Sta­dium board’s direc­tor to re­sign

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NOTHWEST ARKANSAS - MICHAEL R. WICKLINE

The War Memo­rial Sta­dium Com­mis­sion’s ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor, Jerry Co­hen, is de­part­ing for an­other job, state Depart­ment of Parks and Tourism Direc­tor Kane Webb said Mon­day.

Webb said Co­hen re­ceived a job of­fer with bet­ter pay and bet­ter hours, and he’s leav­ing as of next Mon­day. Co­hen’s salary as sta­dium direc­tor is $86,401 a year, ac­cord­ing to the Arkansas Trans­parency web­site.

Webb said Co­hen has been the ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor for a few years and worked many years at the sta­dium. Webb re­ferred ques­tions about the na­ture of Co­hen’s new job to Co­hen, who could not be reached for com­ment by tele­phone and email at the sta­dium on Mon­day.

Co­hen sub­mit­ted his res­ig­na­tion to Webb and two other depart­ment of­fi­cials in an email dated July 26 — 10 days be­fore Sat­ur­day night’s Guns N’ Roses con­cert at the sta­dium.

Co­hen wrote, “I have been pre­sented an op­por­tu­nity that I ab­so­lutely can­not pass on.

“I have been strug­gling with this de­ci­sion for the past cou­ple of weeks. I have eval­u­ated my sit­u­a­tion both per­son­ally and pro­fes­sion­ally and the op­por­tu­nity pre­sented to me is the best for my­self and my fam­ily. My plans are to work through the con­cert,” Co­hen said in his email.

War Memo­rial Sta­dium Com­mis­sioner Brenda Scis­son of Lit­tle Rock said Mon­day that she hates to see Co­hen leave be­cause Co­hen has done a “great job,” but she un­der­stands that Co­hen has been pre­sented with “a tremen­dous of­fer” from a com­pany with more “re­al­is­tic” work­ing hours.

“I re­al­ize this could not come at a worse time, but this is an op­por­tu­nity as I stated, for me both per­son­ally and pro­fes­sion­ally. I thank you for the op­por­tu­nity you have af­forded me as the sta­dium man­ager.”

War Memo­rial Sta­dium Com­mis­sioner Brenda Scis­son of Lit­tle Rock said Mon­day that she hates to see Co­hen leave be­cause Co­hen has done a “great job,” but she un­der­stands that Co­hen has been pre­sented with “a tremen­dous of­fer” from a com­pany with more “re­al­is­tic” work­ing hours.

Webb said Mon­day that “in an­tic­i­pa­tion of his de­par­ture, we moved Shea Lewis, one of our top re­gional su­per­vi­sors, to the sta­dium a week ago to serve as in­terim direc­tor.

“We don’t an­tic­i­pate that to be a per­ma­nent shift for Shea,” who is not get­ting a pay raise for the ad­di­tional du­ties, Webb said. Lewis’ salary is $ 62,503 a year, ac­cord­ing to the Arkansas Trans­parency web­site.

The depart­ment plans to hire a new sta­dium man­ager and “as to when, it’s as soon as we find the right can­di­date,” Webb said. “We will ad­ver­tise the job.

“We also have tem­po­rar­ily as­signed two park pro­fes­sion­als to as­sist in the sta­dium op­er­a­tion,” he said, re­fer­ring to Ron Sal­ley, su­per­in­ten­dent of Pin­na­cle Moun­tain State Park, and John Latch, as­sis­tant su­per­in­ten­dent for Mis­sis­sippi River State Park.

Webb said there are six full-time em­ploy­ees at the sta­dium, “but we have used some [Depart­ment of Parks and Tourism] man­power to as­sist when and where ap­pro­pri­ate.”

The sta­dium has been un­der the con­trol of the Depart­ment of Parks and Tourism since Feb. 22 when Gov. Asa Hutchin­son signed leg­is­la­tion — now Act 269 of 2017 — im­me­di­ately merg­ing the free- stand­ing War Memo­rial Sta­dium Com­mis­sion into the depart­ment. The eight- mem­ber com­mis­sion con­tin­ues to be ap­pointed by the gov­er­nor un­der Act 269, but its ac­tions are sub­ject to ap­proval of the parks and tourism direc­tor, who is Webb.

The Repub­li­can gov­er­nor has pro­posed cut­ting the sta­dium’s gen­eral rev­enue fund­ing roughly in half to $ 447,647 in fis­cal 2019, which starts July 1, 2018, with the long- term aim of mak­ing the sta­dium self-suf­fi­cient. The Repub­li­can-con­trolled Leg­is­la­ture will con­sider that pro­posal dur­ing its fis­cal ses­sion, start­ing in Fe­bru­ary.

Webb said he hopes to get a re­port in Oc­to­ber from a Texas-based com­pany con­duct­ing a fea­si­bil­ity study on the fu­ture of the sta­dium. The depart­ment has a $ 160,000 con­tract with Con­ven­tions, Sports & Leisure In­ter­na­tional LLC of Frisco, Texas, that runs through April.

War Memo­rial Sta­dium opened in 1948 and has played host to ma­jor col­lege foot­ball, con­certs and other events for more than 60 years, ac­cord­ing to its web­site.

There has been no de­ter­mi­na­tion re­gard­ing the fu­ture of Ra­zor­back foot­ball in Lit­tle Rock be­yond the cur­rent con­tract with the Univer­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville, which runs through 2018, said Kevin Trainor, a spokesman for the UA ath­letic depart­ment.

Last month, the Univer­sity of Arkansas at Lit­tle Rock an­nounced plans to study the cost of and sup­port for re­viv­ing its foot­ball pro­gram.

In May, the Arkansas Nat­u­ral and Cul­tural Re­sources Coun­cil awarded a $1.1 mil­lion con­ser­va­tion and his­toric preser­va­tion grant to the War Memo­rial Sta­dium Com­mis­sion to up­grade its score­board and two video boards.

Webb said the score­board up­grade is be­ing tested this week to make sure ev­ery­thing is func­tional, and train­ing for the score­board op­er­a­tion will be con­ducted over the next few weeks.

He said the at­ten­dance at Sat­ur­day night’s Guns N’ Roses con­cert to­taled 23,973, and “all the fi­nan­cials for the con­cert won’t be avail­able for sev­eral days as we work through the de­tails with the pro­moter, Live Na­tion.

“When we get them, we will be happy to share them,” he said, ad­ding he was pleased with the turnout. He said he would like to hold two or three big con­certs at the sta­dium a year.

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