AMPed Up

Governor hopes to add War Memorial to Parks and Tourism stable

Arkansas Razorbacks head coach Frank Broyles celebrates the Hogs’ 31-7 victory over the Texas Longhorns at War Memorial Stadium on October 16, 1971. The rivals played in a soaking rain. (AP photo by Ferd Kaufman; Mr. Kaufman, who was an AP photographer for 20 years, died in February this year at 89.  He was at Dallas police headquarters when officers brought in Lee Harvey Oswald.)

(October 25, 2016)

Tuesday morning, Governor Asa Hutchinson announced he will push to move the War Memorial Stadium Commission from its independent status and put it under the control of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. “This is an example of an efficiency that expands the vision, the mission, and the strength of War Memorial Stadium,” he said.

With the stadium’s future in question given a one-game-a-year contract with the Razorbacks set to expire in 2018, the governor also announced he will fund a study by a “nationally recognized stadium consultant” ~ yet to be selected ~ to make recommendations on the site’s needs and opportunities.

This is a portion of Governor Asa Hutchinson’s Tuesday morning briefing about the future of War Memorial stadium.

Governor: “… My commitment is to make sure that it remains strong. An important part, not just of our history but of our state’s future.

“Whenever you look at War Memorial Stadium, you have to give thanks to the commission, led by chairman Kevin Crass, for the outstanding devotion they’ve had to making War Memorial Stadium a success, an opportunity for all of Arkansas to enjoy that historic facility.

“This news conference is not about history. This news conference is not about memories of the past. This news conference is about the future and the important role that War Memorial Stadium will play in our economic future and the tourism of this state as well. My commitment to War Memorial Stadium has never wavered. Tourism is something that I’ve promoted in this state with 28 million visitors last year, 7 billion dollars spent by those visitors. I recognize how important it is to the economic future of this state, and War Memorial Stadium is a critical part of our lifeblood as well as our economic future.

“Today, I’m pleased to announce a couple of items that will serve to strengthen and give a confident future for War Memorial Stadium. I will be asking the Arkansas General Assembly to move the War Memorial Stadium commission away from being in a standalone, independent agency and move it to the umbrella of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.

“Why do I believe this is a good move?

“First of all, by moving it into Parks and Tourism, it will have more marketing and administrative support that is much needed for the work of the stadium. It will have greater access to grant funding through being a part of Parks and Tourism. It is a natural fit with Parks and Tourism being devoted to marketing, tourism dollars, running premier event centers all across this state and attracting visitors to Arkansas as well as events. … It provides strength.

“This is an example of an efficiency that expands the vision, the mission and the strength of War Memorial Stadium. I’ll be asking the legislature to make this transfer during the legislative session, but I hope even during the interim, a partnership can be built.

“Finally, I want to announce today that I will fund – through my access to discretionary funds of the state – a study by a nationally recognized stadium consultant to make recommendations on the future needs and opportunities of War Memorial Stadium. This is something that is needed to give us really an understanding of all of the opportunities that are presented to us and also what the needs are for the stadium. With that, I want to thank Kane Webb for being here today, my director of Parks and Tourism, and ask him to make a comment.”

Kane Webb:     “Thank you, Governor. That’s pretty exciting for an old sports writer like me. It’s exciting. I think it’s also a really good fit for the Department of Parks and Tourism. It’s in our wheelhouse. It’s what we do in the hospitality and tourism business. We run facilities. We put on events. We serve the public, and we know how to get the good word out about Arkansas and its many attractions. I also think it’s a real compliment to the competence and ability of our co-workers at the agency, at Parks and Tourism. We have an established record of getting things done, taking care of business, doing right by the taxpayers, the citizens of Arkansas and our guests. Our team is ready for this challenge.

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Kane Webb at Tuesday’s press conference: “I love War Memorial Stadium. I saw my first college football game there in 1972. My dad took me to see Joe Ferguson and the Hogs.” (Photo by Randall Lee, Governor’s Office)

“I had a small group go out and meet with Jerry the other day, Friday morning. Man, they speak the same language. It just seems like a really, really natural, natural fit for us. I really like the idea of the governor’s feasibility study. It always helps to have an objective, outside look at something, especially when it comes to this something which is such an emotional and cultural touchstone for so many of us in Arkansas. I know this is about the future, not the past. I know that numbers have been driving this story. I understand that.

“But on a personal note, I love War Memorial Stadium. I saw my first college football game there in 1972. My dad took me to see Joe Ferguson and the Hogs. Unfortunately, they lost to Rice that day, but he gave me a souvenir on the way home to make me feel better. (I) played there at Catholic High for the Rockets. I covered dozens of games as a sports writer, high school and college games at War Memorial. Now on Friday nights, when the Rockets are home, I’m out there watching my daughter perform as a Mount Saint Mary Rockette. It means a lot to me, and this stadium means a lot to a lot of people. It’s Arkansas’s War Memorial Stadium, and I’m looking forward to its future. Thanks.”

Governor: “Somehow, I think War Memorial will be in good hands under your guidance. I also wanted to recognize that Jerry Cohen is really doing a terrific job there with the resources he has, managing the stadium, and ask Jerry to make any comments.”

Jerry Cohen: “Thank you. War Memorial Stadium is an icon. It’s a place where people gather, and we have a lot of events going on. Maybe the state doesn’t completely understand that 250 days out of the year, we have one or more events that are at War Memorial Stadium. We are an event center as well as a football stadium. We look at this opportunity as a chance for growth. There’s a possibility for additional revenue just as the governor spoke about with grants and funding through Parks. It gives us an opportunity to maybe expand in areas that we weren’t able to expand in just being a standalone state agency.

“We appreciate the fact that the governor stepped in and his guidance. Looking forward to the feasibility study that’s upcoming and look forward to working with Parks and Tourism and the governor’s office to continue War Memorial’s success.

“As you know, War Memorial has been remodeled over the last 15 years. There’s only two bathrooms and a kitchen that haven’t been redone. We’re basically a new structure other than the concrete and the bleachers. We’re looking forward to this. We’re looking forward to this opportunity.”

Governor:  “Thank you, Jerry. Then, Brenda (Scisson), representing the commission.”

Brenda Scisson:  “Thank you, Governor. I have been on the War Memorial Stadium Commission for 19 years. I know I don’t look that old, but I have. My daddy was on it for 17, okay? So it has a real special place right there.

brenda-scisson

Brenda Scisson: “This stadium is for all of Arkansas.” (Photo by Randall Lee, Governor’s Office)

“Kane, I’m a former sports reporter too. This is wonderful news for a stadium that is in need. We need help, and today’s announcement is defining some help. I commend you, Governor, for so quickly responding to a call for help. This stadium, I mean, you just say something bad about War Memorial, be quoted in the paper, and see what happens! I’ve done it before, okay? This stadium is for all of Arkansas. Kane said it best when he said that.

“Jerry Cohen has done a fabulous job aggressively marketing the stadium. I want to commend you for that. There are a lot of events that are non-sports events that are out there. Events that you never would have dreamed being hosted in the concourse of a stadium are being hosted there and then up in the suite level. People love that as a meeting venue. I have had some experience earlier in my career with Parks and Tourism. I know the power. I know the leadership of Parks and Tourism and their marketing  abilities are second to none. This is going to be wonderful.”

 

About the author

Evin Demirel

Evin Demirel

Evin Demirel, a Little Rock native now living in Rogers, often writes about the intersection of local sports, culture, race and business.

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