LITTLE ROCK Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola is making his pitch for having the Arkansas State Fair expand its grounds on Roosevelt Road rather than move to a new location.
Stodola, speaking Thursday before the Arkansas Livestock Show Association’s executive board, encouraged the members to have the grounds stay where they are in Little Rock.
"It is the capital, it is the heart of our state," Stodola told the board at the start of his presentation. "And we would love to for you to stay here for the next 65 years."
Stodola said he will talk about several possibilities for on-site expansion: The city could acquire more than 50 acres of land east of the fairgrounds, railroad tracks could be shifted to open up 34 acres to the west or a separate parcel of 47 acres to the west could be connected through a promenade added to a new Roosevelt Road Bridge. Officials are also looking into creating a southern entrance to the grounds.
Stodola told the board the city is committed to fixing "dilapidated and abandoned" houses around the fairgrounds, noting the fair requires a "positive" surrounding neighborhood.
"I know that's been a criticism that's been directed toward us," he said. "And I think it's a fair one, too, by the way."
In addition to the plans for more space, there are other reasons to stay, Stodola said. The fairgrounds are likely eligible for "substantial" restoration funds to fix up buildings, which could in turn draw more events and open up naming rights possibilities.
He noted the city spends more than $100,000 each fair to provide police security and that taxpayers, in passing a sales tax increase last year, approved a measure to raise $3 million to keep the grounds where they are.
"We'd love to keep you," Stodola said. "We want you to stay. We think it's the smart economic decision ... The money is on the table. And these options are also on the table. And if you decide that, we're ready to put our shoulder to the wheel and go to work on it."
The board didn't take any action on Stodola's proposal, but indicated it may do so at its next quarterly meeting. Stodola said he wanted a "long-term commitment" from the fair if it accepts the $3 million.
The fair put out a call for new locations three years ago and has considered different options, including one proposal to move to Jacksonville.