A massive renovation of Little Rock's venerable Robinson Center won the overwhelming approval of Little Rock voters Tuesday with more than 72 percent favoring the use of part of the city's hospitality tax to fund the $73.5 million project.
Turnout was light with only 6,988 of the approximately 114,000 eligible voters showing up at the polls. Supporters of the plan blamed sparse turnout on the harsh winter weather over the last week, but they were happy with the results.
"We're really excited about the opportunity to restore this historic icon and provide a world-class performing arts center for central Arkansas and an expanded conference center in order to be able to recruit additional businesses to Little Rock," said Gretchen Hall, CEO and president of the Little Rock Convention and Visitors' Bureau.
Advocates convinced voters that no new taxes would be collected. The two-percent hospitality tax would remain in place regardless of what it funds.
The portion that is expected to be dedicated to the Robinson Center--roughly 30 percent of the revenue from the tax--has been paying off bonds for the Statehouse Convention Center just east of the Robinson on Markham Street. That debt is nearly retired.
"No doubt the grand old lady is in need of a facelift," Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola said, "and we found a way to do this without asking the citizens for any more tax dollars."
Not everyone agreed. In a guest editorial in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, prominent restaurateur Mark Abernathy called the plan "one of the most expensive civic projects on record here."
Following the lopsided vote, Abernathy did not return calls seeking comment.