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story.lead_photo.caption Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium, shown in this 2014 file photo, is in need of up to $17 million, according to a feasibility study released this week. Much of that is in addition to the up to $10 million in renovations the University of Arkansas says is needed to continue hosting Razorback football games there. - Photo by Benjamin Krain

War Memorial Stadium needs about $17 million worth of maintenance work and improvements to remain in useful condition, according to a Texas-based group's feasibility study on the facility's future.

The Conventions Sport & Leisure International LLC study, released Monday, suggested 34 improvements to the Little Rock stadium's structure and amenities necessary to maintain the building.

The "critical" changes need be made within three years, and the "noncritical" within five, according to the $160,000 study commissioned by the state Department of Parks and Tourism.

Most stadiums outlive their usefulness after 45 years at most; War Memorial is 70 years old, the study pointed out.

The parks department is digesting the results of the study as the agency faces the end of its contract with the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, and a slashed state general-revenue budget for the stadium.

The Arkansas Razorbacks have played a football game in the Little Rock stadium every year since it opened in 1948, but the last scheduled game before the contract runs out is against the University of Mississippi in October.

"Discussions are continuing" about the future of the games, Kevin Trainor, associate athletics director at Arkansas, said via email.

"They know we want them. We're both aware of when the contract is up, and it's open lines of dialogue," said Kane Webb, director of the Parks and Tourism Department. Webb's department manages War Memorial Stadium, although a nearby park belongs to the city.

Newly hired UA Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek announced this year that the annual Red-White spring game will be at War Memorial on April 7.

Documents exchanged between UA and Parks and Tourism Department officials last year revealed that up to $10 million in improvements are necessary for War Memorial to continue to have Razorback games. These changes would be for fans, TV partners and to meet anticipated changes in requirements from the Southeastern Conference, according to previous reporting from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

The $17 million noted in the study does not include requirements to meet Southeastern Conference standards.

Instead, it addresses needs such as storage capacity, replacing the turf and "antiquated and significantly undersized" food-service spaces.

The turf replacement was already scheduled for 2019, Webb said, "because its shelf life is about up."

Finding money to pay for the suggested improvements will be a challenge because Gov. Asa Hutchinson's fiscal 2018 general-revenue budget cut the stadium's funds in half, to $447,647.

Webb said his department will look at "alternate sources of revenue," some of which were proposed in the study. Most suggestions for increased income involved attracting more events to the stadium.

War Memorial draws about 273,000 attendees to 225 events each year, the study noted. Events include birthday parties, high school football games and Little Rock Rangers soccer games.

But the field is not regulation size for soccer. It's not wide enough -- soccer fields are 75 yards wide, and the corners of the field at War Memorial are curved where they would need to be square.

"I don't think that it would be a huge undertaking to do that," Webb said of making the fields soccer-ready.

The Little Rock Rangers are also on a target list to move up a tier to the United Soccer League because of their high annual attendance figures, and, if they did, it would be a use for War Memorial, according to the study.

High school football games make up nearly 10 percent of the stadium's annual events, and none of the schools that play there expressed any need for significant improvements, according to the study.

The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Arkansas State University and the University of Central Arkansas all said they were interested in playing in Little Rock and would not need additional changes to the stadium.

The city and War Memorial management had been in talks with the NCAA about adding a bowl game in Little Rock, but the study stated that, although the possibility had not been specifically ruled out, it wasn't likely.

Adding more concerts also seemed unlikely because Verizon Arena draws more performers. War Memorial has only had two concerts in the past 15 years, and even if renovations are made, promoters were reluctant to book a stadium concert in Little Rock, according to the study.

There is also a possibility of USA Rugby matches coming to War Memorial if listed improvements are made, including widening the field to 308 by 223 feet. The organization is looking to move its headquarters from Colorado and may be interested in coming to Little Rock, according to the study.

Another source of revenue could be found in War Memorial Park, which is city-owned. The study suggested removing the golf course in favor of restaurants and housing that would be subject to property tax.

