A&C district could mean an increased economy

Thursday, June 3, 2004

The prospect of a distinct Arts and Cultural District within the Eureka Springs city limits got a formal presentation last week from members of the Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER) of the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

The group was asked by the Western Carroll County Community Development Partnership (CDP) early this year to do some research on the idea of such a district and present some methods of accomplishing such a goal.

Yi Liu, project manager, and Dr. Jeff Collins did the majority of the presentation Wednesday evening to approximately 65 Eureka residents in the Basin Park Hotel ballroom.

Craig Hull gave the presentation on the mechanics of actually establishing a district, changing zoning requirement, funding and tax issues.

CDP Chairman Judi Selle said the CDP has been working on this concept approximately two years.

She credited Martin Roenigk with the initial concept of the district, wrapping it around Harmon Park, the Writers' Colony at Dairy Hollow and then down North Main Street to the Lane House/Main Stage Creative Community Center.

Liu opened her discussion with a review of Eureka Springs' dependence on tourism as the economic foundation of the town.

She said more than 37.7 percent of the city's workforce is directly employed in the arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation and food services sector. An additional 13.3 percent are engaged in retail business.

In 2000, the median earnings of full-time Eureka Springs workers were lower than those in the region, state and U.S.

Housing costs in Eureka are also higher than those in the region, to the point of being considered a cost burden -- when more than 30 percent of income is being paid for housing.

"Arts and cultural districts are perceived as a place to provide a quality of life which can attract and retain a higher quality of workers," she said.

The report says "The economic impact of arts is measurable. According to the 2003 national report released by the Americans for the Arts, a nonprofit arts organization, a fraction of the total arts and entertainment industry, and their audiences, spent and estimated $134 billion in total economic activity in fiscal 2000. This spending supported 4.85 million full-time equivalent jobs, and generated $24.2 billion in federal, state, and local government revenues."

By definition, a cultural district "is a well-recognized, labeled, mixed-use area of a city in which a high concentration of cultural facilities serves as the anchor of attraction."

Three cultural districts shown in the report are Beale Street Entertainment District in Memphis, Tenn., Pittsburgh Cultural District in Pittsburgh, Penn., and the Tucson Arts District in Tucson, Ariz.

The report suggests Eureka Springs establish itself as a regional cultural destination because "a growing number of visitors will become special interest travelers in the next decade. These tourists rank arts, heritage and/or other cultural activities as one of the top reasons for traveling.

"In order to maintain sustained growth, Northwest Arkansas must be able to retain high-skilled labors, who value "quality of place' above nearly all other factors in choosing where to locate.

"The availability of a vibrant cultural destination that nurtures creative energy is essential for Northwest Arkansas to be competitive in attracting knowledge-based workers.

"Because Eureka Springs is conveniently located within a one hour drive from the Northwest Arkansas corridor, establishing a cultural district will hold strong appeal to New Economy businesses and employees," the report states.

Bringing the Eureka Springs School of the Arts, the Lane House/Main Stage Creative Community Center, the Writers' Colony at Dairy Hollow and other groups into a cohesive theme such as a cultural district, "a synergistic effect will be generated to attract additional users and patronage."

The first step to establishing an arts and culture district is to set up a planning steering committee to formalize the process and leadership, according to Liu.

Members of the steering committee are suggested from the organizations involved and existing city commissions.

The committee must clearly define the goals of the district which are realistic and achievable.

Work will have to be done with the planning commission and city council to establish a zoning definition which can be applied to the district.

Funding can be provided by a variety of tax-incentive measures outlined by Hull.

Teresa Mills, HUD (Housing and Urban Development) Coordinator for the CDP, has copies of the report available.

She encouraged those wanting to work on the steering committee for the establishment of the district to contact her at the HUD office.

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