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story.lead_photo.caption A workman removes construction debris Friday from the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock. At left is the center’s original facade from the 1930s, which will become a new museum entrance facing East Ninth Street.

The Arkansas Arts Center and a team of construction contractors have locked down a guaranteed maximum price of $78.3 million to remake the downtown Little Rock museum.

Depending on how it's calculated, the price tag is either a 1.6% or a 3% increase from the 20-month-old preliminary estimate that was used to determine the museum's broader $128 million fundraising target.

Officials praised what they characterized as a marginal uptick in the actual amount, which is based on bids provided by specialty subcontractors. The price ceiling would rise only if the Arts Center changes what it wants from the public-private project, the construction team said.

Otherwise, this agreement finalizes the largest chunk of the overall cost.

"It's pretty darn good," Arts Center board president Merritt Dyke said.

Fundraisers secured $122.7 million toward the goal as of Oct. 1. That sum includes $31.2 million in revenue bonds issued by the city of Little Rock that are being paid with a 2 percentage-point tax increase on hotel stays, as well as a $5 million commitment that Gov. Asa Hutchinson made from the state's "rainy-day" fund.

The largest disclosed private commitments came from the Windgate Foundation, an Arkansas nonprofit focused on art and education, that pledged $35 million, and the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust, which has committed $5 million.

Nineteen other individuals, families and foundations have pledged at least $1 million each, and at least 32 others will give $100,000 or more, according to Harriet and Warren Stephens, who have led the fundraising efforts.

"We're going to be raising money until we open," Dyke said when asked if the new construction estimate would affect fundraising.

Other money needs include architectural fees, new furnishings, an interim headquarters, consulting contracts and increasing the museum's endowment to cover higher day-to-day costs. The targeted endowment growth is at least $20 million, Dyke said Tuesday.

Trustees approved the 71-page "guaranteed maximum price" agreement Tuesday without viewing the document, on the recommendation of the board's executive committee.

The committee, which met an hour earlier, also approved the document sight unseen, on the recommendation of Dyke, who said he read it carefully and more than one time.

Sterling Project Development, a Manhattan-based advisory firm under contract with the museum's nonprofit foundation, and counsel at the Little Rock firm Friday, Eldredge & Clark also reviewed the document, Dyke said.

"This has been vetted many times over, and lots of eyes have looked at it," Dyke told trustees.

Conway-based Nabholz Construction, Chicago-based Pepper Construction Co. and Doyne Construction Co. of North Little Rock make up the three-firm construction team.

Board members asked several questions of the construction team, including who would be on the hook if the price of steel rises, who signs off on any spending from $2 million that's set aside for unexpected costs, and what the guarantee meant.

"Basically, the construction management team has guaranteed that the project will not exceed that [price] based on the current [project] scope," said Jake Nabholz, president of the firm's South region. "If the costs come under that guaranteed maximum price, those savings are returned to the Arts Center."

Dyke, who distributed a one-page document outlining the prices, told trustees that he would distribute the full document to any of them who asked for it.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette obtained a heavily redacted copy Thursday. Details on specific line-item costs, the construction timeline and how earlier line-item estimates compare with current estimates were among the information withheld.

Even the $2.2 million contractors' fee, which was on the one-page document distributed Tuesday, was redacted from the full document provided to the newspaper.

Dyke said the construction firm asked for the information to be withheld because it has not finalized agreements with subcontractors. The estimates withheld from the document are based on bids, not signed contracts, he said.

Anthony Alleman, project executive at Pepper, told Dyke by email that the subcontracts would be awarded within four to six weeks.

The original construction estimate, announced during the first reveal of the project design, was for $70 million in hard costs. The actual hard-cost number is $72.2 million, according to an Arts Center board handout. This is a 3% difference.

Counting a 10% contingency for expected costs, the earlier overall construction estimate was $77 million, Dyke said. The actual number -- which includes a 2.8% contingency as well as fees, insurance and bonding -- is $78.3 million. That difference is 1.6%.

Trustees applauded after approving the contract in a voice vote that had no audible dissent.

Razing and demolition of the 82-year-old MacArthur Park building began last month. Roughly three-fourths of the museum will be torn down. The children's theater space, which is being repurposed, is among the exceptions.

The construction team plans to hand the building back to the Arts Center in March 2021. Officials will then spend several months furnishing the museum, installing the art collection and otherwise readying it to open by early 2022.

Design mock-ups by the lead architectural firm, Chicago-based Studio Gang, show that the classic "Museum of Fine Arts" facade, which is buried inside the facility, will be uncovered and used as a new entrance facing East Ninth Street.

A glass-enclosed "cultural living room" will extend over the entrance, stretching toward the Little Rock skyline. A walkway designed to receive sunlight will better link the remade museum's expanded art school, children's theater and gallery space, including a new second-floor exhibition area, the architects said.

The path will connect the Ninth Street entrance with another one spilling into MacArthur Park; a new garden and cypress trees will replace asphalt. A restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating will extend into the park.

A curving, segmented and glazed concrete roof called "the blossom" will cover the pathway. The roof is one of the design's signature elements, and construction on it could begin in three to four months, contractors said Tuesday.

The Arts Center's headquarters and arts school have meanwhile been moved to 2510 Cantrell Road in the Riverdale neighborhood, in a space that was last a Walmart Neighborhood Market. Roughly 3 miles separate the sites.

Photo by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/JOHN SYKES JR.
Dustin Jordan, project supervisor for Nabholz Construction, points out some of the demolition work underway at the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock on Friday afternoon.

A Section on 10/19/2019

Print Headline: Construction cost in on Arkansas Arts Center

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