The land could support up to 500 multifamily homes, 120 hotel rooms, general office space, and 65,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space, according to the report.

Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola was not keen on the idea of getting rid of the golf course. He said it had been proposed before and city residents were not happy.

"Basically when the board was asked to consider that, quite a contingency of voters came to the meeting with their 9-irons and were ready to put them in the back of our heads," Stodola said with a laugh.

He added that he is not sure the city should start getting rid of park space because it detracts from quality of life, even if it adds revenue.

"To take that amenity and commercialize it, I think you would find that the public would have some great concern about that," he said. "So one has to be very careful walking down that road."

The study also pitched a 1 percent city goods and services tax that would yield $5.5 million. A portion of that money would be used for stadium renovations while the rest would be used on the city, the study suggests.

Stodola, who had not yet seen a copy of the study, said a deal could be struck, but it would be difficult because War Memorial is a state facility and the tax would be primarily upheld by Little Rock residents.

"There was nothing in there that really surprised me, that we didn't really expect," Webb said of the study, adding that discussion of the proposed solutions was still a work in progress.

A Section on 03/17/2018

Photo by Mitchell PE Masilun
The state Parks and Tourism Department asked for the study on the future of the 70-year-old War Memorial Stadium as the end of the stadium’s contract for Arkansas Razorbacks games approaches in October.
Suggested changes for War Memorial.
Annual War Memorial events.
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  • RBear
    March 17, 2018 at 8:38 a.m.

    First of all, the chart presented by the D-G regarding events in War Memorial is misleading and skews key facts. Including birthday events of 50 people in with the Salt Bowl and Razorback games just doesn't even convey the true nature of the issue. The $17 million in upgrades are more for the major events, not little Suzy's birthday party.
    ...
    Simple solution to get this moving would be to get UALR football moving. It would provide a reliable tenant in the stadium and help turn it back into a known destination for football. It helped San Antonio's challenge with the Alamodome where they were faced with a need to upgrade the facility to continue to attract events like the Final Four which will be hosted there this year.
    ...
    By getting UTSA's football program started and in a D-I conference, San Antonio began a path to upgrades and was able to sell the major upgrade package to City Council. With those upgrades, San Antonio once again got the attention of the NCAA and secured the Final Four. By maintaining that, the city will continue to be in the rotation of the final games of the tournament which brings in over $187 million to the city.
    ...
    Now, bringing UA-Little Rock (I still hate using that name and prefer UALR) football to War Memorial is not the saving factor but it helps set the stage for more upgrades. Granted, the school will need to make some improvements to the athletic program by hiring strong coaches (this season's men's basketball comes to mind). But it's possible and would help secure more funding for upgrades. Alumni in key places can help a lot.

  • BobfromMarion
    March 17, 2018 at 11:35 a.m.

    Great points RBear. There is not enough information in the article to conclude the minimum it would take to restore War Memorial Stadium for high school football games and possibly UCA to play two or three games there in the short term. A stadium that seats 40,000 or less.

    Then an analysis of whatadditional repairs and such will be needed over the next ten to twenty years from now and what they would cost to renovate War Memorial as a less than 40,000 seat stadium.

    Finally, an analysis for a new stadium. The points RBear made about the other uses for the stadium should be considered. This stadium needs to be built where there is lots of room and ways to get transportation in and out of the stadium with the minimum of issues.
    Building it on the North Little Rock Conway Interstate might draw UCA into playing several games there.

    Perhaps some person or corporation might give a substantial gift for a new stadium that would bear their name. Sam Walton Stadium has a nice ring to it!

    If a new stadium were to be built, an analysis of the cost of renovations for using War Memorial for high school sports with even less seating should be considered.

    I have been a firm supporter of the Razorbacks playing in LR. However, it appears that $17 million plus $10 million would be needed to spend to keep the Razorbacks playing one game in LR. That is $27 million.

    War Memorial Stadium seated less than 40,000 when it was built. Reduce the seating capacity to the original number. The cost of making the stadium smaller should be significantly less expensive than $17 million and certainly less than $27 million

    The purpose that a stadium in LR or LR area should be determined first. Once the powers that be determine what kind of facility is needed, then feasibility studies can be done to determine to renovate War Memorial or build a new stadium.

