A two-percent increase in Little Rock's hotel tax will fund improvements to McArthur Park and two of the city's cultural centers housed in the park, provided voters approve designating the revenue from the tax increase accordingly.
The Little Rock Board of Directors Tuesday night (Dec. 1) approved two separate one-penny hotel tax increases and a Feb. 9, 2016 special election related to the increase.
The plan is to take out a bond for up to $37-million to be paid off by the tax over the next 30 years. Most of that will go to improvements to the Arkansas Arts Center with about $1-million going to the McArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History and the 175-year-old former Arsenal building, the birthplace of General Douglas McArthur.
Based on the board's vote, the higher tax will be collected, regardless of the outcome of the election. If voters reject using the money for the McArthur Park projects, law stipulates that half will be used for parks, and the other half will go to the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"This is really on out-of-towners who use the hotels," Mayor Mark Stodola explained before the vote. "We've done a comparison of the taxes of other cities and tried to come up with a vehicle that we think would be supportive of trying to get the improvements that are necessary to keep the accreditation that these wonderful museums we have."
Arts Center Executive Director Todd Harmon told the board he envisions creating exterior spaces that "embrace" the park with such features as sculpture gardens, walking paths and gathering places. He also wants to "turn (the building) inside-out" with lots of glass in exterior walls.
Harmon said one of his goals for the project is "to inspire the community and add to the economic vigor of the city. You know, great cities have great art and have great art museums," he said.
Harmon called the board's consideration of the plan "a wonderful moment for the Arkansas Arts Center."