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story.lead_photo.caption FILE — Patrick Ellis, an employee of the the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock, braves cold temperatures to secure a banner in front of the facility in this January 19, 2016 file photo. - Photo by John Sykes Jr.

The Arkansas Arts Center wants to boost its estimated $46 million construction budget to remake the downtown Little Rock museum, officials said Monday as they try to reconcile a wish list with financial limitations.

Arts Center Executive Director Todd Herman and Merritt Dyke, president of the museum's board of trustees, would not disclose the target, citing the sensitivity of ongoing fundraising efforts, but said the difference would be made up solely with private money.

An updated budget will be disclosed along with the unveiling of the project's concept design, anticipated by March, Dyke said. The design reveal was initially set for Oct. 16 but was postponed after Herman visited the architects' office to view a model. At the time, he said the delay was about "marrying the goals and the desires with the budget."

"The reason that the concept [design] phase has been extended is that we had to increase the budget that we originally went in with," Herman said Monday. "We are getting very close to the point where the design and the desires that we have for the building and the budget are coming together."

It's unknown whether this will affect the project's broader timeline, Dyke said. The initial schedule -- to begin construction in late 2019 and open the remade museum in fall 2021 -- was created to allow for minor setbacks.

The "concept design" phase that the museum is engaged in now was initially set to end in November, counting the museum's one-month review period.

Because officials hope to keep changes to the design minimal after it is revealed, now is the time to match their desires with available money, Dyke said. He said the museum was surprised to learn the extent to which fixes to the building's "guts" needed repair, work that has threatened to cut into their ambitions.

"The extension of the concept design is a good thing," Dyke said. "This is very, very positive for the long-term outlook for the Arkansas Arts Center."

Lead architect Studio Gang, which has offices in Chicago and New York, has surveyed the facility and maintained that the museum redo would require extensive fixes to existing museum elements.

Jeanne Gang, the firm's founder, last year said she hoped to make the "fortress-like" building more inviting while better linking it to its MacArthur Park surroundings.

Gang's team spent four months studying the building last year before informing trustees that necessary work included a new heating and air conditioning system. The architects also said the flow through the building needed improvement, among other critiques.

This was aside from potential additions, such as an expanded lecture hall, an outdoor arts loop, a more accessible library and a new family adventure program.

Warren and Harriet Stephens are leading the fundraising effort, Dyke said. Warren Stephens is chairman and chief executive of the investment firm Stephens Inc.

Private money was always considered necessary for the museum redo, which aims to grow the facility by one-third of its size, upgrade existing spaces and tie together different museum elements introduced during previous expansion and remodeling efforts.

Little Rock voters in February 2016 approved the sale of up to $37.5 million in general obligation bonds dedicated to the expansion. A 2 percentage point tax increase to hotel stays will pay down the debt.

Officials previously said up to $50 million in private donations would supplement the bonds to both pay for the project and increase the nonprofit Arkansas Arts Center Foundation's endowment to an appropriate size. The foundation owns the museum's artwork and grants.

Construction costs are only a portion of the total budget. As of last fall, the total estimated cost for construction and soft expenses, such as fees for architects, was more than $60 million.

The Arts Center agreed to pay $6.4 million in fees to Studio Gang and a host of consultants, including the local architectural partner Polk Stanley Wilcox, according to a copy of a contract signed Nov. 20.

That price includes $1.3 million in fees already paid as of the signing.

Architects and consultants can claim up to 2.5 percent of their fees in reimbursements, according to the contract, a ceiling that amounts to roughly $160,000.

The parties previously did business based on a series of rolling letters of intent to sign a contract after Chicago- and New York-based Studio Gang was announced as the lead firm in December 2016.

The contract allows the museum to extend the project schedule by 35 days without any additional cost. That "wiggle room" has not been used yet and would likely come near the end of the project if it is deemed necessary, Dyke said.

A Section on 01/23/2018

Print Headline: Arts Center's LR redo will take more money; Repair expenses surprise museum

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