    There is no way that War Memorial Stadium can be renovated to compare the Razorback Stadium. The Razorbacks are not selling all the tickets to the War Memorial games as it is.

    It is time to determine what stadium needs that LR and/or the state wants or needs. A stadium that seat no more than 40,,000.

  • dvc72120
    March 17, 2018 at 11:55 a.m.

    They should tear down the stadium, plow over the golf course & build some nice section 8 high rises so our folks will have a cheap place to live.

  • CharlesJohnson
    March 17, 2018 at 12:58 p.m.

    Rent subsidized apartments will never end apparently in Little Rock and the golf course property would be ideal for developing to tie downtown and the west Little Rock projects together in one big massive mass of squalor. Unknown owners and LLC's done by out of state developers with more traffic and strain on Police and Fire Departments and infrastructure while NLR continues to develop first-class communities, parks, and retail outlets. Little Rock continues to pursue it's race into government-approved poverty at taxpayers expense. Sad results and secretive development.

  • NoUserName
    March 17, 2018 at 1:46 p.m.

    UALR football would be a complete waste of money and resources. It's a commuter school with relatively low enrollment and does not need football.
    .
    "The study suggested removing the golf course in favor of restaurants and housing that would be subject to property tax."
    .
    Just what we need. More city overdevelopment to, well, pay for that overdevelopment.
    .
    "The study also pitched a 1 percent city goods and services tax that would yield $5.5 million. A portion of that money would be used for stadium renovations "
    .
    Hell no. There is simply no reason for LR to have a stadium anymore. The metropolitan area, which includes Conway, only has 800,000 people. Sorry, but that doesn't support a 50k+ seat stadium.

  • TimberTopper
    March 17, 2018 at 3:41 p.m.

    I feel that more Arkansans would enjoy it more if the 17 mil. was spent fixing the damn potholes.

  • Delta2
    March 17, 2018 at 3:55 p.m.

    It's really funny as a non-Hog living in this state, watching as everyone still thinks it's so important for UAF to play a game in LR every year. Doing so makes UAF a continual joke in a conference like the SEC. If you're competing against the likes of Bama, Auburn, Florida. LSU, UGA, UT, aTm, etc., all somebody like Saban has to tell a 4-5 star recruit is "Do you want to play in front of 100K plus every home game, or do you want to go a bush league place like UAF and play one of you 'home' games at a glorified high school stadium?". Sure, the homeboy 3 and occasional 4 stars think playing in LR is cool, but the real talent will laugh at a Hog offer.

    If y'all are content competing for 8th place in the league, go right ahead. Otherwise, tear WMS down, or make it something useful for central AR. Get over this Hogaholic delusion, it's the 21st Century. San Antonio isn't very far from Austin, yet UTSA is somehow thriving. LR needs to figure our how to make WMS work for it, not vice versa; otherwise, tear it down.

  • RBear
    March 17, 2018 at 5:14 p.m.

    NUN, UTSA is just like UALR. There are dorms/apartments and the majority of the enrollment is commuter. There are other "commuter" schools who have football and it does work. Small thinking on what actually works.

  • NoUserName
    March 17, 2018 at 5:41 p.m.

    People in Tx are football fanatics So of course it works at UTSA. Say nothing of the fact that SA has 6+ TIMES the number of people as Central AR. Arkansas is not Texas. And Little Rock is not San Antonio so we really need to stop trying to be SA jr. UALR football would be a very small niche. One that most people wouldn't care about. And one that would have to be subsidized. It will bring little to nothing to LR except a drain to toss money down.

  • williamrollins
    March 18, 2018 at 8:20 a.m.

    Real easy problem to solve. take the 17,000,000 / 273,000 = 62.27 per person. That's who should pay for the use of the stadium. If spread out over say 5 years, that would only be $12.45 per person who uses the facility. Not much more than the cost of going to a movie.

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