DLR Group|Westlake Reed Leskosky

Murphy Arts District

El Dorado, AR, USA - 2017
12. March 2018
Photo: Kevin G. Reeves
The Murphy Arts District is a multi-phase project that includes a number of performance venues, outdoor spaces, and renovations of old buildings for the small town of El Dorado, Arkansas. The first phase was completed in September 2017, the same month DLR Group acquired Westlake Reed Leskosky. The architects answered some questions about the project, delving deep into how the firm got the project back in August and September 2014.
Project: Murphy Arts District, 2017 (phase 1)
Location: El Dorado, Arkansas, USA
Client: El Dorado Festivals & Events, Inc.
Architect: DLR Group|Westlake Reed Leskosky
Design Principal: Paul Westlake, FAIA
Project Manager: Matthew Janiak, AIA, LEED AP
Project Team, Architecture: Ruth Albertelli, RA; Christopher Block, RA, CDT; Jordan Charles; Richard Danicic; Karl Eicher; Monica Green, FAIA; Joshua Haney, RA, LEED AP BD+C; Matthew Jennings, AIA; Christopher Loeser; Brant Miller, RA, LEED AP; Oscar Rodriguez, RA, LEED AP BD+C; Peter Rutti, AIA, NCARB
Project Team, Interiors: Fonda Hosta, Charles Olivo
Project Team, Engineering: Raymond Heintel, PE, RCDD; Coral Pais, EIT, LEED AP; Mike Sugahiro; Daniel Kascak; Jui-Chen Chang, PE, LEED Fellow; Christopher Uguccini; Shawn Carr; Mitchell Clemente; Kathryn Helmer, EIT; John Hummel; Stephanie Banfield, PE; Jason Majerus, PE, CEM, LEED AP; Erin Davies; Marlon Wright, EIT; Duane Palin, PE; Jeffrey Gormish
Project Team, Specialty: Ray Kent, Assoc. AIA, DMC-D; Mark Egbert; Kascey Haslanger; Wes Calkin; James Krumhansl; Rolando de la Cruz Alvarez
Site Area: 125,868 sf
Building Program: 7,000 patron festival venue/amphitheater; 2,000 seat indoor music venue; 
100-seat black box/multi-purpose room; 850-seat multi-use theater
Photo: Kevin G. Reeves
What were the circumstances of receiving the commission for this project?
Edwin Alderson, a former judge and business executive from El Dorado, Arkansas, came into Cleveland Ohio to have eye surgery at the Cleveland Clinic. While in Cleveland, he established a 20 minute appointment at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum (a client of DLR/Westlake Reed Leskosky) to meet their CEO, Terry Stewart. Edwin Alderson had an extensive collection of records and paraphernalia that he had assembled over decades, informed by his ownership of about 17 radio stations and his personal interest in music. The 20 minute meeting grew into several hours. The outcome of this meeting was that Edwin Alderson persuaded Terry Stewart and his wife Sally to join Edwin and Dianne Alderson to return with him to El Dorado, where Edwin was involved in a plan to redevelop an historic theatre in El Dorado as a first phase of an arts district.
The theatre had been planned by a design firm in Little Rock to undergo an extensive renovation and addition. The addition to the east of the theatre would extend into Jefferson Street, effectively terminating through traffic. Terry Stewart wanted another expert opinion on the planning and design of this theatre project, and contacted Art Falco, President of PlayhouseSquare in Cleveland (the second largest arts district in the U.S.). Terry asked Art to recommend an architect experienced in the design of historic theatres, to which Art responded, "Paul Westlake – your architect for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – who also renovated all of the theatres in PlayhouseSquare."
Photo: Kevin G. Reeves
Terry called Paul Westlake and asked him to review the drawings that had been developed for the theatre that were in an advanced stage. An internal team of architects, engineers, theatre, AV, and acousticians reviewed the drawings. Paul felt that the approach of the comprehensive renovation, and the addition were unnecessarily too large and expensive, and also were antithetical to the preservation potential of the theatre. He also felt that the addition that extended into the street was damaging to urban planning and the connection of the historic downtown to the southern end of Jefferson street, and noted that because of its planned location on a greenfield site, the amphitheatre did not have a proper stage with shelter and support, and would require independent infrastructure of electrical, artists dressing areas, public amenities such as restrooms.
Terry Stewart requested Paul come to El Dorado to see the theatre and its context, during which time Paul confirmed his opinion that the theatre should be preserved with a more modest renovation, that an addition to the theatre should not extend into Jefferson Street, and the budget for the theatre renovation could be much smaller. He also suggested that, by taking a preservation approach to the theatre, tax credits could be utilized, which further reduced the equity requirements of the project.
Photo: Kevin G. Reeves
Paul made other suggestions and at noon that day, Paul went to a conference room with Terry Stewart and Austin Barrow and sketched the master plan freehand on an 8.5x11 sheet of paper. Terry Stewart stepped out of the room and contacted Madison Murphy, CEO of Murphy Oil, who was a major force alongside Edwin Alderson and Claiborne Deming, behind the initiative to develop arts in El Dorado, to attract and retain population and improve quality of life in the town of 22,000 people that had two corporate headquarters – Murphy Oil and Murphy USA. Shortly thereafter, Madison shoed up to the meeting, and when Paul presented the sketch, Madison replied, "I have been working on this project for three years and this is the first time I have been excited about it."

