North Little Rock’s City Council created a Public Facilities Board for Riverfront Development last week, the first step in what could be a fun and moneymaking area for both Little Rock and North Little Rock. The center of it will be a new ballpark for the Arkansas Travelers.
Mayor Pat Hays says that the ground-breaking will be in August and that the Travelers will leave their 72-year-old park in Little Rock and start playing ball on their new spot on the river in 2007. Stephens Inc. has indicated it will give land to the city (maybe 11 acres) it owns on the east side of the Broadway Bridge and the city already owns seven acres on the west side.
Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines was talking to me about this a few weeks ago and made the good point that the ball- park ought to be built so that it will have different attractions that will bring people to the area all year long rather than just the five months of the baseball season.
It’s been done in some places. Dell Diamond in Round Rock, Texas, is one that I have seen. Round Rock is only about 30 miles from Austin, and people come in large numbers year-round to the ballpark to swim, hear concerts, picnic, see craft shows, hold conventions and meetings and entertain their children even when the baseball season is over. In addition to the pool, there are electric games and a “Fun Zone” that contains a volleyball court and a 25- foot-high rock wall that kids love to climb.
The park has a grass berm that can hold 3,000 people sitting on the ground watching the game, having picnics, or playing games. There is a concourse around the park that allows people to reach any part of it when the baseball games are being played. That’s important based on polls that North Little Rock has received that were taken at the new baseball park in Memphis — 60 percent of the people in the park did not know what team was playing the Memphis Chicks and who won. They came to the park just for the fun of it.
There are 8,500 seats in the Texas park. There are also 30 air-conditioned, decorated suites with comfortable furnishings, refrigerators, toilets and a balcony that are rented by the year by individuals and companies for meetings or parties as well as watching baseball. The price: $22,000 a year. There has been a waiting list for these suites ever since the park opened. One of the suites is rented by the night rather than a season so that anyone can enjoy one provided he or she is the first to ask and is willing to pay $500.
The park has 12 stands that serve wine and beer as well as food. There’s a covered area on the berm that can hold as many as 1,200 picnickers. And one other thing that I think is important — Round Rock likes to have college and high school baseball teams playing in its park when the Round Rock Express team is playing out of town.
The planning is for 24 suites in the North Little Rock ballpark, and city hall believes that the rent for them and the advertising on the fence would help to pay off a bond issue to build a $20 million home for the Travelers. City Hall doesn’t think taxes will be necessary.
This park and the rejuvenation of the old Rock Island Bridge, which will be paid for by the Clinton Library, will bring thousands of tourists, bicyclists and walkers to the two cities. Some in North Little Rock don’t seem to be happy about the erection of a high-rise apartment that would bring some 500 persons living on the waterfront because it might harm the view of the Alltel Arena from the Little Rock side. That’s sort of silly. With nearby towns reporting double-digit increases in population, North Little Rock lost 2.1 percent of its population at the last Census.
Well, there it was right in the newspaper. The Central Arkansas Transit Authority Board of Directors has decided unanimously to buy two more street cars. We have three, brought into our dwelling place to run 2.1 miles in rides over the river, one block on Main Street, a short drive east and west on Markham and a turnback on Second Street.
Like everything else, the cost of trolley cars has gone up, so these new ones will cost $856,619 each. With our president spending much and fast on his war and preparedness for more wars, the country now has a $427 billion deficit. However, the board maintains that the feds will pay 80 percent of the cost and the two cities and Pulaski County will pay only the rest — $342,648.
To ordinary people, even that is a lot of money for something that we will never use except maybe once. Might it not be, Messrs. Directors, a better use of that local amount of money to patch some of those potholes, feed and house some of the homeless roaming our streets, or starting new bus lines for people who have no way to get to work?