Q&A: In an Arkansas Town, Music Is Key to a Comeback

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A rendering of the Griffin Building in the Murphy Arts District in El Dorado, Ark.

The city of El Dorado, Ark., a two-hour drive south of Little Rock, probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind as an up-and-coming tourist destination, but if Terry Stewart, 71, the former chief executive officer and president of the Rock Roll Hall of Fame, has his way, this perception may soon change. As the chief executive officer of El Dorado Festivals Events, Mr. Stewart is charged with turning the city into the next music and arts hub in the United States.

A $70 million infusion is key to the project: The money comes from a combination of donors, including Murphy Oil Corporation, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and the Walton Family Foundation. The first phase of the initiative, the $54 million, six-block Murphy Arts District in downtown El Dorado, is making its debut on Sept. 27. The district’s five-day opening celebration will have performances by artists like Brad Paisley, Smokey Robinson, Ludacris and the hip-hop trio Migos.

Below are edited excerpts from an interview with Mr. Stewart.

SHIVANI VORA

What exactly is the Murphy Arts District?

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It’s essentially a new neighborhood in the center of El Dorado. We’ve repurposed a number of historic buildings to create a cabaret restaurant, a 2,000-seat music hall and an outdoor amphitheater which can seat 10,000 people. There’s also a two-acre play park for children with climbing equipment, slides, a zip line and a water area where there are fountains to run and jump through.

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