Restaurant owner/chef Mark Abernathy (Loca Luna, Red Door) is up in arms about the proposal pending before the Little Rock City Board of Directors to call an election on issuing up to $73 million in bonds to pay for a renovation of Robinson Center.
The bonds would be backed by the existing two-cent tax on restaurant and hotel sales. No tax increase is required. Money is freed from the existing levy by expiration of an earlier bond issue. Abernathy would prefer voters be asked for a special sales tax to pay for the projects, as was done with Verizon Arena and Dickey-Stephens Park. These cash-and-carry projects saved significant amounts in interest charges over the 30-year life of bonds that would be issued for Robinson. However, the $68 million believed necessary would take three years to collect, not counting interest, from a penny sales tax applied in the city of Little Rock.
Abernathy has battled the Little Rock Advertising and Promotion Commission before over the size of the tax and its use. He contends, as he does again in this case, that the commission focuses more of its effort downtown than on restaurants elsewhere in the city. He’s sent a letter to others in the business and to A&P commissioners voicing his objections.
For now, Abernathy is just Abernathy. But he’s mobilized opposition at both local and state levels in the past to measures he’s viewed as harmful to his business.
Read on for his letters to others in the restaurant business and to commissioners, addressed to Commissioner Phiip Tappan:
LETTER TO INDUSTRY
YOUR NOT GONNA BELIEVE THIS !!!!!
The A & P Commission just introduced a plan to spend $ 68 million dollars of our industries tax dollars to renovate the Robinson Center. They want the restaurants and hotels, primarily in West Little Rock to fund this downtown project with our tax money for the NEXT 30 YEARS !!!!!
They are trying to rush and railroad this through before we get wind of it. They built the Verizon Arena (@ $ 20 million) and Dickey Stephens Baseball Park ($ 35 million) with a temporary general sales tax but we are too stupid to do the same thing. Obviously the A & P Commission and our industry representatives could care less about what we think. They have not communicated this to our industry or asked us what we think? THIS IS FOOLISH and OUTRAEGOEUS !!! Why in the world would you put this huge burden on restaurants and hotels when it could be paid for by the whole city like other projects with a one or two year special tax.
Do you realize how much money $ 68 million is? This will put the A & P Commission deep into debt. It is supposed to be the Advertising & Promotions Commission not the build another outrageous, ridiculously over-priced project downtown commission. If you are going to spend this outrageous amount then why not build a new facility in West Little Rock that benefit’s the businesses that pay most of this tax. This is just going to take more business away from West Little Rock and those hotels and restaurants will pay for it for 30 years!!!!
Think of all the grand soccer fields, ballparks, tennis and other entertainment facilities that could be build. Think of the help we could give to other theaters, museums and other venues with $ 68 million. Think of all the visitors that would bring in. We do not need the grandest downtown theatre in America.
They are trying to railroad this and cram it down our throats regardless of what we want as an industry. This is outrageous. This is not how our government is supposed to work. This is not how the A & P Commission and our representative are supposed to act. Three of the Commissioners own downtown businesses and would directly benefit from this. They should at least give us a chance to review this. They are pushing for a City Board vote next Tuesday. Can you accept that our A & P Commission is doing this to us? This smacks of clandestine, back-room politics. These people are better then this, they just have not thought this through. They know this is not how they should interact with our industry.
LETTER TO THE CHAIRMAN
I just learned about this huge project less then a week ago. Most people in our industries are just now learning about this. At the very least we have valid concerns and questions and we should have time to review this and respond. You owe our industry that and it’s your ethical responsibility as our representative to do that. To ram this thing through without giving us time to even think about it is wrong on so many levels. I guaranty people are going to be livid because they were blindsided by this. I know I am. This is a HUGE project. This is not something that you just toss out there and ask us to swallow blindly. This will create years of ill will that may never go away.
Honestly, this has little to do with renovating Robinson. It might make sense. It might make sense to look at other ways to spend this huge amount of money. It has everything to do with how to deal honestly and openly with the industries that fund this tax. You know the right thing to do is present this and give us time to review and feedback. YOU KNOW THAT IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO.
I have watched these things unfold for years. If we feel like you are trying to cram this down our throats (and that is exactly how we feel). This will get ugly. It always does. And it’s unnecessary. We should never be afraid to do the right thing. To take the time to include the people involved in the information and decision making process.
I am begging you to slow this down a little. Invite people in our industry to learn about this, review and respond back, to come to the next commissioners meeting. You know that is the right thing to. Railroading this is huge, huge mistake. We will fight it long and hard. The press will not like the way this has been handled. Questions of conflict of interest will rear it’s ugly head. Downtown vs. West Little Rock. What you might think is an automatic win will turn into a dogfight and people just might vote it down when they have a choice between funding Robinson or lot’s of other projects. How will this make the Commission look if you ram this through over the strong opposition of the industry that funds the tax.
Please feel free to call me when you can. I’d love to talk more. I am in the process of contacting as many people as I can. I’d love to be able to tell them that you guys are willing to do the right thing and give us a chance to look at this and work toward a solution.