Chamber will run Benton’s events center

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published March 17, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated March 15, 2013 at 10:56 a.m.
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Construction workers measure what will become one of the walls of the Benton Events Center at Hickory Square along Interstate 30. The interior walls will be raised March 25, and the center, which will be managed by the Benton Area Chamber of Commerce, is scheduled to open in October.

— Concrete is curing, and workers are moving dirt and preparing to raise the interior walls before the end of the month at what will be the 27,500-square-foot Benton Events Center in the Hickory Square shopping center along Interstate 30.

Members of the Benton Advertising and Promotion Commission and officials at CDI Contractors of Little Rock said the center will be ready for its first events when it opens at the beginning of October.

“Starting from Oct. 4, until the end of November, we have tentative bookings for 28 days,” said Gary James, executive director of the chamber. “We are still working out pricing, but people have penciled in their dates, and we are working on the contracts.”

The chamber has been taking reservations for the future event center since the project was approved by voters in November 2011. But on Monday night, it became official that the Benton Chamber will manage the center for the A&P Commission, which owns the center, which is funded by the city’s 1.5 percent tax on retail food sales and hotel stays.

The A&P Commission made an agreement with the chamber on March 7, and it was presented to the Benton Board of Aldermen on Monday by Alderwoman Lori Terrill. Along with serving on the City Council, she is a member of the commission and serves as treasurer of the chamber.

Terrill said it was just another logical step in the commission’s relations with the chamber.

“When the commission shut down its office, an agreement was made with the chamber to let them handle the A&P’s administration,” she said. “We want to keep it local and have it run by people who have been so passionate about the center and Benton.”

The action required no vote by the council; Terrill was just officially informing the mayor and aldermen about the agreement.

“Letting the chamber manage the center makes sense,” A&P Commission Chairman Mark Fikes said. “It was natural that inquiries about the events center were going to the chamber, and it made sense to us that they carry on.”

Fikes said the commission also looked at hiring a management company or having the operators of the hotel [Marriott Fairfield Inn & Suites] that will be connected to the event center handle the center.

James said the chamber offered to take on the management after chamber staff and members were part of a search for a professional management firm.

“We talked to several companies, and they wanted as much as $800,000 a year to manage the center,” he said. “The Benton center will have 17,000 square feet of rentable space. One place has 23,000 square feet, and their operations budget was over $1 million. Based on that rate, it would have been $650,000 to manage the center in Benton.”

The executive director of the chamber of commerce said he wanted to keep the operation of the center “local and reasonable.” James said the Benton

facility is designed to handle small conventions and other meetings of up to 700 people.

“This is not Summit Arena or Verizon Arena,” he said. “We will not be drawing basketball games or big boat shows. That is not our competition.”

Under the agreement, the chamber management of the center will cost $4,914 a month — $58, 868 a year. That amount will cover accounting, management of the facility and personnel.

The amount will not include the salaries of two key personnel.

“We would hire an event director for sales and marketing to book the facility. We would hope to have that person hired by May,” Terrill said. “We also plan on having a facilities manager, but that hire will not need to be made until the center is almost ready.”

The two positions will be hired by a committee made up of Terrill, Halley Little, president of the chamber’s board of directors, and Tom Baxley, a member of the A&P Commission.

“We are tickled to death about the arrangement,” Fikes said. “Our operational goal is to have the center stand on its own.”

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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