“I want the Razorbacks to continue playing in War Memorial Stadium.” Asa Hutchinson details his plans and hopes for the Little Rock landmark.
Kane Webb, director of parks and tourism, answers questions Tuesday while his boss looks over his shoulder during press conference on October 25, 2016. (Photo by Randall Lee, Governor’s Office)
LITTLE ROCK (October 26, 2016) ~ On Tuesday morning, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson announced that he will ask the legislature to put the War Memorial Stadium Commission under the supervision of the state’s department of parks and tourism. The governor, along with Kane Webb, director of parks and tourism, and stadium manager Jerry Cohen, fielded questions during a press conference.
Here’s the first half of the press conference. Below are excerpted transcripts from the second half:
On whether they want to see the Hogs continue to play at the stadium after the current contract expires in 2018:
Asa Hutchinson: “… From my standpoint, I want the Razorbacks to continue playing in War Memorial Stadium. I would like to see that happen. But that’s a decision that the University of Arkansas independently makes. Whether they … continue playing here or not, I want War Memorial Stadium to be the best venue that we can have for central Arkansas but also the state of Arkansas.”
Kane Webb: “I’d love to see them play at least one game in War Memorial going forward. I think it could be done. I think it’d be interesting if they played the last game of the year at War Memorial when the students who’ve gone in Fayetteville, Razorback stadium, good place to have it here in town. I’d like to see that continue. It’s a strong tradition, and we have to prepare for life with or without the Hogs, but yeah, I’d like to see it happen.”
On whether War Memorial Commission members agree with Hutchinson’s idea:
Asa Hutchinson: “I’m not aware of any disagreement on the commission. You see the quote from chairman Kevin Crass. I know there’s a quote there from Chris Bequette. You’ve heard from Brenda [Scisson]. So I haven’t talked to each one of them, but somebody has. I’m not aware of any disagreement on that. We’ve talked to a number of [lawmakers], and I think there’s good support for this. I hope that support will grow.”
On who would have decision-making authority under the new arrangement:
Asa Hutchinson: “It’s very similar to whenever we transferred the history commission to the Department of Heritage. The history commission stayed intact. We didn’t abolish that, and so I think it’s very important in this type of operation that you have a group of commissioners that is solely devoted to War Memorial Stadium, its marketing, its future, its presence, its being an ambassador for the stadium and the events that are there.
“Obviously, that’s under the umbrella of parks and tourism in a more broad fashion, so this is not unusual in state government. I would see the commission having a continued role for the reasons I just stated. But I look to Kane Webb, I look to Jerry [Cohen] to making the enterprise of War Memorial Stadium a success.
“The parks and tourism [department] and commission guides it, the direction of the funding, they control the money there, and they control the resources, so we work together as a team. That’s how it should continue.”
On whether this is part of a more comprehensive effort to cut taxes:
Asa Hutchinson: “No, it’s just simply a matter of managing state government and managing the agencies. First of all, I looked at War Memorial Stadium, and when I realized it’s a direct report to me, that it’s not any broader part of my cabinet, I said ‘They need more guidance, they need more support, they need strength.’
“Secondly, I’ve been looking at it for a year and a half as to their budget. Historically, War Memorial Stadium has been operating without any general revenues, and that changed about 2006. I wanted to fully fund them the first year of the biennium.
“Then I wanted to start on the path of self-sufficiency, and this is a reasonable way to do it, whenever in the second year the general revenue portion is cut simultaneously with the bond payment being foregone and concluded, and then thirdly, we had this initiative with parks and tourism as well as the independent stadium consultant.
“All of that tied together, this is good management.
“This ultimately sets the goal as a self-sustaining War Memorial Stadium, as it has been historically. And you think about whether it’s the state health department budget or a whole host of different budgets, including the Department of Corrections,we generally fund operations and capital improvements are separately handled.
“So we’re looking at an operational budget that we want to move to self-sufficiency. But obviously, for long-term improvements, the operating budget can’t cover that so you need to have grant resources, you need to have other access to capital investments, and that’s separately handled. So this is a good management effort that will make War Memorial Stadium stronger.”
On whether state leaders are learning from similar situations in other states’ metro areas:
Jerry Cohen: “Sure. There are other stadiums that are like this, for instance Birmingham [Legion Field] is under the parks and recreation of the city of Birmingham. Shreveport, Memphis all have independent stadiums that at one time did not have a college football team within them but now a couple of them do.
“Birmingham now has the University of Alabama at Birmingham playing their games there. They were in a situation similar to ours with [the University of] Alabama leaving their confines and returning to Tuscaloosa. The city of Birmingham was faced with the same situation and they brought them under parks and recreation.”
For more on parallels between Little Rock and Birmingham, read Evin Demirel’s in-depth look at the Hogs’ exodus from War Memorial Stadium.
On the possibility of other bringing new sports events into War Memorial Stadium:
Asa Hutchinson: “I just think with the sports emphasis that we have in Arkansas, the incredible athletic teams, that there will be sports teams that want to build a following in central Arkansas. There’s opportunities for that. So I think there will be a lot of discussions as we continue to make War Memorial Stadium strong as to who wants to seize those opportunities for a central-Arkansas market.
“Whenever you see two high school teams play to 31,000 in the stands at War Memorial Stadium, clearly there will be higher level sports at the collegiate level that will want to utilize the incredible fan base here in central Arkansas.”
On whether he’s interested in seeing UALR renew a long-dormant football program that would play at War Memorial:
Asa Hutchinson: “You know, there’s only so far I should put my toe in the waters of collegiate sports, and I’m not sticking it any further. Thank y’all very much.”
Click here for the rest of the most recent War Memorial Stadium press conference.