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The El Dorado Advertising and Promotion Commission recently approved two funding requests totaling $14,250 to assist in a holiday production and to continue publishing the city’s visitors/tourism guide, at least through the first quarter of 2021.

After considerable discussion Nov. 12, commissioners settled on $5,500 of a $20,000 funding request from the South Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, who will kick off the 2020 - 2021 “Season of Harmony” on Nov. 28 with two performances of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker”.

The holiday show will be held at the El Dorado Municipal Auditorium and will feature the Arkansas Festival Ballet for a matinee at 2:30 p.m. and an evening show at 7 p.m.

Sara Coffman, executive director of SASO, told commissioners that the symphony is booking more than 100 local hotel rooms for symphony performers and members of the Arkansas Ballet Troupe.

Coffman reminded commissioners that they awarded SASO $30,000 earlier this year when they approved the 2020 A&P budget and doled out funding for requests for proposals.

Like many other groups who applied for A&P funds to market and promote 2020 events, Coffman said SASO has been forced to postpone or cancel shows that had been planned for this year because of COVID-19 and The Nutcracker will be the only SASO performance in 2020.

The symphony has submitted one invoice for approximately $1,800 to the city for reimbursement this year and Coffman asked that $20,000 of the remainder of the allotment be reallocated to help cover expenses for The Nutcracker production and to update the SASO website.

She said the website is the symphony’s primary marketing tool and information source and has not been updated since 2001, adding that SASO recently contracted with JC Productions, which is based in Camden, to work on the website.

Commissioner Alan Meadows inquired about the legalities by which A&P funding may be used for projects other than advertising and promoting events, noting that a similar question was addressed last month when the Murphy Arts District tendered a funding request to cover operating expenses for the second annual MAD on Ice skating rink, which is set to begin Nov. 20.

Meadows said City Attorney Henry Kinslow rendered a legal opinion on the MAD request and had pointed to city code, Section 90-54, which permits “the operation of tourist-oriented facilities, including, but not limited to, theme parks and other family entertainment facilities.” Arkansas statute also says that A&P money may be used for the “operation of tourist promotion facilities in the city or the county where the city is located if the city owns an interest in the convention center or facility, and facilities necessary for, supporting, or otherwise pertaining to, a convention center …”

“Amusement, tourist attractions … and then there’s referencing into the fact that we can do physical things, like (at the El Dorado-Union Recreation Complex) soccer fields if we have ownership in it,” said Paul Choate, A&P treasurer and a member of the El Dorado City Council.

The city owns the land on which the complex sits and last summer, the A&P commission agreed to contribute $256,500 to complete construction of two new youth soccer fields at the facility.

Coffman pointed out that The Nutcracker is being presented in the El Dorado Municipal Auditorium and unexpected expenses have arisen in relation to COVID-19, including extra cleaning and sanitizing and the purchase of personal protective equipment for the performers.

Meadows asked about ticket sales and Coffman said sales are going well, with buyers mostly coming from Little Rock. Ticket sales in south Arkansas, including Camden and Magnolia, are starting to pick up, she said.

Coffman said tickets must be purchased in advance and they will not be available for purchase at the door.

With coronavirus (COVID-19) health and safety guidelines in mind, seating will be limited to 450 people per show and audience members will be seated in pods, Coffman said.

Commissioner Kelli Harrison asked about the expense to update the SASO website and Coffman said the cost is $4,000.

“I’m not asking for any more than what we were already approved for,” Coffman said.

After further discussion about the matter, including the possibility of the event being canceled due to another round of COVID outbreaks, the commission agreed to $5,500 to cover expenses for marketing, COVID-19 cleaning and playbills for The Nutcracker.

Commissioners also voted in favor of a request for $8,750 to produce the first 2021 issue of the El Dorado Insider.

Don Hale, of the Diamond Agency, the A&P commission’s ad agency of record, reminded commissioners that they previously approved funding to publish the quarterly magazine for two years and the funding runs out at the end of this year.

Each year, the first issue of the Insider, the city’s visitors’ and tourist guide, focuses on providing information and resources for newcomers and potential newcomers to El Dorado.

Commissioners are also awaiting responses to requests for proposals to update the Go El Dorado website, which is owned by the city and managed by the El Dorado-Union County Chamber of Commerce.

Hale said a committee was formed earlier this to perform an “intense evaluation to see which components need to be updated, which need to be discarded and where we were missing the boat.”

“I think we’ve learned in the last nine months of the year that mobility and accessibility is critical to having a good website,” Hale said.

“When we are quarantined, when we are sequestered, when we are sitting in a room, most people are spending time online, so the amount of information that you can receive online, plus the speed by which you receive it and the way you find that information, is critical,” he continued.

Hale said RFPs were sent out to about six companies in Arkansas and Louisiana and Kaitlyn Rigdon, marketing and finance coordinator for the chamber, said Nov. 13 was the deadline to submit RFPs.

Hale said the committee will have more information about costs once members sift through the RFPs.

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