Fayetteville tourism panel OKs leases for Walker-Stone House, Town Center

Hayden Strahan of Farmington walks Feb. 7 past a sculpture on the lawn of the historic Walker-Stone House in Fayetteville. The city’s Advertising and Promotion Commission on Monday approved a lease agreement for the space with Folk School of Fayetteville, the nonprofit behind Fayetteville Roots. (File photo/NWA Democrat-Gazette/J.T. Wampler)

FAYETTEVILLE -- The Advertising and Promotion Commission on Monday authorized leases for the historic Walker-Stone House and the Town Center.

Commissioners voted 5-0 on a separate pair of proposals, one to lease the Walker-Stone House to Folk School of Fayetteville, and the other to renew the lease with the city for the Town Center. The lease with Folk School of Fayetteville is for $1 annually for two years. The lease for the Town Center is rent-free to the commission for 10 years with an automatic renewal every six months following expiration of the agreement.

The commission bought the Civil War-era Walker-Stone House west of the downtown square in 2016. The city owns the Town Center and has leased it to the commission since 1998.

The commission earlier this month discussed leasing the Walker-Stone House to Folk School of Fayetteville, the nonprofit group behind Fayetteville Roots. Commissioners supported the idea. Molly Rawn, chief executive officer of the city's tourism bureau, Experience Fayetteville, came back with a lease for commissioners to consider Monday.

Bernice Hembree, one of the founders of Fayetteville Roots, last month described the idea for the property as being similar to Folk School of KDHX in St. Louis. Folk School of KDHX says on its website its mission is "to build community by providing educational programs that promote the learning, teaching, renewal and perpetuation of traditional music and folk arts."

Under the agreement, Folk School of Fayetteville will pay $1 annually to rent the house starting Wednesday and lasting until Feb. 28, 2025. The commission agreed to pay up to $8,000 in utility costs -- specifically water, sewer, trash, electricity and gas -- for Folk School of Fayetteville for the first year, with the nonprofit group paying its own utilities in the second year.

Additionally, Folk School of Fayetteville asked for first right of refusal for sale of the property. In other words, if someone makes an offer to the commission to buy the house, Folk School of Fayetteville could choose to buy the property first under the same terms.

Commissioners agreed to give Folk School of Fayetteville 10 business days to consider such an offer if one were to happen. Rawn said she is not looking to put the house on the market, but the commission would need to consider any significant offer it might receive as good stewards of taxpayer money. The commission receives half of the city's 2% hotel, motel and restaurant sales tax revenue, with the other half going to parks.

The commission authorized Rawn to present the proposal for first right of refusal to Folk School of Fayetteville and sign it if the nonprofit agrees to the terms.

Separately, the commission will provide Folk School of Fayetteville $30,000 to cover startup programming costs. The money will be given in two installments. The first $15,000 will be provided once the lease is finalized. The other $15,000 will be provided after Folk School of Fayetteville presents an operating plan to the commission.

The lease between the city and commission for the Town Center is largely the same, Rawn said.

Under the new agreement, the leases for the Town Center and the center's parking deck will become one. Merging the two leases will make them easier to manage, she said.

Additionally, repairs and upgrades for major features of the Town Center, such as the roof and air-conditioning units, will be the city's responsibility. The commission will continue to be responsible for routine maintenance and utility costs. The commission recently negotiated with the city to upgrade the center's roof so solar panels could be installed.

The new lease also clarifies the terms regarding duration and renewal. Either party can call a meeting to propose changes to the agreement over the course of the 10 years. The lease will automatically renew with the same terms every six months if no action is taken, said Taylor Kelley, outside counsel to the commission. The language in the original lease was unclear and no one noticed it had expired more than a year ago, she said.

Commission Chairman Todd Martin said he wasn't thrilled with some of the language of the new agreement but supported it overall.

"I feel like this is a very good outcome for the A&P Commission," he said.

The City Council is tentatively scheduled to discuss the Town Center lease March 21.

On the web

Learn more about the city's tourism bureau, Experience Fayetteville: