On July 21, 12 Chamber members became some of the first citizens to tour the long awaited Vada Sheid Community Development Center at Arkansas State University-Mountain Home.
The Sheid Center is named for northern Arkansas' legendary female legislator. It is a multi-purpose facility: part auditorium, part art gallery, part convention hall, all designed to host large and small events for the university and the community at large.
Those were just a few of the comments from Salem Chamber members as ASUMH Chancellor Ed Coulter gave a personal tour.
Coulter, himself, views the Sheid Center as the school's gift to the community.
"This will greatly benefit ASU-Mountain Home," explains Coulter. "But it will also greatly enhance all of north central Arkansas."
The first thing you see as you enter is the Dale Bumpers Great Hall. It is a long, wide hall featuring wood floors on both ends and an ornate marble floor in the middle with a huge skylight above it.
It will be the gathering spot before a concert or play, a space for parties, receptions, weddings, or convention events.
Go up stairs on either side to the second level. On either end are two huge glass rooms that offer spectacular campus views and will be used for small events or cozy conferences. The middle of the second level will feature a library and a hallway display of Asian art, a half million dollar collection donated by a University benefactor.
Go back down the north stairs and enter an auditorium that is much more than an auditorium.
Its subdued lighting, large stage, and 800 plush, padded seats, make you quickly long for the Little Big Town concert scheduled for October or dream of countless other concerts and plays to come.
"This area offers space for 31 booths or 31 bass boats," Chancellor Coulter proudly explains as he envisions conventions and boat and sports shows in the large, open space at the rear of the auditorium.
"In this area, we will be able to install portable walls to create space for a convention, a trade show or a banquet. We will also be able to add more theater-style seats here to expand our 800 seat auditorium to 1,600 seats," says Coulter.
"A lot of thought went into this," says Salem Chamber member Sherry Jackson.
Coulter believes the only people more excited than he is about the Sheid Center's September opening are Mountain Home businesses.
The city now has 700-hotel and motel rooms. Lodging and restaurant owners, in particular, are hoping the center will be frequently booked for conventions, trade shows, craft fairs, business seminars and other events that will help boost their business and the local economy.
"Every year, the Chamber of Commerce gets 25 to 35 contacts from groups interested in holding a convention here," says Coulter. "But we haven't had the facilities. We truly think, when this opens up, a convention industry will grow in Mountain Home."
But ASUMH is not looking to book only large events.
"Isn't it neat? I want you all to use it whenever you can," says Vice-Chancellor Carol Gresham as she speaks to Salem Chamber members in the Great Hall.
Gresham hopes Salem Chamber members will help spread the word that the center is a perfect place for a company Christmas party, business meeting or after-work concert.
Chamber member Jerry Estes came away impressed.
"It appears to be very functional," says Estes. "There is nothing else like this between here and Fayetteville."
As grand as it is, the Chancellor admits the Sheid Center is still a work in progress.
Funds are still needed for permanent sound and lighting systems in the auditorium.
A kitchen and catering facility still must be built in space behind the convention center.
The Trout Nature Center, a celebration of the fabulous fish that put Mountain Home in the national sports spotlight, is still more than a year from completion. ("Expect better exhibits than the Smithsonian," promises Coulter.)
While there is still work to do, the university has decided it is time to celebrate all that has been accomplished.
Sept. 9 at t2 p.m., doors will open for the Vada Sheid Community Development Center Grand Opening.
It will be followed by a Sept. 11 Black and White Gala Auction, a Sept. 16 Arkansas Symphony Orchestra concert, and a Sept. 25 "Light Up The Night" dance.
"This has been our 10 year dream," says Chancellor Coulter.
He is anxious to finally enjoy a dream come true.