Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


Little Rock Look Back: LR votes to Restore Robinson!

restore-robinson-121013On Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, voters of Little Rock overwhelmingly chose to renovate the historic Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium.

By a vote of 5,183 For and 1,800 Against, Little Rock citizens approved a plan to use a portion of the city’s existing 2 percent restaurant and hotel tax to repay bonds for a renovation of Robinson Center.  The campaign was chaired by businessman Charles Stewart, restaurateur Capi Peck and former LR Mayor Jim Dailey.

Robinson has long been a landmark in central Arkansas. Construction of the Joseph T. Robinson Memorial Auditorium began in 1938 (after a December 1937 groundbreaking under a deadline) and officially opened February 1940. The structure was a PWA (Public Works Administration) project, and is an excellent example of the Art Deco style architecture of the time. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.

The facility is owned by the City of Little Rock and managed by the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The 1940 structure suffered from a wide array of deficiencies, including stage loading and unloading, stage size, acoustical insufficiency, dressing room access and inadequate wing space within the performance hall. Also, structural, mechanical and electrical issues, public circulation and outdated conference center spaces existed within the facility.

Knowing the center is in need of major upgrades if the facility is to continue to serve central Arkansas into the future, the Little Rock Advertising and Promotion Commission (LRA&P) empanelled a Robinson Center Concept Team in October 2011. The group was tasked with evaluating all aspects of the existing facility, researching user needs, proposing conceptual solutions and estimating the cost and construction schedule of the proposed additions and renovations. The concept team was led by Mike Steelman of SCM Architects, PLLC, and included representatives from WD&D Architects, Shuler Shook Theatre Planners, Jaffe-Holden Acoustical Consultants, TME Inc. Mechanical and Electrical Engineers, ECI Inc. Structural Engineers, McClelland Consulting Engineers Inc. Civil Engineers, East Harding Construction, HVS Consulting and Hunt Construction Group.

Additionally, stakeholder and tenant organizations representing the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Celebrity Attractions of Tulsa, Oklahoma and the Double Tree Hotel participated in the planning. The concept team findings were presented publicly on June 5, 2012.

On January 17, 2013 the LRA&P announced the selection of Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects, partnered with Ennead Architects, as the architectural and design team for the future renovations. On March 28, 2013 CDI Contractors LLC, partnered with Hunt Construction Group, were selected by LRA&P as the general contractors and construction managers.

On September 23, 2013 the final schematic renderings and cost estimates were presented publicly. The schematic plans depict major interior upgrades within the performance hall including additional volume to create a two-balcony setup, increased lobby space, acoustical improvements, theatrical upgrades, loading dock expansion, a larger stage area, and new dressing room facilities. Additionally, an enhanced modern ballroom and small conference center was unveiled. New technology, mechanical systems, and outdoor plaza spaces were included in the presentation.

Construction would begin on July 1, 2014.  It reopened on schedule and on budget on November 10, 2016.

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RobinsoNovember: Barry Travis

bl-travisThe new patrons lounge in Robinson Center is named in honor of Barry L. Travis.  He retired as CEO of the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau in 2006 after 35 years with the bureau.  (His retirement took effect on February 9, 2006, the anniversary of his start date in 1971.)

Over his 35 years at LRCVB, Travis was involved with the agency taking over Robinson in late 1971 as well as the renovations and creation of the convention center from 1972 to 1974.  Over the years, he led efforts to upgrade Robinson and to garner support from voters during two Little Rock capital bond elections.  He was also successful in LRCVB bond elections to build and later expand Statehouse Convention Center.

In recognition of his efforts, Travis received the Henry Award from the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism in 1989. That goes to the top person in the tourism industry in the state.  In 2002, he was inducted into the Arkansas Hospitality Association’s Tourism Hall of Fame.  In 2005, he received the Maurice Lewis Lifetime Achievement Award.


RobinsoNovember: Auditorium Commission Abolished

aud-com-abolOn November 16, 1971, the City of Little Rock Board of Directors abolished the Auditorium Commission which oversaw Robinson and transferred duties to the Advertising and Promotion Commission. This was done with the full support of both commissions.  The transfer took place immediately, with all assets and loose ends to be wrapped up by December 15, 1971.

