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Westlake Reed Leskosky Designs El Dorado, Arkansas Arts & Entertainment District

El Dorado Festivals & Events (EFEI) has announced plans to transform and repurpose a group of historic structures in downtown El Dorado, Arkansas into a new arts and entertainment district that celebrates and builds upon the city’s distinctive legacy of culture, community, architecture, music and performing arts.

Nationally-recognized architects, engineers, and technology design firm, Westlake Reed Leskosky has prepared a master plan for the multi-venue El Dorado Arts and Entertainment District that will infuse historic structures with new energy through flexibility of use and a variety of cultural and entertainment activities that will appeal to local, regional and national contemporary audiences and future generations.

A collection of landmark structures, including the 1929 Rialto Theater Music Hall and the Griffin Auto Company, both listed on the National Register of Historic Places, will be adapted for use as new performance venues.  These will be combined and connected with other surrounding historic structures for a varied mix of entertainment, dining, and social amenities. Plans for the project include the potential for a festival venue and amphitheatre for 6-7,000 patrons; a multi-use music venue for 1,800 – 3,600 patrons; a black box, now combined with the stage of the Rialto, seating 100; a multi-use theatre for 750-1,000 patrons; and restaurant and cabaret for 300. Dining paired with music, a visual arts space and performer lodging are also envisioned. To round out the district, a destination playscape for children will also be added for family activities.

Austin Barrow, President and COO of EFEI, says, ”The creation of the El Dorado Arts and Entertainment District represents the next key piece in the city’s investment to bring together our cultural organizations and activities on a significant, grand scale.”

Paul E. Westlake, Jr., FAIA, managing principal and a lead designer of Westlake Reed Leskosky, specialists in cultural and performing arts, says, “El Dorado Festivals & Events has envisioned the creation of an exciting entertainment district that relates to its wonderful southern culture, it’s musical roots and civic identity.  We are transforming a group of hip buildings from the 1920s and 1930s, inherently interesting structures that have been sitting fallow yet in a charming historic district, and dovetailing new entertainment venues into them.”

“This is a remarkable opportunity for us in terms of our work in performing arts and historic preservation.  Instead of ubiquitous, generic buildings, we are leveraging these meaningful, ‘un-self-conscious’ historic artifacts, together with historic tax credit funding and Main Street urban economic development, and injecting new uses to make downtown more vital.  The result will be a ‘coolness’ of spaces that can only come from repurposing buildings with such individual character and qualities,” architect Westlake adds.

Westlake’s vision supports a 3 month long, regional market and feasibility study performed by Dan Martin, the Managing Principal of Market & Feasibility Advisors, LLC (MFA). With offices in Chicago and Austin, MFA completes studies and develops strategies for cultural, entertainment, recreational, and real estate developments across the US and overseas. Upon conclusion of the study, Dan Martin said, "El Dorado has a charming and attractive downtown with great buildings that would be ideal for a project like this.  The scores of people we spoke with in southern Arkansas and northern Louisiana sounded ready to support the effort. Many positively crave the diverse entertainment, for all ages and interests, that would be offered."

Terry Stewart, CEO of EFEI, adds, “The El Dorado Arts and Entertainment District will be transformative.  We hope to change the perspective and face of the town to make it a destination for the region and, hopefully at some point, for the nation.  We will have the infrastructure and venues to host an attractive variety of programs, including those appealing to the younger generations.  Through a wide scope of dining, entertainment and the arts, we will express the stories of our lives in music and unique cultural offerings of south Arkansas.”

To date, EFEI has raised over $43 million with donations and pledges from Murphy Oil, Murphy USA, The Walton Family Foundation, City of El Dorado Economic Development Tax, The Murphy Foundation, Deltic Timber Corporation and numerous individual donors.