Leaders of the Committee for Arts and History, a group appointed by Mayor Mark Stodola to campaign for a bond issue to make improvements at the Arkansas Arts Center, MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History and MacArthur Park itself, gathered at City Hall today to remind voters that early voting has begun, and then walked across the street to the Pulaski County Election Commission office, the early polling site, to vote.
The 30-year MacArthur Park Improvement bonds are expected to produce around $37.5 million, most of which will go renovation and new construction at the Arts Center. The bonds will be paid off by 2 new cents added to the hotel tax by the City Board of Directors in December.
Supporters stress that the vote is not to raise taxes but to dedicate taxes already levied on visitors to the city. Polls will be open citywide on Feb. 9.
The Arkansas Arts Center Foundation, a nonprofit created to endow the Arts Center and which owns the art collection, will launch a capital campaign to match the bond revenues should the bonds be approved by voters. Arts Center leaders hope to invest $60 million or so into the Arts Center to make the galleries, theater and museum school a top-notch attraction to tourists that, along with a spruced-up military museum and MacArthur Park, should enhance Little Rock’s economy and reputation. The most important role of the museums, however, is to provide the residents of Little Rock with first-rate cultural offerings, and that is the best argument to vote yes on the bond issue.
Should the bond issue pass, as I wrote in the cover story “Let’s Rebuild Our Arts Center,” the City Board of Directors, which appoints the Arts Center’s board of directors, should make sure that the public plays a larger role in the Arts Center’s operation, by designating board seats for people who can’t bring in big dollars, but can bring in big ideas. It’s true that the bonds will be paid by hotel taxes, rather than taxes levied on the general public, but those are two pennies that won’t be available for other city promotions. That makes the Arts Center beholden to the public. In turn, the city is beholden to the Arts Center: It’s a city property and its upkeep is a city responsibility.
Should the bond issue fail, one of the two new hotel tax pennies will go to parks and the other will be spent as the Little Rock Advertising and Promotion Commission sees fit.