The special city committee considering what to do with the old Ray Winder Field met this morning and, when it was over, came out of a closed session and recommended that the neighboring University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences get the property. In the short run, that would mean a parking lot on the former park land.
The committee rejected outright a proposal to use the stadium for youth baseball. It considered the Little Rock Zoo’s plea for the land for a $10 million-plus expansion in its final deliberations. But former Mayor Jim Dailey, who headed the special committee, afterward sung UAMS’ praises and said it had no other room to expand. He claimed it had no land on the east, though it owns most of a block-wide strip between Markham and the Freeway that is not nearly used up by med center facilities. Dailey said the Zoo could expand across the Mills Freeway to the south.
Dailey touted UAMS’ benefit as an “economic engine.” It is indeed — welcome and valuable. But, really, must EVERYTHING in Arkansas always give way to this? Is nothing sacred, not even historic parkland? This argument, carried to its logical end, means not a square inch of War Memorial is safe from UAMS’ manifest destiny. You can be sure they’ll want more. Remember this, Stadium Commission, when they come for you.
The City Board is not bound to take the committee’s recommendation and there is certain to be division on the City Board, but UAMS’ clout in the community would have to make it the front-runner.
UPDATE: Intense business community lobbying has been underway on this issue. Mayor Stodola and Director Stacey Hurst talked with UAMS in the runup to its announced interest, my sources say. It would produce about $1.2 million for the city. Coincidentally, that’s just enough to replace revenue lost when the cratering of the financial markets made a refinancing bond issue impossible. Opponents of the move believe the pressure on UAMS to buy the land was brought so that War Memorial Park improvements long promised by some city leaders could be accomplished. In short, to build the park, they have to tear it down. But not without a fight. And maybe not without a true RFP process so that others might bid.
UPDATE: Here’s a link to the five committee members’ score sheets. Unfortunately, each is currently identified as only R1-5. The identities of each will not be released, so we’ll never know who low-rated baseball and high-rated UAMS. But it’ll give you an idea of what was seen as a strength or weakness.
Bottom line: Money talks. Doesn’t it always. UAMS was viewed as having the highest score on financial stability and also most “overall benefit” to the community. A parking lot. I think a Caterpillar plant would have scored high, too. What say we put the golf course up for sale on similar criteria. Money and jobs, what else is there to consider.
Back to what I wrote earlier: