Progress: Austin Barrow, president of El Dorado Festivals and Events, spoke on the progress the company is making at the Desk and Derrick Club on Tuesday. Barrow described the restaurant and music hall they are currently designing and building.
By Kaitlyn Rigdon
EL DORADO — R. Austin Barrow III discussed progress being made for the El Dorado Festivals and Events project at the Desk and Derrick Club meeting on Tuesday.
El Dorado Festivals and Events is a mission driven 501(c)3 company founded in 2011 to create the “Festivals City of the South!”
Barrow is an El Dorado native who spent his summers working at the South Arkansas Arts Center in theatrical performances since the age of eight. After four years of drama classes in high school, he attended Louisiana Tech University in Ruston. He studied performance, design and directing with specialty classes in stage combat and scenography and graduated after three years of study.
He was accepted into DePaul University Department of Theatre in Chicago as a master of fine art candidate in scenic design.
Barrow has lived all over the country and has appeared in film, television and print advertising.
He and his wife moved back to El Dorado where he now serves as the president of the El Dorado Festivals and Events incorporation.
Barrow explained the history leading up to the Festivals and Events project.
Between 2009 and 2011, there was a huge population loss and the city was trying to figure out how to help its self, he said. The El Dorado Promise was already in place and the conference center and the high school were nearing completion. They did a study to see what kind of attractions would make people want to come and visit El Dorado.
“What they discovered was kind of a long standing history of arts and culture that this little oasis of a town in the middle of no where had,” Barrow said. “It’s very rare to have companies the size of Murphy USA, Lion Oil, etc, in a town of less than 20,000 people, is just unheard of.”
The support those companies have given to the arts culture over the past 60 years has made these things something the city is used to, he said. “We’re used to having a kind of bold and boisterous Main Street program that does these enormous concerts that you can’t find in a town of this size,” Barrow said. “They saw that as an opportunity to build upon, so they made this recommendation to create this organization called El Dorado Festivals and Events.”
They are currently building the arts complex, which has been broken down into two phases.
The overall project scope is between $90 million and $100 million. They have raised $67 million so far, which has allowed them to begin on phase one, he said.
“The first phase is centered around what was known before as El Dorado Glass,” Barrow said. “It’s a historic building on the national registry called the Griffin Automotive building.”
The building was constructed in the late 1920s. The front area that used to be the gas station is having new floors laid down and encasing the exterior wall in glass, which will be a new farm to table restaurant, he said.
They have been working with the Arkansas and Louisiana Department of Agriculture to source up to 150 miles outside of El Dorado. They are reaching out to as many local farms possible in order to bring produce and product including meat and vegetables to the restaurant. They envisioned the restaurant having a cabaret stage and having a house band. “We will probably have music there three to four times a week,” Barrow said. “It’s going to be a very unique experience, a very affordable restaurant.”
The Festivals and Events project is taking the community element and supporting it but also taking a professional element, he said. Doing this will allow them to market people within a 250 mile range to visit El Dorado. “The things we are working on, they’re geared toward our local taste and our local desires,” Barrow said. “The real intent is to try to draw people from over 250 miles away to come in and visit our town.”
The music hall is going where the original warehouse was and will be considered a full size rock and roll stage. “What that means is that there’s not a rock act in the world that couldn’t come in and play on this stage,” Barrow said.
The facility will seat between 1,800 people and 2,100 people, but can have as little as 250 people.
In addition to the music hall, there is going to be an outdoor amphitheater that will be able to host between seven to nine thousand people.
Barrow also addressed the parking issue. “We should be able to add between 500-750 parking spaces downtown,” he said. “Which is going to be important, especially for some of the bigger events that we do.”
The El Dorado Festivals and Events project is working with Main Street El Dorado to partner this year’s Music Festivals. They are planning for it to take place inside the arts district. “The new district is set to open at the end of September, so we’re planning a five day opening weekend that will start on a Wednesday and end on a Sunday,” Barrow said. “Friday and Saturday will be the traditional Music Fest nights. In fact we hired the former executive director of Main Street to work as our vice president of entertainment.”
The El Dorado Festivals and Events is hosting an open house this Saturday from 10 a.m. until noon. There will be tours throughout the whole district. “It would be a really great time to come down and get a really good view on what’s coming,” Barrow said.
Kaitlyn Rigdon is a staff reporter for the News-Times. She may be reached at 870-862-6611 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.