BENTONVILLE – Gov. Mike Beebe and officials with Bentonville-based Walmart Stores Inc. have confirmed an agreement that, if approved by the Arkansas Legislature, would see the retailer pay the state $25 billion over five years in return for moving the State Capitol to Bentonville.
The $25 billion would essentially fund all state government operations for the next five years – which is the timetable for moving state operations to Bentonville.
“It certainly is an unusual move, but from a practical standpoint it makes sense. As we continue to increase our influence over state government officials, it becomes an issue of efficiency,” said Walton Richman, a spokesman for Walmart.
While details remain sketchy of how the transition will happen, the Walmart Family Foundation said it would offer a $25 million matching grant to pay for a team of architects – including Moshe Safdie, the architect behind Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art – to design the Capitol building and other buildings that are needed.
Initial computer renderings show a new Capitol building that is a cross between a Frank Lloyd Wright house, classical structures within the existing Capitol, and a Walmart distribution center.
Early plans indicate the new capitol grounds will be somewhere within walking distance of the front door of Walmart’s home office.
“It’s possible a few homes, parks and cemetery plots may be moved or demolished to provide enough space for the new capitol campus,” noted a memo in the draft agreement. “If space is found close enough, the new capitol building could include a skywalk or underground tunnel to the WMT corporate headquarters.”
Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe declined to speak to the media, but his office issued this statement: “It’s a crazy idea, but they are offering $25 billion and I wouldn’t put it past the Legislature to lose their minds over that kind of money – especially now that Benton County is a wet county. But whatever they do, just remember that I am out of here come January 2015. So after that, they can move the capitol to that National Historic whorehouse in Fort Smith for all I care.”
WalMart officials said the deal does not include moving the Arkansas Supreme Court to Bentonville. “We’re happy with judges, court officials, and those facilities remaining well away from Bentonville,” Richman explained. “In fact, we would pay double to move them to Lake Village.”
Although nothing is certain about the future use of the existing capitol building in Little Rock, central Arkansas leaders formed the Commission for Re-use and Planning (CRAP) to consider options. Early ideas include a boutique hotel, expansion for the Little Rock Zoo, and a possible location for the Hillary Clinton Presidential Library.
“Ironically, no one suggested it could be the future headquarters for Stephens Inc.,” noted a Legislative Audit report prepared for the CRAP.