Mayor Butch Berry on KOLR 10 - Spring 2017
Mayor Butch Berry welcomes attorney David Couch to a Mayor's Task Force on Economic Development community meeting in Eureka Springs to discuss his successful Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment. The meeting was held at the Courthouse on December 15, 2016.
When the gymnasium in the basement of The Auditorium was briefly converted to a roller rink a decade ago, skates wore holes through the wooden floor.
"You could literally see [through] holes in the floor down to the creek," Mayor Robert "Butch" Berry said at a recent meeting of the Eureka Springs City Council.
Affectionately known as The Aud, the four-story limestone building on Main Street was finished weeks before the stock market crash of 1929. Construction cost $90,000, which is about $1.27 million in today's dollars.
Once the center of the community, The Aud was home to high school basketball games, Saturday night dances and concerts. The first concert there was by John Philip Sousa and his 67-piece band on a warm September night in 1929. An overflow crowd listened from the street as boys shinnied up trees to watch through the open windows.
Since then, many famous people have performed in the 950-seat auditorium, including Ray Charles, Willie Nelson and Bill Cosby.
But more recently The Aud has become an "albatross," said one alderman. Another called it a "hot potato" because oversight of the historic building passed from one department to another before landing in the lap of the City Advertising and Promotion Commission about 15 years ago.
Berry said it's difficult to make a profit on big-name performers in The Aud because of its small size. The Aud tends to be a loss-leader for the city, with annual operating and maintenance costs exceeding revenue.
He said the city needs to hire a full-time auditorium manager and establish a commission to oversee the building, but the tourist town of 2,073 residents doesn't have the money to do that.
The mayor and council are asking voters to pass a 1 percent sales tax on the Nov. 8 general election ballot. The tax revenue would provide about $275,000 a year for The Aud, in addition to $825,000 a year for improvements, maintenance and repairs of the city's aging water and sewer infrastructure. The tax would be in place for 10 years.
With a full-time auditorium manager and commission, it would be easier to return The Aud to its role as a profitable events center, said Berry. Also, it would take about $30,000 to fix the foundation damage, he said. The holes in the gym floor were repaired years ago.
Berry said it costs $140,000 to $150,000 a year now to maintain and operate The Aud. That amount includes about $40,000 for the salary of a sound technician.
The Advertising and Promotion Commission provides about $110,000 of yearly costs from its 3 percent sales tax on hotels and restaurants, and the mayor's budget provides another $40,000.
Besides paying the salary of an auditorium manager, revenue from the new sales tax could go toward more events, said Berry. And the commission could devote all of the money it gives The Aud to advertising and promotion, instead of salaries and other expenses, said the mayor.
Berry said two committees have studied The Aud, and both recommended taking it from the Advertising and Promotion Commission and giving it to a separate commission.
"It's hard for it to be self-sustaining right now," said Berry. "There's no steady revenue for support. It has a lot of possibilities. It just needs somebody to take care of it better."
Berry said some people have complained that the Advertising and Promotion Commission should have done a better job managing The Auditorium.
"But in my opinion, that's not really the [commission's] mission," said Berry.
City Code 2.56.03 states that revenue from the commission's tax can go toward advertising and promotion for the city, or to the maintenance, operation and repair of a "convention center." Berry said The Aud could fall under that definition. The building has been used for overflow from conventions at town hotels.
Alderman Terry McClung, who is on the Advertising and Promotion Commission, said the commission doesn't have the staff to do its business of advertising and promotion and run The Auditorium as well. He said the commission will continue to fund The Aud, probably with more than $100,000 a year.
"I can't say specifically it will be $100,000-plus but that's what we've been talking about," McClung said Thursday.
At a meeting Monday of the City Council, Alderman David Mitchell said it's imperative that the voters know on Nov. 8 to what extent the Advertising and Promotion Commission will support The Aud if the tax passes.
"Put it in writing, lay it out, show the public and do it," said Mitchell.
Alderman James DeVito, who also serves on the commission, described The Auditorium as a "hot potato" at Monday's meeting.
"The [commission] never said, 'Please, let us handle The Auditorium,'" said DeVito. "In essence, what happened is the city said, "Here, you take it.' So we took it and we did the best we could with it."
June Westphal, a Eureka Springs historian, said The Auditorium was built in part because automobile tourism was booming in the 1920s and the city needed an entertainment center.
But now, nearby venues like the Walmart AMP in Rogers and the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville bring in well-known performers, making it less likely that residents of those areas will drive to Eureka Springs for a concert at The Aud.
Expensive concerts at The Aud require expensive ticket prices to make a profit, and the locals aren't usually the audience for those shows, said Westphal.
"Most of the people of Eureka Springs live on limited means, working or retired," she said. "There's not enough local use for the ticketed performances."
Glenna Booth, Eureka Springs' historic preservation officer, said The Auditorium went through a $500,000 renovation in 2003 and 2004. Half of that money came through a Save America's Treasures Grant from the National Park Service.
The renovation included refinishing the floor, upholstering seats, installing new carpet and fixing the cracked stage.
Booth said the interior of The Auditorium resembles one at Central High School in Little Rock.
"It's a typical 1920s auditorium," she said.
While basketball games are no longer held in the gym of The Auditorium, many other events are, said Westphal. Those include the Eureka Springs Ozark Folk Festival, Ozarks Chorale concerts and Christmas programs by the elementary and middle schools.
