The Benton City Council approved the purchase of the historic Palace Theatre during a special meeting Thursday night.
“Hopefully I get to turn this building into a destination for people to come downtown,” said purchaser Shawn Hipskind of Hipskind Excavating LLC. “It’s my hopes and dreams to see Downtown Benton grow.”
Hipskind said that while the specifics of what the building will become are still in the works, he is thinking along the lines of a bowling alley or a restaurant.
“It’s not going to be more office spaces,” Hipskind said. “It’s not going to be more clothing stores or boutiques. It’s going to be an actual destination for large amounts of people to come to the Downtown Benton area.
The original offer from the purchase included a price of $25,000 and a right of first refusal on the sale of the adjoining building at 222 W. South St., but those terms were altered prior to the meeting.
According to city attorney Brent Houston, a statute prevents the city from disposing of property for more that $20,000 without a public auction.
“What we have done through this resolution is modify the terms from $25,000 to $20,000, however, we then shifted all of the cost of closing on the property to the purchaser,” Houston said. “I think that we’ll probably net out about the same amount. It will be fairly close.”
The theatre, located at 224 W. South St. in Downtown Benton, has been in limbo for several years as no decision could be made on whether to try and rehabilitate the facility or demolish it.
“I am all for selling it,” said Alderman Steve Lee. “It’s been an albatross around our neck for a lot of years.”
Alderman Judd Hart inquired if the sale would affect the Christian Community Care Clinic located next to the property, but Mayor Tom Farmer indicated that it would not.
“We still have a contract through 2026 on that,” Farmer said. “So that will remain the same.”
Houston added that the revised contract terms removed the right of first refusal if the city chose to sell the adjoining building.
Additionally, the contract stipulates that Hipskind agrees to “maintain the historical integrity of the exterior facade.”
The Palace Theatre, which is included on the Arkansas Register of Historic Places, was originally opened in 1919, but was closed in 1967. The Saline County Library later took up residence until it moved to its current location on Smithers Drive.
“My idea is to keep the historical outside of the building,” Hipskind said. “Even take it back to the original that I have seen proposed. I think the original look was better than the one we have now.”
Hipskind said he is “super optimistic” when it comes to talking about a timeframe for the construction and that he is looking at six to eight months for construction.
Alderman Jocelyn Cash asked Hipskind if he had an plans in mind for parking needs downtown.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s downtown life so it’s walking downtown,” Hipskind said. “You find a parking spot and you walk just like you would in downtown Little Rock.
Cash commended Hipskind on the venture and thanked him for developing the project.
The council vote was unanimously in favor of the sale to Hipskind. Aldermen Kerry Murphy and Jeff Morrow were absent from the meeting.
“I am super excited,” Hipskind told The Saline Courier after the meeting. “I am glad they passed it and I am ready to get started.”