock for 70-something years.”
What you do is join with North Little Rock and make the new ballpark the best it can be, reflecting on the 100-plus years of pro baseball in the Capital City and making the next century even more special in a beautiful, fan-friendly stadium. We’d hope a small portion of the new park would be dedicated to the great players who toiled here, ever so briefly, before going on to major league fame, as well as a tip of the cap to those like John Young, who were great Travs players and great guys. It would be nice if banners could be hung from the concourse with images of such legends as Richie Allen and Fergie Jenkins, or such modern-day names as Ray Lankford and Bernard Gilkey.
Perhaps some of the state’s greats — Dizzy Dean, Brooks Robinson, Bill Dickey — could be acknowledged, there as well as in the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame that’s a few dollars shy of completion at Alltel Arena.
Let this new ballpark offer anything in concessions a fan could desire. Align with Joe Kleine and Corky’s to serve great barbecue nachos, and repair any problems with the Budweiser folks and restore the King of Beers to the game, while keeping all the other choices in place. Have the designers work in an area of the park that still caters to the bleacher fans where tickets are cheaper, but make the box-seat package worth the expense it’s going to require by offering “club” programs of special concessions, a TV room and the like — the kind of amenities you find elsewhere. Offer a kids area for when their attention wanes, and provide an outfield concourse where fans can take in the entire expanse of the park a la Autozone Park in Memphis.
Here’s hoping more than a couple of restaurants will be operating on North Little Rock’s Main Street in 2007 for before- and after-game stopovers. We’ve heard speculation that the Cornerstone Deli and Pub space may reopen as a New Orleans-style restaurant, and the owners of the Cornerstone, the Kent brothers, have said they’ll reopen next door in a space called “the Hive.” There isn’t a better restaurant in Pulaski County than Ristorante Capeo, where Travs general manager Bill Valentine is often spotted.
Thanks to North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays’ vision and drive, as well as Warren Stephens’ donation of the land for the stadium, one big wheel is in motion, with others in position to turn with it. Who else is willing to step up to the plate?
n Speaking of folks with drive, David Bazzel helped pull a group of folks together to get the Little Rock Touchdown Club started last year, and it grew enormously from 45 people at the first meeting to nearly 300 people at the Touchdown Club’s season-ending banquet.
The club kicks off this season on Monday, Aug. 22, at its new location, the Embassy Suites in West Little Rock. The Football Kickoff and Preview luncheon will begin at 11:30 a.m. A one-year membership to the club is $30 and each luncheon is $15. Meetings are held weekly through the football season and monthly from January to April.
We’ve heard that one guest lined up for this year is Butch Davis, the former Cleveland Browns and Miami Hurricanes coach who played and began his coaching career under Frank Broyles at Arkansas. Davis’ name has been bandied about as a possible Houston Nutt successor at Fayetteville, but a coaching change seems unlikely to happen after this season, no matter the record, since Nutt landed the commitment of Springdale quarterback Mitch Mustain earlier this week.
For more information about the Touchdown Club, call club manager Jacque Good at 663-1836 or visit www.LRTouchdown.com.
The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and the Clinton Presidential Center announced on Tuesday a partnership that will bring a series of chamber music concerts to the center’s Great Hall. The program, “River Rhapsodies,” will feature music on selected Tuesdays beginning at 7 p.m., with seating limited to 250 people. Also, Cafe 42 in the Presidential Center will be open with a special menu for concert-goers, and the sunset skyline of Little Rock will offer a nice backdrop to the music.
The first concert is Oct. 11 featuring the Quapaw Quartet, titled “Grieg & Glass.” The Rockefeller and Sturgis Quartets will be featured on other dates playing Mozart, Vivaldi, Haydn and Schubert.
Other concert dates are Nov. 22, Jan. 17, March 14, and April 11. A season ticket for five shows is $80, while individual concerts are $20. Call the Symphony at 666-1761 for tickets or more information.
We’re already in week 5 of the Arkansas Times Entertainment 120, our new streaming Internet radio show on WAIradio.com.
This week’s show aired live on Wednesday, but it’s available on Thursday and Friday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and on the website’s archive, and from all indications it will be a great one, featuring two rock acts that figure soon to make a national splash and which will be playing shows in Little Rock this weekend.
The first hour will be dedicated to Fort Smith’s Starkz; the second will feature the American Princes and guitarists Collins Kilgore and David Slade.