Attorney Questions Legality Of Plan


— Fayetteville residents in the 1980s agreed to tax themselves to build an arts center.

Kit Williams, the city's attorney, on Wednesday said that fact means the Walton Arts Center cannot move its "primary arts center" outside the city.

The Walton Arts Center's board of directors voted Wednesday to build a 2,200-seat theater in Bentonville that would be larger than the 1,201 seats at Baum Walker Hall on Dickson Street. It also voted to build a new 600-seat theater in Fayetteville.

Williams said the arts center cannot remove its principle location from Fayetteville, according to an interlocal agreement between Fayetteville and the University of Arkansas.

The 1986 agreement created what is known today as the Walton Art Center board of directors and the Walton Arts Center Foundation.

Fayetteville residents approved a tax measure in the 1980s as a condition to the interlocal agreement, Williams said. The tax measure helped to pay for the construction of Baum-Walker Hall.

The arts center's board and foundation are "agents" for the city and university, Williams said. As agents, they cannot do anything that would damage the interests of Fayetteville and the university, he said.

"To have our own agents, who are supposed to be watching out for our interests and the university, reject our proposal and instead propose to build a competing larger performing arts center in Bentonville, I think it would be a breach of their fiduciary duty," Williams said.

The arts center's board has known about the city's position since 2007 because Williams sent his opinions to Curt Rom, an arts center's board member representing Fayetteville. He again sent his research to the arts center's attorney Tameron Bishop in 2008.

"I always respect his opinion, but I'm not an attorney," Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan said. "Of course, anytime you have a city attorney that brings something up like that, you need to look at it."

Peter Lane, the center's president and CEO, couldn't answer what would be considered as the center's principal location. Instead, he said the "density" of the Walton Arts Center would remain in Fayetteville.

"I'm not a lawyer, but I think at this point the Walton Art Center has methodically and carefully done what it should do, which is look at all the options," Lane said.

David Gearhart, University of Arkansas chancellor, does not think the principal location of the arts center will be removed from Fayetteville.

"I really don't see it by any means as transferring up there to Bentonville and I know his opinion was that, legally, you can't do that, but I have not really heard anything in any discussion that it's a transfer," Gearhart said.

The city and the university each appoint five members to the center's board of directors, which also has 10 at-large positions.

Greg Lee, a board member, said before the vote the 2,200-seat building was an expansion, not a relocation.

"Is this a Fayetteville community product?" he questioned. "Yes, but it is a regional product, very much so ... I would certainly hope that we vote and however the chips fall, the chips fall."