Bart Hester and War Memorial Stadium

Below is some interesting insight from the Arkansas Times’ Max Brantley, via the Times’ Week in Review podcast. He discusses a move in state government to cut funding for Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium in half — a decision, that at this point, will be delayed until at least January 2018.

“I think War Memorial Stadium is a slightly different animal, pretty clearly this was a piece of red meat thrown to Senator Bart Hester from Northwest Arkansas. He’s made this a crusade to cut War Memorial Stadium commission expenses. He hates Little Rock, he hates Central Arkansas. He’s a Northwest Arkansas devotee. He’s a UA graduate. The University of Arkansas is abandoning Little Rock as a place to play football eventually. They’re down to one game a year through 2018 and they may go before then. It makes sense, I have no hard feelings about that. They don’t really care about War Memorial Stadium. It’s a state facility. Hester has tried to say we could spend this $400,000 on foster children. That’s absurd. It’s also hypocritical coming from Hester who fought the Medicaid expansion tooth and nail from beginning to end so he’s got no business talking about helping poor people because he’s against it.

The fact is that the state operates a lot of things at a loss. State parks, for one. We have a tax rebate program that goes to every convention center and arena in the state from the Pine Bluff convention center to the new one they’re going to build on campus at ASU where you get money back because people use these facilities and theoretically spur some economic activity.

War Memorial Stadium has the state high school band championship every year. It has a bunch of state high school football games. It has a lot of other stuff. I’m not the greatest defender ever of War Memorial but there’s a reason it gets state support along with with a lot of other things. This is just pure meanness on Hester’s part. I think it’s a shame that Asa Hutchinson has decided to throw him this bone and say “We’re going to come up with a plan for the future for War Memorial Stadium.”

As Kevin Crass who is a conservative republican lawyer and chairman of the stadium commission said, “There is no plan that can make a stadium like this profitable.” I’ll point you to Verizon Arena, which is a very successful arena and which has lots of big-paying shows every year, it breaks even and it breaks even only because taxpayers own the building and there was no bond call from the building. It operates at a break-even basis.

War Memorial Stadium cannot self-sustain itself without state support. I suspect, and I’ve written, that I believe what’s in mind here is to adopt republican insider Rex Nelson’s idea to convert War Memorial Stadium into a smaller stadium with a running track and have more soccer fields and build this indoor basketball court that the Little Rock Convention Visitors Bureau wants to bring in new basketball tournaments, but to have the city pay for it with the city sales tax. Thanks a lot, I’m not ready for Rex Nelson and Asa Hutchinson to come up with a plan that makes Little Rock burger customers pay for some facility to get the state out of paying for War Memorial Stadium. I think it’s crazy.

I note this week that the governor’s claims have landed a Chinese garment manufacturing plant for Little Rock that includes giving them a 65 percent cut in their property taxes. To get that property tax cut, it’s called ‘payment in lieu of taxes when you get an Act 9 bond issue to build a plant, typically you have to get the approval of your city board of directors and your school board and your Pulaski County quorum court to get that. Hutchinson went over to China and offered it, I guess just assuming we would roll over and take whatever he gives, but he’s going to give the Chinese $3.5 million to build a plant in Little Rock and he wants to take $400,000 away from War Memorial Stadium. It kind of hacks me off.”

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