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story.lead_photo.caption Bobby Hopper (left), former member of the Arkansas Highway Commission, speaks Thursday with Bill Mathews, co-owner of McDonald’s restaurants in Northwest Arkansas, during the annual Springdale Chamber of Commerce’s “Chickin, Peelin’ and Politickin’” event at Walter Turnbow Park at Shiloh Square in downtown Springdale. - Photo by Andy Shupe

SPRINGDALE -- The seventh annual "Chickin, Peelin' and Politickin'" event drew a record crowd estimated at 550 Thursday night in its first gathering at Walter Turnbow Park in downtown Springdale.

The event was held at Arvest Ballpark in prior years and may be held there again, said Perry Webb, president of the Springdale Chamber of Commerce, which hosts the event. This year, though, the chamber and sponsors such as Sam's Furniture and Tyson Foods wanted to bring guests to see progress in Springdale downtown revitalization, he said.

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The event is one of the region's largest casual get-together of political and business leaders and one of the largest such events in the state, according to attending figures such as Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, 3rd District Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, and at least four candidates for statewide office attended Thursday's event.

"We wanted to support the downtown, have people see our park," Perry said. "The size was right and the location was better." In the future, the event may move around to other venues but both the Arvest Ballpark and the downtown location have proved to be excellent for the event, he said.

State Sen. Lance Eads, R-Springdale, is both an elected official and a vice president of the Springdale chamber. He said the event is of particular value to Northwest Arkansas because community and political leaders come from so many different towns. The rally allows them to meet and mingle in an informal setting. "The big four or five towns work together a lot, but this brings in people from Prairie Grove, Lincoln, Garfield and everywhere," he said.

He was also glad people got a reason to see progress in downtown Springdale first hand, Eads said. "You can talk about what's happening until you're blue in the face, but it is not like seeing it," he said.

Both Womack and Griffin said sharing the fare at the outdoor meal was like a community picnic that allowed a free, relaxed discussion among people with opposing views, something all too rare in modern politics. "You can always count on good food to bring people together, whatever their opinions," Griffin said. Womack agreed. "It is a chance to bring some friendship and good civil discussion," he said.

Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, a Democrat in a primarily Republican region, said he was always glad to see people from outside the region come too. "Sometimes, the rest of the state assumes we have everything we need up here, and that's not the case," he said.

The previous record attendance was 500 in 2015, according to chamber figures. This year, more than 600 tickets were sold for the event, Webb said, but he estimated 550 actually attended.

Springdale Mayor Doug Sprouse, who also attended the dinner, said he was very pleased with the chamber's decision to host the event downtown.

NW News on 09/22/2017

Print Headline: 'Politickin" event draws 550

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