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El Dorado plans a downtown arts makeover


The El Dorado City Council will contribute $9 million toward the development of a downtown arts district. The unanimous vote came late last week.

It’s part of a larger $50 million initiative that will include a renovation of the historic Rialto Theatre, a city landmark that dates back to 1929. It will house the Southern Theatre Festival. The funding also will be used to build an arts administration building, public art gallery, parks, and public restrooms, among other upgrades, according to Austin Barrow, president of El Dorado Festivals and Events Inc.

“When you look at a large regional theater based in El Dorado with touring Broadway shows, a downtown art gallery and farmers’ market, outdoor arena theaters – it’s really going to be a big shift in the landscape of El Dorado, Ark."

Barrow said the first step is to make room for the arts district. It involves about $1.5 million in downtown property acquisition. Barrow says the city’s willingness to pay for a portion of the arts district is a ringing endorsement for the effort to retool the city’s image. He says other investors will come forward.

"It's an enormous undertaking,” Barrow said. “Especially in our current economic times, it's a hard sell to make. But the city is actively pursuing it."

Barrow said the downtown makeover is entering the design phase. He says the project will have the potential to create more than 260 jobs and bring more than 200 tourists a day to the city. It’s slated to be completed in 2016.