With the adoption of a hospitality sales tax, by state statute, Little Rock had to have an A&P Commission.  By 1971 plans were afoot to use the A&P tax to build a conference center using some of the existing space in Robinson and adding space.  It did not make sense to have two separate commissions overseeing the same building.

For the Auditorium Commission members, it was possibly a relief.  For years, overseeing the building had been a quiet duty.  But with the social changes of the 1960s, they had been confronted ending the policy of segregation as well as changes in content and subject matter of acts booked at Robinson.  Being agents of social change was doubtful what any of them had envisioned when they joined the commission.  Emily Miller had been a member of the body since January 1940 and others had been on it for many years.

Transferring Robinson to the A&P Commission ushered in a new era for the building. It saw increased booking of meetings which led to a better revenue stream.  The use of the A&P tax would mean the opportunity to give the building an upgrade from 1972 to 1974.

Robinson would eventually prove to be inadequate for all of Little Rock’s needs, which led to the creation and subsequent expansion of Statehouse Convention Center.  But the action 45 years ago today set the stage for the transformation Robinson has undergone as it reopened last week.


RobinsoNovember: Election Days in 1937, 1940 and 2013

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.

1937-robinson-election1937

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.

 

1940-robinson-election1940

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.

 

restore-robinson-20132013

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.


New Rooftop Terrace planned for Robinson Center

RCMH EXT-01_Aerial1The Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau (LRCVB) is now booking events for the all-new Robinson Conference Center, set to reopen in November of this year.  Located on the north side of the building, the Grand Ballroom and adjoining meeting rooms offer magnificent views of the Arkansas River.  With seamless connectivity to the DoubleTree Hotel’s meeting space, the center offers flexibility for convention activities, meetings, and banquets.  For booking information, please call 501-255-3323.

Earlier this week, the Little Rock Advertising and Promotion Commission (LRA&P) also approved the addition of a 5,800 sq. ft. outdoor terrace.  The terrace was part of the original project plans, however, but it was removed from the plans in 2014 during contract negotiations due to budget constraints.  Now, less than eight months from completion, LRCVB and LR A&P are able to add the finished outdoor space back into the project.  The space will offer amazing views of the Arkansas River and sits on the highest level of the new conference center, and its addition will not impact the project’s completion date.

“We are so pleased with the progress of this complex project.  Our project team, including architects Polk Stanley Wilcox and Ennead, construction manager CDI/Hunt joint venture, owner’s representatives Mike Steelman of SCM architects, and a host of sub-contractors, have continued to provide meticulous attention to detail and countless effort to this project.  The all-new Robinson Center is going to be a show-piece for Little Rock and all of Central Arkansas,” said Gretchen Hall, President & CEO of LRCVB.

For more information on the Robinson Center Second Act renovation and expansion project, visit www.RobinsonCenterSecondAct.com and follow us on https://www.facebook.com/pages/Robinson-Center/276515585880 and https://twitter.com/RobinsonCenter.

Robinson Construction Facts to Date:

  • Over 10,878 tons of material have been recycled, representing 90% of the waste material diverted
  • 1,800 tons of steel has been erected
  • 3,000 cubic yards of concrete has been placed
  • 1,104 individuals have gone through CDI/Hunt Safety Orientation
  • 75% of the project subcontractors are local
  • 250,000 +/- man hours have been utilized to date

Robinson History

The historic Robinson Auditorium has long been a landmark in Central Arkansas.  Construction of the Joseph T. Robinson Memorial Auditorium began in 1937 and officially opened in February 1940.  The structure was a WPA (Works Progress Administration) project, and is an excellent example of the Art Deco style architecture of the time.  The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.  The facility is owned by the City of Little Rock and managed by the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau.


Vote Today FOR Little Rock’s Arts+History

Feb9electionlogoToday is Election Day for the Campaign for Arts + History.

By voting FOR on Tuesday, February 9th Little Rock residents can expand and enhance our Arkansas Arts Center, MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History, and MacArthur Park. Your vote FOR on February 9th will upgrade facilities and public spaces to ensure the Arkansas Arts Center keeps its accreditation by issuing a bond backed by an existing hotel tax on out of town visitors.

