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story.lead_photo.caption Outlook luncheon: From left, Austin Barrow, President/COO and Terry Stewart, Chairman of the board and CEO, speak at the El Dorado-Union County Chamber of Commerce’s quarterly Economic Outlook Luncheon Wednesday.

President and COO, Austin Barrow and Terry Stewart, Chairman of the board and CEO, spoke on MAD’s behalf at the Economic Outlook Luncheon Wednesday.

Barrow said that El Dorado has received a bit of attention across the county, with an “eyeball count” of 5.8 Billion on viewerships from MAD’s Public Relations maneuvers.

“Those aren’t paid advertisements … those are articles about us leading up to our opening,” Barrow said. “It was a very fun and interesting ride for me.”

The Economic Outlook Luncheon is put on by the El Dorado-Union County Chamber of Commerce every quarter with this one being held at the Griffin Music Hall in the district.

“It’s very important that you folks in Union County, El Dorado and all of the other towns help us support this by attending our events and coming to dinner here and everything else that we do,” Stewart said. “We have to keep pushing for unique opportunities and new things that are going to be going on here.”

Stewart said the district has raised about $70 million, but still need to raise another $30 million to finish “what we are going to show you.”

The district has been working in two phases. The first phase was opened in September and included the Griffin Restaurant, Griffin Music Hall, MAD Amphitheater and the playscape.

Barrow said that the playscape is underway and they are working to get that open in mid May.

“By the time the kids get out of school, we’ll have a two acre playground opened up for them to come play in,” Barrow said.

The playscape was approved to include a nine-foot tall razorback water slide, Arkansas related flora and fauna, a natural area including caves and about a 150 foot-long zip line.

“There are actually destination playscapes where they have such an attraction and they are themed such that families will actually travel to them,” Stewart said. “(MAD’s) is the biggest one we know of in the four or five state region.”

Phase II will include the MAD Art Gallery and remodeling of the Rialto.

The duo also announced that they gave a pitch to the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism in Little Rock and were selected to host the Arkansas Governor’s Conference on Tourism in 2019.

“This is the second time in its 30 year history that it’s been south of Hot Springs,” Barrow said. “Every other time it’s been up north. Four years ago it was in Texarkana.”

The event is estimated to bring more than 600 people to El Dorado.

They also gave an economic report for the district. Nearly 50 percent of the construction dollars in just the Griffin Restaurant and Music Hall, which was a $36 million construction cost, stayed in El Dorado.

“With the Amphitheater and playscape, you can add another $10 million, and about 90 percent of that stayed home,” Barrow said.

“The overall economic impact for those construction dollars, indirect and direct, was estimated to be somewhere north of $75 million over the past several years,” Barrow said. “And this facility is estimated to have an annual economic impact for this region of over $22 million.

“That’s a lot of new cash that is now running through our cities and our county. We should all be able to have the opportunity to benefit from it,” Barrow added.

Barrow also mentioned the possibility of a hotel coming to the downtown area. He said “I couldn’t put a date on it right now, but I would say sometime within the next four years, including construction time, I think El Dorado is going to have a new downtown hotel.”

The hotel will possibly be connected to the El Dorado Conference Center, and be located close to downtown and the arts district.

“It provides an enormous opportunity for groups coming here and we’re excited about that,” Stewart said.

The district is hard at work making offers for MusicFest weekend and upcoming performances.

There are “no promises in the offer … but (Mark Givens, VP of Talent and Relations) was on the phone this morning with Hank Williams Jr.,” Barrow said.

Stewart stated that they also got an offer out to the “Skinner guys.”

On Feb. 7 and 8, the annual Arkansas Festivals and Events Association Conference and Trade Show was hosted at the Griffin Restaurant and Music Hall.

At the award show, MAD was named Event of the Year. In partnership with Main Street, MusicFest XXX received gold in Outstanding New Idea.

“I promise you (MusicFest) is going to come back just as big and bodacious as it was when we did opening weekend,” Barrow said.

Kaitlyn Rigdon can be reached at 870-862-6611 or

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