Gov. Asa Hutchinson said this morning, as I reported earlier, that he would ask the legislature to make the War Memorial Stadium a part of the state Parks and Tourism Department, rather than a stand-alone entity.
He said this would provide more marketing support and access to grant money. It is a natural fit with the department’s tourism effort, he said.
He also said he’d fund through his discretionary money a study on “future needs and opportunities” for the stadium.
There was no mention of a specific commitment of state money to stadium operation under Parks control in the prepared remarks. He said the Stadium Commission likely would continue, as the History Commission had continued when he took control of that agency. The power of the History Commission was dramatically reduced, however. He also indicates he’d wouldn’t retreat from his plan to cut state spending in support of the stadium in half in the year beginning July 1, 2018. He said the cut in the second year of funding was a “reasonable” path to “self-sufficiency.” He noted that state support hadn’t existed until 10 years ago, but the Razorbacks also played many more games at the stadium in earlier years.
The governor said the stadium was a “premier event center” and added, “My commitment is to make sure that it remains strong and important part of future.”
Kane Webb, director of Parks and Tourism, described the move as “exciting.” “It’s what we do,” he said. “We’re in the hospitality business.” He cheered an “objective” and “outside” feasibility study. “I love War Memorial Stadium,” Webb said. He said he saw his first Razorback game there and played there as a Catholic High Rocket and covered many games there as a sportswriter.
Webb made these remarks after saying he knew money had driven the discussion.
Jerry Cohen, the stadium manager, said he was encouraged by the move. Brenda Scisson, a stadium commissioner and another former sports reporter, said “this was wonderful news for a stadium that is in need.”
Kevin Crass, chairman of the Stadium Commission, was unable to attend the news conference, but he issued a prepared statement after the news conference:
I was disappointed with the executive recommendation cutting our general revenue and I expressed that to the Governor and his staff. I was displeased by the way some legislators approached this issue, ignoring fiscal reality but determined to defund a war memorial. As Chairman though I have to put my personal feelings aside and do what is best for the future of War Memorial. Given my view that the Stadium cannot be viable without State funding, I am open to any ideas and the Governor has proposed what could be a good long term solution. He asked Director Kane Webb to discuss with me the idea of moving the Stadium under the Parks & Tourism umbrella. Over the last week we have had discussions that have been productive and encouraging.
The Governor has said publicly he wants War Memorial to thrive and I believe this proposal proves that to be true. There are many questions to be addressed, including the role of the Stadium Commission going forward. I have served three Governors as a member of the Commission. I am proud of the work we have done and I want to thank the many people who have supported our efforts, especially the last week. The opponents of the Stadium will likely not support the proposal on the table and I encourage our supporters to contact their legislators and urge them to support the nearly 70 year old monument.
The governor is expected to appear before the legislature’s budget committee today, where the stadium budget will be considered again. An effort to restore full funding failed on a vote last week when the committee lacked a quorum. There remains a strong element in the legislature that would like to see War Memorial money cut completely.
Noted: Kane Webb is a close friend of Rex Nelson, a Republican Party insider who’s long floated the idea of downsizing War Memorial and converting it and some surrounding city land into a center for youth sports. But that idea has generally included the idea that the city pay for it with sales taxes.
The governor said he’d like to see the Razorbacks continue to play at War Memorial, a commitment that expires in 2018 with one final game. Most expect the games to move to the larger stadium on campus in Fayetteville, which also is stocked with thousands of premium club and suite seats.
Kane Webb, too, said he’d like to see a continuing Hog presence in Little Rock, but the state had to be prepared for a future without them.
The governor declined to express an opinion on whether UALR should take up football and thus provide a paying tenant for the stadium.
UPDATE: The War Memorial Stadium budget came before the Joint Budget Committee Tuesday afternoon. The recommendation for the year beginning July 1, essentially the same as the current budget, was approved. But a vote on the recommendation to cut spending in half the next year, as the governor wanted, was put off until the fiscal session in January 2018. Who knows what the situation will be then? BUT….A delay of the formal budget chop has to be viewed as a win for stadium supporters.
Parks and Tourism issued this news release:
At a news conference Tuesday morning, Governor Asa Hutchinson laid out a proposal for the future viability and sustainability of Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium. The Governor’s proposal would move War Memorial under the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism (ADPT). The proposed move will provide stability and access to resources that have previously been unavailable. In addition to the move, the Governor will have a feasibility study conducted on the prospects for the long-term future of the stadium.
The Department of Parks and Tourism currently oversees Arkansas’s 52 State Parks and Museums. The Department also manages 180 historic properties and conducts more than 42,000 programs and events annually.
The proposal will be presented to the General Assembly during the 2017 legislative session.
Governor Asa Hutchinson issued the following statement:
“First of all, I want to thank Chairman Kevin Crass and the commission for the outstanding job they’ve done – and continue to do – for War Memorial Stadium and central Arkansas. From concerts and high school championships, to the ‘Miracle on Markham’, this venerable venue holds a special place with many Arkansans, especially our veterans, and has provided a lot of great memories along the way. In order to continue that success while maintaining the stadium’s viability for future generations, I am proposing that War Memorial Stadium be moved under the direction of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.
“Tourism is the second leading industry in Arkansas, and War Memorial Stadium has proven to be an important part of that industry – both culturally and economically. This move makes sense on a number of levels, but above all else, it will provide much needed stability while allowing access to Parks and Tourism’s abundant resources, including staff and marketing.
“In addition, I am proposing a feasibility study on the prospects for the long-term future of the stadium. It always helps to get a fresh set of eyes on something that’s so very familiar to so many of us.”
Kane Webb, Director of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, issued the following statement:
“I think it’s a very good fit, and an exciting opportunity for our department. It’s a natural in many ways. We have an administrative and operational support system that could be of great benefit for War Memorial. We speak the same language when it comes to operations such as resale, concessions, contract labor, ticket sales and other issues dealing with handling large and small groups of people.
“Not only can we provide War Memorial that kind of operational support, but we can aid in its marketing and promotional efforts.
“I also want to note the remarkable job that Kevin Crass, chairman of the WMS commission, and his commissioners have done with the stadium through a lot of hard work and creative thinking.
“This is an historic structure with a long, storied tradition; it’s full of great memories for generations of Arkansans. It’s important to note, too, perhaps most important, that it is the largest war memorial in the state dedicated to the servicemen and women who gave their lives fighting for this country.”
Kevin Crass, Chairman of the War Memorial Stadium Commission, issued the following statement:
“I am grateful to the Governor for his efforts to create a solution to the challenges War Memorial Stadium faces. I look forward to working with Kane Webb and the Department of Parks and Tourism to determine ways we can work together to maintain and advance War Memorial Stadium. The people of Arkansas, especially the veterans and those who are memorialized, deserve nothing less.”
Chris Bequette, a former Razorback football player and current member of the War Memorial Stadium Commission, issued the following statement:
“I believe Governor Hutchinson’s proposal will help continue the success of War Memorial Stadium and put it on the path to eventually no longer requiring a subsidy from Arkansas taxpayers.
“Being part of a family that has played many games at War Memorial, as a former Razorback I always looked forward to playing at this venerable stadium. It was an incredible experience with a rich tradition, and I hope, because of this new opportunity under Parks and Tourism, future generations will get to experience that same atmosphere – on the field or in the stands.”