Polling sites are open from 7:30am to 7:30pm.

  • Your for vote will keep the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock accredited, with updates to aging facilities over 50 years old, bringing in more world-class exhibitions and educational opportunities.
  • Your for vote will help expand and enhance the Arkansas Arts Center and improve the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History by providing much needed help to aging facilities and addressing landscaping needs in MacArthur Park.
  • Your for vote will spur community involvement by increasing educational opportunities, attracting more world class exhibits, expanding art classes and renovating the Children’s Theatre.
  • Your for vote will establish a public/private partnership between public funding and private donations that ensures our city can expand and enhance the Arkansas Arts Center, MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History and MacArthur Park.

In legalese: An issue of bonds of the City of Little Rock, Arkansas in one or more series in the maximum aggregate principal amount of Thirty-Seven Million, Five Hundred Thousand Dollars ($37,500,000.00) for the purpose of financing a portion of the costs of improvements to MacArthur Park, including particularly, without limitation, renovations and additions to, and furnishings and equipment for, the Arkansas Arts Center and renovations and equipment for the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History, including any necessary parking, landscaping, signage, drainage, lighting, road and utility improvements in MacArthur Park. The bonds will be payable from and secured by a pledge of the collections of the taxes levied by the City at an aggregate rate of 2% upon the gross receipts or gross proceeds derived and received from the renting, leasing or otherwise furnishing of hotel, motel, bed and breakfast or short-term condominium or apartment rental accommodations for sleeping for profit in the City, pursuant to Ordinance Nos. 21,140 and 21,141 adopted December 1, 2015. The proceeds of the bonds will also be used to provide a debt service reserve and pay costs of issuing the bonds.


Early voting now through Feb 8 for Arts+History in Little Rock

 

Feb9electionlogoEarly voting started yesterday for the February 9 special election for Arts + History in Little Rock.

By voting FOR on Tuesday, February 9th Little Rock residents can expand and enhance our Arkansas Arts Center, MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History, and MacArthur Park. Your vote FOR on February 9th will upgrade facilities and public spaces to ensure the Arkansas Arts Center keeps its accreditation by issuing a bond backed by an existing hotel tax on out of town visitors.

Early voting takes place at the Pulaski County Election Commission headquarters at 501 West Markham (across from City Hall) from 8:00am to 5:00pm through February 8 (no weekend early voting).

On Election Day (February 9), regular polling sites will be open from 7:30am to 7:30pm.

  • Your for vote will keep the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock accredited, with updates to aging facilities over 50 years old, bringing in more world-class exhibitions and educational opportunities.
  • Your for vote will help expand and enhance the Arkansas Arts Center and improve the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History by providing much needed help to aging facilities and addressing landscaping needs in MacArthur Park.
  • Your for vote will spur community involvement by increasing educational opportunities, attracting more world class exhibits, expanding art classes and renovating the Children’s Theatre.
  • Your for vote will establish a public/private partnership between public funding and private donations that ensures our city can expand and enhance the Arkansas Arts Center, MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History and MacArthur Park.

In legalese: An issue of bonds of the City of Little Rock, Arkansas in one or more series in the maximum aggregate principal amount of Thirty-Seven Million, Five Hundred Thousand Dollars ($37,500,000.00) for the purpose of financing a portion of the costs of improvements to MacArthur Park, including particularly, without limitation, renovations and additions to, and furnishings and equipment for, the Arkansas Arts Center and renovations and equipment for the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History, including any necessary parking, landscaping, signage, drainage, lighting, road and utility improvements in MacArthur Park. The bonds will be payable from and secured by a pledge of the collections of the taxes levied by the City at an aggregate rate of 2% upon the gross receipts or gross proceeds derived and received from the renting, leasing or otherwise furnishing of hotel, motel, bed and breakfast or short-term condominium or apartment rental accommodations for sleeping for profit in the City, pursuant to Ordinance Nos. 21,140 and 21,141 adopted December 1, 2015. The proceeds of the bonds will also be used to provide a debt service reserve and pay costs of issuing the bonds.