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Arkansas State Fair future in Little Rock up for grabs

The Arkansas State Fair is looking at options for the future, including the possibility of leaving Little Rock and Barton Coliseum after 70 years on Roosevelt Road.
The Arkansas State Fair is looking at options for the future, including the possibility of leaving Little Rock and Barton Coliseum after nearly 70 years on Roosevelt Road.

A classified ad in Sunday’s Arkansas Democrat Gazette lists a “request for proposal,” or RFP, from the Arkansas Livestock Show Association seeking interest for “investigation and evaluation for the location of a new fairgrounds complex.”

The RFP seeks locations with a minimum of 350 contiguous usable acres, land for future expansion and interstate/highway access.  It also asks that submissions be within 35 miles of the existing livestock show grounds.  That opens up the possibility to host the Arkansas State Fair in communities outside Pulaski County.

The Hall of Industry building is 33-thousand square feet, but the State Fair's General Manager Ralph Shoptaw says it should be three times that size to lure in big events throughout the year to keep money coming in.  Shoptaw says the off-season revenue should equal what the fair makes.  Right now, it's only a third.

The Arkansas State Fair wants to double its land, and the calls are already going out to potential new suitors.

Cabot mayor Eddie Joe Williams tells FOX16 News he was contacted in June by someone associated with the state fair about the availability of land in Lonoke County.

“We do have some locations available in Cabot along Highway 67/167,” Williams says.  “We’re definitely interested, it would be a huge boost for a small community.”

Williams described the contact with the state fair as informal and consisted of one phone conversation, but declined to identify who he spoke with.  He says he plans to discuss the idea in committee meetings in the next month and get direction from the city council on whether to submit a proposal.

“It’s certainly an entertaining possibility though,” Williams added.

Bryant, Benton and Sheridan say the Livestock Association has not contacted them about possible sites.  North Little Rock's mayor says he hasn't heard from the association recently, but he's wanted the fair to move north of the river in the past. 

Little Rock wants it to stay put.  The city made a presentation about a month ago offering more land to keep the fair's dollar-a-year land lease going.  "Some of those buildings that they have out there are WPA-era buildings, and they could apply for some state monies to help with the improvement of those facilities, so we're doing everything we can to be a partner with them," says Mark Stodola.

Shoptaw agrees the fairgrounds are rich in history.  "There's some nostalgia there.  You know, I've run into people everyday that have said that I went to my first concert in Barton Coliseum, I mean just regularly," he recalls.

This isn't the first time this has come up.  To start from scratch, the price tag is $150-million.  Mayor Stodola thinks it'll cost $30 to $40-million to improve what's already there.

Ralph Shoptaw, president and GM of the Arkansas Livestock Show Association, tells FOX16 content partner Talk Business that his group is exploring its options.  Shoptaw thinks that a renovation of the existing space could be a $57 million undertaking.

"We're out of space,” says Shoptaw. “Our executive committee thought, with that kind of money, it would be a good idea to see what our options are.  We’ve been here for 70 years,” he said.  “Eventually, we’ll have to do a feasibility study to see how we pay for it somehow.”

"We're small, and over the last five or six years, our numbers have grown during the fair and we've just outgrown our facilities," he adds.

Proposals must be received by 4pm on September 15th.  Once collected, the association’s board will review and begin a more formal process to consider possibilities. 

The fair wouldn't go anywhere for three to five years, if it moves.  At this point, it's all up in the air.
 
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