Since today is Election Day, it is appropriate to look back at the three different campaigns to build, furnish, and restore Robinson Center Music Hall. (Note, there have been at least two other General Capital Bond elections which contained money for Robinson, but those were not stand alone elections about the auditorium and have thus been excluded.
On January 26, 1937, Little Rock voters were asked to approve three bond programs which would build a municipal auditorium, expand the City library, and construct a park for African Americans. Each issue had its own group of supporters, though they all encouraged “Yes” votes for each question. The “Forward Little Rock Committee” (sometimes referred to as the “Little Rock Forward Committee) was headed by W. H. Williams and led the charge for the auditorium. The bonds for the auditorium would be $468,000 in general obligation bonds which would be paid off between 1940 and 1971. This was toward a total cost of $760,000 for the entire project.
The campaign stressed the economic benefits from all the conventions which would be held in Little Rock after an auditorium was constructed. The focus was as much, if not more, on the exhibition hall space as it was about the music hall space. The Municipal Auditorium had the lowest level of support of all three issues, but it still passed overwhelmingly. It is interesting to note that the design featured in the campaign ad bears little resemblance to the project which was actually constructed.
The final vote total was 1,518 for and 519 against. The project passed in each of the City’s 23 precincts.
Because the project ran out of money, Robinson Auditorium opened in February 1940 with out any landscaping, furnishings in the meeting rooms, and a lack of equipment in various areas throughout the facility. To remedy this, additional bonds for the auditorium were added to a request put to the voters on April 2, 1940. The dollar amount was $30,000 for the completion of the project. The other two issues were additional fire equipment and establishment of an administrative building at the municipal airport.
The campaign for the new bonds used a similar structure and message as the 1937 election to build the auditorium. There were newspaper ads by the steering committee (this time simply called the Citizen’s Committee and led by Omar Throgmorton) and support from civic organizations. One thing very different from the 1937 campaign was the presence of an actual building. On Sunday, March 31, just two days before the election, there was an open house for the public to explore the edifice. From 1:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., members of various Little Rock Boy Scout troops led 4,000 visitors on tours of the auditorium. Visitors were shown all over the building; one scout calculated that the walking tour equated to two miles. Though most people were from Little Rock, the guest registry indicated visitors from California and Pennsylvania
On election day, the Auditorium bonds passed with a vote of 1,413 to 423. Every precinct in every ward of the city voted in favor of the new bonds.
In an effort to bring Robinson Center Music Hall into the 21st Century, the Advertising and Promotion Commission (which took over administration of Robinson in 1971) leadership decided to dedicate the renewal of their bonds to the renovation of Robinson. What had been built as a 1940 civic auditorium did not meet the artistic or convention needs of the 2010s. The Restore Robinson Committee was led by former LR Mayor Jim Dailey, civic leader Charles Stewart and A&P Commissioner Capi Peck. In campaign literature Mr. Stewart noted: “An upgraded Robinson will allow thousands of children and residents from Little Rock to enjoy future dance recitals, graduations and community gathering in a spectacular new performance and events center.”
Plans called for taking the historic building down to its exterior walls (except for the front lobby which remained). The music hall level was to be dropped 30 feet to street level. A new conference center would wrap around the northern facade of the structure.
The referendum passed with 5,183 For vs. 1,800 Against.
The building closed on July 1, 2014 with a ceremonial breaking of the stage flooring. On July 1, 2015, the reconstruction “topping out” ceremony took place. The ribbon cutting for the new structure will take place on November 10, 2016, at 10 a.m.