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Like it or not, Barton it is for 2013

By now you have most likely heard that the state high school basketball finals will be played at Little Rock’s Barton Coliseum in March.

You also likely have seen, heard or read of the shock waves that came with the announcement that the state’s biggest basketball weekend will be played at a facility that is on its way out and was called in a 2009 Arkansas Activities Association publication a great starting point, but “best suited for rodeos rather than basketball.” Located at the State Fairground, Barton is 63 years old and has been used infrequently for sports in recent years, in part because of the arrival of Alltel/Verizon Arena in 1999. Even the State Fair is looking at moving to a site between Sherwood and Jacksonville if the money can be found to relocate.

In January, State Fair general manager Ralph Shoptaw told our Arkansas News Bureau: “The facilities do need to be repaired and updated. The coliseum restrooms need updating terribly.”

The media —new wave Internet type and more traditional newspapers — have hammered the 19-member Arkansas Activities Association board, members of which, by the way, get a free weekend of hotel rooms at the location they select for the event, for their choice of Barton.

Are there issues with Barton? You bet. But you know, I plan on dwelling on the positive: there will be plenty of parking.

And plenty of security, according to Terry Hartwick of the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, who headed the group that brought the state finals back to Pulaski County.

Hartwick and his crew are not to be criticized if anyone does not like how things turned out. They played within the rules — even though said rules were changed somewhat during the process — and won the bid. The organizers wanted Verizon, but opted for Barton because it rents for about one-third of what Verizon Arena was going to charge for three nights, a figure Hartwick said was more than $80,000.

How we got to this point is also an interesting story. Summit Arena in Hot Springs, the host of the tourney the past 5 years, ran into a problem next year and had to opt out of the final year of its three-year contract because of a conflict in dates with the Sun Belt Conference tournament.

The AAA sought bidders.

Board members went to Jonesboro, and the Arkansas State University Convocation board submitted a bid for one year. And it probably would have gotten the bid, if not for the more lucrative bid from Pulaski County.

But … the original bid from here was for three years.

After the presentation, Hartwick hinted that he might hear about submitting a new bid for the hosting, this time just one year.

Meanwhile, Hot Springs submitted another three-year bid, but not to begin until 2014.

The AAA got back with Hartwick and asked him to make an offer for one year. He did. And that’s where we are.

And we will do it again next year.

•••

Jeff Reed is sports editor of Stephens Media’s Pulaski County newspapers. His e-mail address is jreed@arkansasnews.com.

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