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Obligation led to backing in Little Rock

Fourteen years ago Pulaski County, Ark., voters endorsed a one penny, year-long sales tax to fund an arena in North Little Rock.

Had it failed, the referendum would have been a strike three call on efforts to build a modern entertainment venue to serve North Little Rock, the capital city of Little Rock just across the Arkansas River, and the residents of the rest of the state.

In the previous two defeats, the project “seemed like it wasn’t a shared obligation,” said North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Hays.

But with a promise of $20 million in matching money from the Arkansas Legislature, Pulaski County voters finally felt the rest of the state had signed on as stakeholders, he said.

Business leaders felt likewise, he said, and pledged to pitch in with $10 million, of which $8 million would later come from Alltel with the purchase of naming rights for $7 million and a club suite for $1 million.

Today, the $82-million Verizon Arena (formerly Alltel Arena) operates debt free and contributes $2 million a year to Pulaski County in taxes.

Parking remained a huge concern all through the planning stages. But the planners insisted a dedicated parking garage would not be needed and that sufficient parking would be available in the private garages and on the streets in the vicinity of the arena.

“The press hit us left and right over parking, but that problem never materialized,” Hays said.

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