Leader Blues

Saturday, September 05, 2009

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville in, Cabot out for state fair

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville wants to be part of a small group of central Arkansas cities vying to become the new home of the Arkansas State Fair and Livestock Show.

The Jacksonville City Council backed that desire by passing a resolution Thursday, saying the city will help with land acquisition and development.

Lonoke, Carlisle and North Little Rock are also submitting proposals. Cabot thought about it, but has decided not to submit its own proposal. State fair officials are seeking bids from communities within 35 miles of Little Rock and hope to find a new site to replace the one off Roosevelt Road, which they say has become inadequate.

Jacksonville aldermen agree with Mayor Gary Fletcher that the city has a 400-acre site between Hwy. 67/167 and Hwy. 161 near the North Belt Loop that would be the perfect spot.

Jacksonville is one of a number of central Arkansas cities looking to host the state fair when it moves from its outdated traffic-congested Barton Coliseum site off Roosevelt in Little Rock.

Jacksonville officials are submitting a proposal, before the Sept. 15 deadline, to the proper authorities to move the fair to Wooten Road off Hwy. 161 and I-440, an area that was recently annexed into the city.

According to the resolution, the city believes that the site satisfies all criteria being sought by the state fair board. “It provides a central location with multiple thoroughfare access for greater traffic control and planning, has unlimited potential for open development of a user-friendly and safe fairground environment,” the resolution states.

The resolution promises assistance and enticements with development costs, which could run as high as $120 million, by and through the city and willing entities. That assistance could include possible land acquisition and coordination, planning and ultimate site development.

“We’re centrally located. We’ve got the perfect land. It’s the most logical for the fair to come here,” Fletcher told the council.

Fletcher predicted the city would have the same outstanding relationship with the fair board as with Little Rock Air Force Base.

“We’ll tell the state fair commission we’d be good partners,” he said last week. “We’ll go the extra mile. That’s the kind of people we have here. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

One plus not mentioned in the resolution is that the sale of alcohol would be allowed in the 400-acre area and that wasn’t in
Cabot’s plans to submit a bid, as that city is dry.

The current fairground site is 70 years old and it is too small, critics say. There isn’t enough room for parking and the 33,000-square-foot Hall of Industry needs to be at least 100,000 square feet to accommodate some of the businesses that have been turned away because of lack of space.

Then there is difficulty in getting to the fairgrounds, located in Little Rock off a too-narrow and too congested Roosevelt Road.

The Jacksonville site has plenty of options for traffic flow.

An ordinance tightening the city’s juvenile curfew was pulled from the meeting plans for more review, leaving only the resolution supporting Jacksonville’s bid for the fairgrounds on the agenda.