Since our last update in February, progress has been made to move expansion planning forward. Specifically, we have begun a process of site planning for the Fayetteville expansion.

History – WAC Planning, UA needs; a City Parking Deck

In February of 2012, the WAC board concluded a study related to expansion of WAC’s facilities. Below is a summary of the findings and you can also read more about them by clicking on the "Expansion Update 2/21/12" archive link at right.

  • The need for a mid-sized hall in Fayetteville was confirmed.
  • Substantial expansion of the current WAC campus was deemed critical.
  • The need for a large hall in Bentonville was confirmed.
  • Significant need exists in both Fayetteville and Bentonville for meeting and special event space.
  • The UA expressed interest in building a mid-sized theater on the UA campus, which would allow WAC to focus on expanding existing facility in the near term.

Over the next few months, the University of Arkansas explored further the idea of renovating the Old Field House on the University campus. Plans to convert that building to a 600-700 seat concert hall, primarily for use by the UA Music Department, are underway.

Also during this period, the City of Fayetteville continued to work toward the construction of a parking deck in the entertainment district. In May of 2012, public forums were conducted to share and receive feedback about four potential locations for the parking deck. Those proposed locations were (thanks to the Fayetteville Flyer for the great summary of the different lots): 

  • WAC Lot – The existing 280-space main Walton Arts Center lot at West Avenue and Dickson Street
  • South Lot – The existing 60-space lot across from Grub’s Bar & Grille at West Avenue and Spring Street
  • East Lot – The existing 58-space lot next to Kingfish between School Avenue and Shipley Alley
  • Theater Lot – The area directly south of the Walton Arts Center’s main facility (where WAC’s administration offices are currently housed)

The WAC Fayetteville Expansion – Site Planning Work

Per the planning study, there is significant need to expand the Fayetteville campus. The current architectural program outlines nearly 30,000 total square feet of new space needed, and includes expansion of the lobby of Baum Walker Hall and and expansion of Starr Theater. This new space will help us to better accommodate major touring shows, support resident companies like SoNA and TheatreSquared, improve the audience experience of attending a show, and meet more needs for meetings, special events and community gatherings.

Figuring out how the expansion would layout on our block became an urgent need when the City announced their interest in exploring the WAC Theater lot as a potential site for the new parking deck. As a result, the WAC board hired Portland-based theater architects Boora to take the needs identified in the previous planning study one step further and put them into a site plan. The goal was to figure out how much space would be needed to accommodate the current expansion plan (almost 30,000 new square feet of space).

In addition, the architects were asked to include space for an additional performance venue that the board believes will be needed in the future (but that is not part of the current expansion plan). With this information, the board could make an informed decision about whether a parking deck on the WAC theater lot would hinder WAC’s ability to expand both now and down the road (10-15 years in the future).

The site planning work has been completed. Working with the City of Fayetteville’s parking deck team, Boora Architects determined that if certain criteria were met, a parking deck could be situated on the WAC Theater Lot and still allow for both the current WAC expansion as well as a potential additional expansion in the future. As such, the architects presented two suggested site concepts to the board, both of which were approved, depending on how city plans develop.

View Boora Architects site concepts here.  (Please note: this document contains site concepts, meant to represent how certain expansion spaces could lay out.  These concepts are not architectural designs or renderings.)

Next Steps and Timeline

The City expects to make a decision about where to locate the new parking deck in September. Meanwhile, Boora Architects will be working with the WAC staff and board to finalize the site plans.

Fundraising will be the next order of business. While specific timelines are still being created, we envision that with fundraising plans developing, construction on the Fayetteville expansion will begin in the next 12-24 months. 

Planning for the new Bentonville theater (a new 2000 seat hall) will likely follow the design of the Fayetteville expansion. However, a site has not yet been secured in Bentonville for the venue.