Paul Westlake was asked to further develop the plan and present it to the board. Within three weeks, DLR Group|WRL had developed the overall plan, and programmed and planned the restaurant, music hall, amphitheatre, Rialto theatre, and McWilliams Museum, the Trinca lobby, a Children’s playground, parking, market sheds, and other elements of the arts district. We estimated construction costs and tax credit equity. We developed several renderings. We presented to the board within three weeks and everyone adopted the plan.
Photo: Kevin G. Reeves
Please provide an overview of the project.
Working with the non-profit organization El Dorado Festivals & Events, Inc., DLR Group|WRL master planned and designed an arts and entertainment district in downtown El Dorado, Arkansas. The project leverages existing historic assets, including the Rialto Theatre and five other legacy structures, as well as new construction to create a multi-venue district that celebrates the uniqueness of El Dorado, while also appealing to contemporary audiences and future generations. 
Photo: Kevin G. Reeves
What are the main ideas and inspirations influencing the design of the building?
A former oil boomtown, El Dorado, Arkansas has a rich history, unique historic architecture, and a well-established arts and entertainment community, which includes the South Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, the South Arkansas Arts Center, and numerous successful music festivals. Community leaders sought to develop these assets into a regional draw and community anchor. The intent is to improve the quality of life and re-brand the community as a cultural performance mecca, while also slowing the decline in population (currently at 18,500) and revitalizing the local economy.
Image: DLR Group|WRL
How does the design respond to the unique qualities of the site?
Implemented in phases, the project encompasses a 125,868-sf site and comprises a 7,000-patron festival venue/amphitheater, a 2,000-seat indoor music venue, a 100-seat black box/multi-purpose room, an 850-seat multi-use theater, a restaurant/club with stage, a visual arts facility, a farmers' market, a children's activity center, a park, and considerable site improvements for festivals along with new structures to support that use. The plan re-imagines three abandoned, historic, 1920s structures — all connected at ground level by new construction. Phase 1 constructed the new amphitheater and support facilities and transformed the historic Griffin Auto Building (two-level, historic filling station, automotive showroom/repair shop) into a restaurant and flat-floor, indoor music venue.
Future phases will renovate the Rialto Theatre with an expanded stagehouse to house the South Arkansas Symphony, and local and regional companies, and to serve as a presenting house for traveling shows. Featuring a flexible pit/forestage lift, the Rialto can convert into a black box. The McWilliams Building (four-story, former furniture store/warehouse), will be adapted as a center for visual arts, artists-in-residence, arts education programs, and offices. The Trinca Building (single-story former bus depot), will function as a reception space.
Image: DLR Group|WRL
Was the project influenced by any trends in energy-conservation, construction, or design?
The project utilized state and federal historic tax credits for project equity. The master plan co-locates facilities and performance venues in a dense cluster to maintain the historic connection from Jefferson Street to Locust Street and to exploit synergies among the venues and other entertainment uses.

Email interview conducted by John Hill.
Image: DLR Group/WRL

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