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Fletcher: State Fair decision to remain in LR won’t end plans for Jacksonville development

Even though the state fair won’t be moving to Jacksonville, city officials there are optimistic that land where the fairground infrastructure would have been built still can be used to bring more economic development to the town.

The city still plans on buying the tract of land at the corner of Wooten Road and Interstate 440 for economic development purposes, even though the state fair won’t be relocated there, according to Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher.

Fletcher’s comments came after officials of the Arkansas State Fair announced the state fair will be staying in Little Rock.

“We will still pursue the land for economic development,” Fletcher said. “The land would really lend itself for a good economic development opportunity.”

Fletcher said he was not surprised when it recently was announced that the Arkansas State Fair Board opted to remain in Little Rock.

The board’s decision came after the city of Little Rock committed $3 million to the fairgrounds so it could enhance the grounds, which currently are within Little Rock’s city limits.

The city of Little Rock was able to provide the revenue following last fall’s passage of the sales tax increase. In the resolution passed by the Little Rock Board of Directors to place the proposed tax increase before city voters, city officials there put wording in its sales tax increase ordinance committing funds to the fair if the tax passed.

The city pledged to commit up to $3 million for “expansion and improvement of facilities that can enhance the Arkansas State Fairground; provided the fair remains in its current location within the city on Roosevelt Road.”

Fletcher said he had worked closely with the state fair board in recent months and become very aware of their needs.

“They need infrastructure,” Fletcher said.

He said the city of Jacksonville was unable to provide millions of dollars to the fair. In addition, late last year, voters in North Little Rock rejected that city’s proposal for its own sales tax increase, which would have led to some funds being committed to move the state fair to North Little Rock.

Fletcher said he started looking for alternatives for the Wooten/I-440 property after there was a consideration to move the fairgrounds to North Little Rock if that city’s proposed tax had passed.

“We didn’t want to be caught flat-footed,” he said. “When Pat (Hays, mayor of North Little Rock) was pushing that the fair go to North Little Rock, I figure we were fixing to lose the fair.”

The city’s first priority is to buy the land before plans are made to do something with it.

“You don’t want to put the cart before the horse,” Fletcher said.

Once the land is owned by the city, the next step is to extend utility lines there to improve it and make it even more attractive as a site for development.

“Entergy owns most of it along with a few other private property owners,” Fletcher said. “Entergy should be very supportive. Anything good for Jacksonville is good for all of us.”

He said all officials in Central Arkansas should view economic development as a regional effort.

“I wish the fair board all the success in the world,” Fletcher said.

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