Pact for stadium study clears legislative panel

A legislative panel signed off Wednesday on the state Department of Parks and Tourism’s proposed $160,000 contract with a Texas-based company for a feasibility study on the future of War Memorial Stadium.

The department’s proposed contract with Conventions, Sports & Leisure International LLC of Frisco, Texas, cleared the Legislative Council’s Review Subcommittee with no questions from any lawmakers. The proposed contract runs through April and the department will use trust money to pay for it, according to the Bureau of Legislative Research.

“The overall goal of the feasibility study is to provide more detailed information and recommended options that will help determine the viability and sustainability of the War Memorial Stadium,” the bureau said in a report to the legislative panel.

War Memorial Stadium opened in 1948 and has played host to major college football, concerts and other events for more than 60 years, according to its website. But no decision has been made by officials at the University of Arkansas regarding whether the Razorbacks will play football games at the Little Rock stadium beyond the contract through 2018 season, said Kevin Trainor, an associate athletic director at UA.

At the behest of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, the Legislature this year enacted legislation melding what was the free-standing War Memorial Stadium Commission into the Department of Parks and Tourism. The Republican governor has called the move “a natural fit.”

The governor also has proposed cutting the stadium’s general-revenue budget in about half, to $447,647 in the fiscal year starting July 1, 2018, because he said he wants the agency to become more self-sufficient. The Legislature will consider that request during its 2018 fiscal session.

Conventions, Sports & Leisure International and Victus Advisors in Park City, Utah, submitted proposals to the Office of State Procurement by the submission deadline in January, according to state records.

Parks and Tourism Director Kane Webb said he, stadium Manager Jerry Cohen and former commission Chairman Gary Smith evaluated the proposals from the two companies, and Conventions, Sports & Leisure International “clearly had a more detailed plan.”

“I liked the fact that they had done a lot of stadiums and the breadth of what they have done from big ones to small ones,” he said. “They understand what we were looking for, which was not just whether we need to make any modifications to the stadium or how we could use it in different ways. We also asked them to take a look at the property as a whole [and] how it sits in the market and neighborhood.”

Among Conventions, Sports & Leisure International’s clients are AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas; the Georgia Dome in Atlanta; the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans; Baylor Stadium in Texas; and Memorial Stadium in Columbia, Mo., according to its website.

Webb said the company is ready to start work on the feasibility study and he hopes to have a final report within four or five months.

“It is safe to say we’ll have some sort of public proposal to show what they found and present it our commission … and see what happens,” he said, referring to the Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission. “I’m hoping they are going to say here’s what other stadiums have done to increase business, here are some suggestions going forward to increase business, and possibly change the configuration of the stadium physically.”

Last week, the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council awarded $1.1 million in a conservation and historic preservation grant to the War Memorial Stadium Commission to upgrade its scoreboard and two video boards in fiscal 2018. State law directs the council, created in 1987, to award its funds — from a real estate transfer tax — for acquisition, management and stewardship of state-owned lands or the preservation of state-owned historic sites, buildings, structures or objects. The council also can award funds for work on objects to be determined of value for recreational or conservation purposes.

Webb said the company is ready to start work on the feasibility study and he hopes to have a final report within four or five months.

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