LITTLE ROCK (KATV) - Updates are desperately needed at the Robinson Center, according to the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau. On Tuesday, Little Rock residents will head to the polls for a special election to vote on a bond referendum to allocate previously existing tax dollars to fund a $70 million renovation and expansion project.
If the bond referendum passes you can forget what the Robinson Center looks like today. The outside of the building will remain untouched (it's currently on the National Register of Historic Places), but the inside will practically be gutted. New balcony seating along with box seats, modern interior finishes, enhancements to acoustics, expanded lobbies, more bathrooms - the list of improvements goes on.
Much of the music hall renovations like dressing room upgrades and moving and expanding the venue's loading deck are to accommodate larger Broadway shows to come to Little Rock.
"It's about 74 years old," said Gretchen Hall, CEO of the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau. "It hasn't had a lot of renovations in those 74 years and so mechanically and functionally it's just become obsolete."
And it's not just a renovation, but an expansion of the existing space. Currently there is a meeting space on the basement level of the Robinson Center, but with the new plan they will scratch that in favor of a modern ballroom and conference space all encased in glass that will face the Arkansas River.
Restaurateur Mark Abernathy, owner of Loca Luna and Red Door, says he's all in favor of renovating Arkansas's largest performing arts center. What Abernathy is not in favor of is the way the city plans on funding the project. The bond referendum would use Little Rock's A&P tax money to pay for the expansion and renovation.
"The vast majority of this tax is from southwest Little Rock, midtown and over 50 percent comes from west Little Rock and has for years," said Abernathy. "Yet all of it's being spent downtown."
Abernathy says the A&P tax, also known as the "Hamburger Tax," will be tied up in this project for the next 30 years. Not only is he upset about the timing of how long it will take to pay off the bond, but also the timing on Tuesday's vote.
"They scheduled this special interest, single-issue election during the holidays," said Abernathy. "Very few people are going to go vote."
But Hall says there's a reason for the timing on the special election.
"The timing of this project has really been determined by the Broadway Bridge construction," said Hall. "We want the two to overlap primarily for the congestion and the citizens of Little Rock. While the construction of the Broadway Bridge is going on, we want to be under construction as well."
Hall stresses that the bond issue will not create a new tax, but simply utilizes funds from a pre-existing tax. Abernathy says the city should create a new tax to fund the project which should then go away when fully funded.
Early voting for the special election started last week and only brought in 554 cast ballots. The polls open Tuesday at 7:30 AM and close Tuesday night at 7:30 PM. For a list of polling locations across Little Rock, click here.