"There really isn't any place else that you can have a crowd of 1,000 seated, comfortable and inside and have any program or event except The Auditorium," said Westphal.
She said it's "unthinkable" that the building not be maintained and not available for local use.
"Historically, it's worth preserving," said Westphal. "There are things that are just too good to give up."
Metro on 10/02/2016
Eureka Springs is the setting for a new feature film, "ANTIQUITIES" - shot on location October, 2016. The film stars Mary Steenbergen and Graham Gordy. The film is due for release in fall 2017.
By Steven Skelley and Thomas Routzong Gay Travelers Magazine October, 2016
We had no idea what to expect when we were invited to visit Arkansas and Missouri. We spent six days exploring Eureka Springs and the Ozarks and what we found was amazing!
Famous natural springs, lakes and rivers – check! (www.EurekaSprings.org or Eureka Springs Waterways)
Beautiful rolling hills – check! (www.EurekaSprings.org or Eureka Springs Visitors Guide)
Artists and art galore – check! (www.EurekaSprings.org or Eureka Springs Arts Council)
Pioneering citizens for equal rights – check! (www.EurekaSprings.org or Diversity Weekend)
Historic and picturesque downtown – check! (www.EurekaSprings.org or Eureka Springs Chamber)
LGBT relocation and business hotspot – check! (www.EurekaSprings.org or Out In Eureka)
Spooky historic hotel – check! (1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa)
Significant architecture – check! (Thorncrown Chapel)
Mayor with a cool nickname – check! (Butch Berry)
We spent the night in a spooky hotel complete with a ghost tour. We strolled the historic streets and spoke with award winning artists. We enjoyed delicious meals ranging from upscale to something called ArkMex.
We had dinner with Eureka Springs Mayor Robert Dale “Butch” Berry. This is what he told us about Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
In one sentence, how would you describe Eureka Springs?
Eureka Springs, clinging to limestone walls, nestled in the mountains and surrounded by water, is a vibrant, authentic and historic cultural “island” in Northwest Arkansas known for its arts, architecture and culinary uniqueness.
How is Eureka Springs unique in architecture, dining and lodging?
Eureka Springs is the only town which has been listed in its entirety by its (1969) city limits on the National Register of Historic Places with National Significance.
Area restaurants can satisfy anyone’s appetite with everything from down-home Southern classics to romantic, candlelit dinners. With over 80 restaurants in the area that has award-winning restaurants serving savory Czech-German dishes, authentic Italian cuisine and spicy East Indian fare. You'll find Mediterranean, Chinese, Irish, Mexican, Cajun, and Thai as well. You can also enjoy lunch or dinner on a dining car at Eureka Springs & North Arkansas Railway.
When it comes to lodging, cozy up in a downtown B&B, historic hotels, modern motel, a romantic private suite or cottage, or a cabin in the woods. And if you want to spend the night in a treehouse or with a lion or tiger in your backyard, we have that too!
How has Eureka Springs become such a home for talented artists and a destination for art lovers?
Artists have been flocking to Eureka Springs since the early 1920’s to live in naturally creative setting free from distraction and rich with inspiration.
Louis and Elsie Freund started the ‘art colony’ phenomenon in the 40’s when they opened an art school in Eureka. As nationally known WPA muralists and artists, the Freund’s attracted folks from around the country. They also organized some of the first art fairs and artisan workshops in the area.
Quickly, galleries opened downtown, art festivals were born. The May Festival of the Arts will celebrate 30 years in 2017!
Today, we have over 48 galleries, more than 350 working artists, the Eureka Springs School of the Arts, Opera in the Ozarks, Melonlight Dance Theater, Eureka Springs Plein Air Festival and the Eureka Springs Artist Studio Tour, to name a few.
Artists like to live where other artists live and visitors appreciate their craft – Eureka Springs is that place.
How is Eureka Springs a destination for family travel?
Deep in the Ozark Mountains, Eureka Springs is a family paradise just brimming with activities – The Great Passion Play, one of the nation’s largest large cat sanctuaries, Turpentine Creek, and a Zipline over our valleys.
The city has over 63 springs and is surrounded by two rivers and three lakes with great fishing, smooth water for canoe or kayak floats, boating, jet skiing and paddle boarding.
Plus a 1600-acre city park, one of the largest city parks in the US, twice as large as Central Park, that is crisscrossed with 25 miles of hiking and biking trails and then there are several caves in the area available for touring.
Over 1.3 million visitors a year agree!
How is Eureka Springs a destination for LGBT travel?
Eureka Springs is the only city in Arkansas with a full non-discrimination ordinance clearly stating that Eureka Springs embraces equality, diversity and welcomes EVERYBODY.
Eureka Springs celebrates the LGBT community several times a year with Diversity Weekends.
Many of the galleries, restaurants, lodging and shops are LGBT owned.
Eureka Springs understands that equality and diversity are good for business, quality of life and essential for the arts, culture and entrepreneurial growth of Eureka Springs
If the word eureka means “I’ve found it,” then Eureka Springs, Arkansas may be the most perfectly named city in the USA.
For more information about Eureka Springs, Arkansas, visit www.EurekaSprings.org or www.arkansas.com/Eureka-Springs
Check our USA Spotlight for more of our articles about Eureka Springs, the Ozarks, and Branson, Missouri.
Article and photos by Steven Skelley and Thomas Routzong
Copyright 2016 Sunny Harbor Publishing