WICKED generates a lot of Green in Little Rock

The Broadway sensation WICKED flew out of Robinson Performance Hall on Sunday, January 19th after a record-setting 24-performance return engagement in Little Rock, presented by Celebrity Attractions. Welcomed by the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau, WICKED’s third play in Little Rock grossed over $3.9 million in sales and was seen by more than 50,000 patrons.

Based on a statistical analysis by The Broadway League, the New York City-based national trade association for the Broadway industry, the local economic impact of this year’s engagement of WICKED in Little Rock can be estimated at over $12.7 million. This estimate includes economic impact generated by patrons, tourism, hotels, dining at local restaurants, parking and more. It also includes the cost of local supplies and local labor involved in the production.

The cultural phenomenon returned by popular demand after successful runs in 2010 and 2013, providing a significant impact on the local economy once again. “We are overwhelmed by the support of Broadway and by the love Arkansans have for WICKED. The show has certainly turned Little Rock into the Emerald City,” says Kristin Dotson, CEO of Celebrity Attractions. “It has been extraordinary way to kick off 2020, with patrons coming from 74 of Arkansas’ 75 counties and from each of its neighboring states. It is also exciting to see the impact that WICKED had on downtown Little Rock during the run.  Restaurants, hotels and retail establishments have benefited from the number of visitors in town for the production.”

Celebrity Attractions has helped drive the local economy by showcasing high-profile Broadway, concert and comedy events.  Since its reopening in 2016, Robinson Performance Hall has become Little Rock’s definitive center for live entertainment, offering more than 320 performances with more than 479,000 patrons attending ticketed events.

Celebrity Attractions will announce its 2020-2021 season in just a few weeks.

Little Rock chosen as 2020 Hottest Foodie City!

Little Rock has been named “America’s Next Hottest Foodie Destination 2020” by the Foodie Flashpacker blog. Little Rock won 39% of public votes, beating out 32 other cities from around the country including Walla Walla, WA, Albuquerque, NM, Dallas, TX and Minneapolis, MN.

No other city even came close to Little Rock!

Food and travel bloggers, and general public were invited to vote for Little Rock.  Voting started on December 16 and ran for a week.

Foodie Flashpacker Nathan Aguilera has spent the past six years traveling and eating dishes across 60+ countries on 5 continents. Nathan shares his experiences with people everywhere through the Foodie Flashpacker blog.

Vote for Little Rock as a Foodie City!

Foodie Flashpacker polled top travel bloggers seeking their favorite food destinations. Little Rock has been nominated with 33 U.S. cities for America’s next hottest foodie destination.

Food and travel bloggers, and general public are invited to vote for Little Rock. The city with the most votes will be declared “America’s Next Hottest Foodie Destination 2020.”

Here are the rules: voting started today (12/16) at 9am CST and runs for one week.  You can cast one vote per day.

Here is the voting link:  https://www.foodieflashpacker.com/americas-next-hottest-foodie-destination-2020

Foodie Flashpacker Nathan Aguilera has spent the past six years traveling and eating exciting dishes across 60+ countries on 5 continents. Nathan shares his experiences with people everywhere through the Foodie Flashpacker

6 years since LR voters approved Restore Robinson project

On 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) created 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.

Site Finally(!) selected for Robinson Auditorium on Oct. 29, 1937

Potential rendering of new auditorium which appeared in October 30, 1937 ARKANSAS GAZETTE

On October 29, 1937, the Little Rock City Council finally selected the site for the Municipal Auditorium.  It had been approved by voters in January of that year, but no site had been identified during the campaign.

During the early autumn, the City had engaged a consultant to evaluate several downtown locations as potential sites for the municipal auditorium.  One stipulation was that it had to be an entire city block.

The six sites were:

  • Broadway, Markham, Spring and Garland Streets;
  • Center, Markham, Spring and Second Streets;
  • Center, Eighth, Louisiana and Ninth Streets;
  • Scott, Fourth, Cumberland and Capitol Streets;
  • Scott, Tenth, Cumberland and Ninth Streets; and
  • Third, State, Second and Gaines Streets

The top choice was the site bounded by Center, Markham, Spring and Second Streets. It was felt that location’s proximity to public buildings made it ideal for a civic auditorium. It was across the street from the former state capitol (then known as the Arkansas War Memorial) which was, at the time, housing state and federal offices.  The site was also adjacent to the county courthouse structures.

Half of the desired property was owned by the federal government.  Because it was being used for federal offices, it was uncertain as to the site’s availability.  Therefore a city committee recommended the site bounded by Center, Eighth, Louisiana and Ninth Streets be utilized as the auditorium location.

The City Council met on October 20 to make a decision. But were at a stalemate. They met again a few days later with still no resolution.

At an October 25 City Council meeting, Arkansas Gazette publisher (and chairman of the Planning Commission) J. N. Heiskell, advocated the site on Markham and Broadway Streets. The Council convened on October 29 to meet again.  The clock was ticking, a site had to be selected because ground had to be broken prior to January 1, 1938.

At the October 29th meeting, the discussion from previous meetings among the aldermen picked up where it had left off.  Again J. N. Heiskell spoke about the importance of employing city planning concepts in selecting the site.

“In the past, selection of a site for a public building has been merely a matter of who could sell the city some property.  I had hoped we were starting a new effort in starting selection of an auditorium site with the advice of Mr. Bartholomew.  Starting with the auditorium, we should be guided by competent advice and locate future buildings following a city plan.  Your vote today will determine the future of Little Rock so far as city building goes.”

After having engaged in discussions with various federal government agencies, Mayor Overman reported that the city could not obtain the recommended site.  It would not be possible for the federal government to relocate those agencies currently occupying half of that block within the time allowed.  The mayor also stated that he had been warned that if construction did not start by January 1, 1938, (which was just a few weeks away) then the money could be taken back and allocated to other projects.

Ultimately the City Council voted 16 to 1 with 1 absent to locate it at the corner of Markham and Broadway.  At last, Little Rock had a location for the new municipal auditorium!

Though it had not been anyone’s first choice (except Mr. Heiskell, who did not have a vote), in retrospect, the auditorium site finally chosen offered many advantages which were not identified during the marathon selection discussions.  The grade of the land sloped toward the Arkansas River from Markham Street down to Garland Street which allowed for a street level entrance to both the planned exhibition hall on a lower level and the music hall on an upper level.

Given the topography of the other sites under consideration, this was only possible at the chosen location.  By stacking the two major components the project did not take up an entire block, which had been the forecasted footprint.  Not using the entire block allowed for subsequent expansion of the complex’s footprint in the coming decades.  This would not have been possible at any of the other sites under consideration if the original structure had taken up the entire block.  In addition, both Markham and Broadway Streets are wider than normal city streets which allowed for better traffic flow and for easier access to a loading dock.

Interestingly, the Convention & Visitors Bureau, which oversees Robinson Center Music Hall, now has offices in the Cromwell Building. This building is located on the site which had been the first choice for the auditorium in 1937.