TEXARKANA, Ark. -- The city Advertising and Promotion Commission took no action during its quarterly meeting Wednesday after hearing a request to provide $700,000 for improvements to downtown's Front Street Festival Plaza.
City Manager Jay Ellington pitched a $950,000-plus plan to modernize the plaza's stage, install restroom facilities, add landscaping and lighting, and improve the "Ties That Bind" railroad track sculpture at the site. While commissioners expressed support for the project, they deferred a vote on allocating funds until they can review a revised budget that omits any items the Commission is legally forbidden to pay for.
The proposal included a $250,000 cost for building a roofed structure around the stage, now a bare platform, that would accommodate sound and lighting equipment and provide space for sponsor advertising. But because the stage is on land the city leases from Union Pacific Railroad, A&P funding cannot be used for capital improvements there.
The state A&P statute allows funding of such construction on property in which the city owns an interest, but because the strip of land on which the stage sits is owned by the railroad, it does not qualify, Commission attorney Josh Potter said.
Ellington said he was prepared to use funds set aside in the current city budget to pay for the stage improvements but pressed for some indication that the Commission would be a "partner" with the city for the remaining phases of the project. To complete the entire project would take 18 to 24 months, he said.
The Commission collects and disburses a 2% restaurant tax and a 3% hotel tax that may be spent only on promoting the city. Though it contracts with city finance staff for accounting and administrative support, and two commissioners must be members of the city Board of Directors, it is not a branch of the city government.
The City Board in December approved an annual budget that allocated $400,000 to improve the stage, but Ellington's proposal to the Commission listed half that amount, $200,000, to be spent on the overall Festival Plaza project. Private sponsors have donated $60,000 toward the stage improvements, he said. And he asked the Commission for $700,000 to cover the remainder of the $956,250 estimated cost.
The stage cover would cost about $250,000, and 20 restroom stalls would cost about $225,000, according to the proposal. Foundations, plumbing, electrical and roofs for those stalls would total another $60,000, and the same amount would be spent to prepare an area for portable restrooms.
The restroom stalls would be "semi-permanent" prefabricated structures connected to sewer, water and electrical lines. They would be set up in the city-owned lot across Olive Street from 1894 City Market, near the Flying Crow rail car restaurant. They would only be open to public during downtown events.
Other expense items include removable traffic barriers called bollards at a cost of $55,000; "site amenities," $25,000; light pole banners, $15,000; landscaping and lighting, $45,000; and a new base for the sculpture, along with benches around it and a structure to provide shade above it, $30,000.
Ellington's proposed budget for the project also included $191,250 to pay for unforeseen contingencies.
The city would act as a facilitator for the plaza, Ellington said, charging a fee for its use as it does for parks facilities. A use policy would be established and those wishing to stage events there would have to meet qualifications such as insurance coverage. City Parks and Recreation Department staff would maintain the stage, restrooms and grounds.
The Commission's next regular meeting is scheduled for April, but Chair Brandon Cogburn indicated that he may call a special meeting to reconsider the plaza proposal once commissioners receive a revised project budget. Ellington agreed to provide for Potter's review a budget that leaves out anything the Commission is not allowed to fund.