Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola met with members of the Arkansas Livestock Show Association Thursday to personally present four plans to expand the State Fairgrounds should it remain in its Little Rock location.
Stodola says the city wants the fair to stay. Little Rock recently passed a sales tax which included $3 million specifically for the fair.
"I think it really shows the commitment of the citizens of Little Rock in wanting the State Fair to be here. It is the state capital, it is the heart of our state, and of course we love for you to continue to stay here for the next 65 years," Stodola told members of the Livestock Show Association.
But Stodola said he knows there are needs. The Livestock Association has put more space and better accessibility from an interstate or four lane highway at the top of its list.
At most times of the year the state fairgrounds look empty, but during the Fair, space is at a premium. "We have 96 acres we can operate on now and the average size state fair is 366 acres, so that's how undersized we are as far as a state fair. And, you know during the fair, when we start setting up for the fair, every foot is prime real estate out here. We're just out of room," Shoptaw told reporters.
He's also keen on the additional events they could bring in with more space.
"We're too dependent on that two-day fair which is in October. And October, and weather -- we've been really fortunate to have good weather but if we ever have a really rainy 10 days it'll really set us back," Shoptaw said.
The Fair does have more space but it’s currently inaccessible because of railroad tracks that run through the property. One of Stodola’s proposals would provide for a pedestrian bridge over the tracks to access the additional acreage.
Another proposal would take blocks of housing to the east of the fairgrounds. The city’s housing authority already owns some of the houses but others might need to be purchased through imminent domain.
Shoptaw says he hopes it doesn’t come to that. "We would not want to be in the situation that we disrupted people and moved them out of their homes. There are a lot of vacant houses and lots in this neighborhood that could be used. At the corner of Schiller and Roosevelt there's almost a whole block there that's almost empty," he said.
Mayor Stodola is open to the idea. "Change is hard for everybody and anybody. I think the issue is there's a lot of property, not entirely, clearly, but there's a lot of property that's rental property and so the issue is not quite as glaring. And the most important thing is to be sensitive about that, and to be sure that when you do that, that not only are they're getting fair compensation for their property but they're also getting the assistance of relocation into safe inhabitable housing," the mayor said.
The Livestock Show Association said it would try to have a decision on whether it will move the state fairgrounds by its next quarterly meeting.