By Rick Kennedy, managing editor
Hempstead Hall, the still-magnificent multipurpose community center and auditorium at UA Hope, had the occasion on Wednesday to host this week’s edition of the Chamber of Commerce community coffee, and it was appropriate timing given the line of events and activities happening at the facility throughout the spring.
In particular, the Third Ark-La-Tex Outdoor Expo kicks off in two days at Hempstead Hall on Friday, March 1, as well as the Expo’s Friday night concerts featuring Prescott’s Rachel Hale as the opening act and the Kentucky Headhunters as the headliner.
During the coffee Wednesday, new Hempstead Hall director Amanda Lance said a “Flash Sale” for the Headhunter’s concert of $10 tickets to be purchased in person at the Expo on Friday prior to the concerts.
As an estimated group of 80 people showed up for Chamber coffee throughout the morning, the event also proved to be a community coming out party of sorts for Lance, who has been on the job for nearly two months now.
“So far, so good. I’m really enjoying being over at Hempstead Hall and very excited for the future and where we go. I am also excited about the Kentucky Headhunter concert coming up this weekend as well as the Outdoor Expo starting this Friday,” Lance said.
Lance was named as the new Hempstead Hall director, taking over for longtime director Dolly Henley, who oversaw the facility since it opened in 2013.
“We’ve had a pretty good crowd here today; it has been nice to see some new faces and some people I haven’t seen in while at the coffees. We wanted to kickoff the Outdoor Expo this weekend, so it was good to host the coffee today to promote that. I really want people to come out and see what we have going on out here this weekend,” she said.
Last weekend, Hempstead Hall hosted the acclaimed “Peter Pan and Friends on Ice” but also hosted the Black History Student Honors on Sunday.
This weekend, the Outdoor Expo runs both Friday and Saturday, and on Sunday, Hempstead Hall is also hosting a regional beauty pageant, a preliminary to Miss Arkansas and Miss America.
The supporting staff at Hempstead Hall to help Lance, including assistant director John Gladden and technical director Josh Clark, will mostly stay intact.
“Generally everything is going to stay pretty much the same. People can expect the same type of quality customer service. John and Josh are both staying on board. Chloe Russell is going to join us at the front desk; she is starting with us next Friday. Another local girl that we are happy to have on board,” Lance said.
“The operation is going to stay the same. We want to make sure we are giving that same service that everyone knows and loves,” she said.
Lance said Hempstead Hall has been busy with a number of other events, and non-public happenings, like professional conferences, meetings, and seminars.
“There is a lot more going on behind the scenes beside the concerts; that’s what everyone thinks of — the concerts — when they think of Hempstead Hall, but we are really are really a state-of-the-art training and conference center for the area,” Lance said.
“We are really a community asset, and we love it when the community comes to use us,” she said, “And, we are booked with a number of training sessions, private events, and graduations from now into May.”
Among the other bigger events later this spring at Hempstead Hall are the annual Master Gardeners Spring Seminar (March 25), the Southwest Arkansas Development Alliance (SADA) High School Career Fair (March 14), which is expected to attract employers and some 2,400 high school students from an eight county area.
And, of course, there is the 2019 Hope Chamber of Commerce banquet featuring the return of former President Bill Clinton coming to Hempstead Hall on April 6.
“The Chamber banquet is coming up on April 6. We are real excited to welcome President Clinton back to his birthplace and excited to hear what he has to say, and excited to celebrate all the Chamber has done this year,” Lance said.
Custom designed by Little Rock architects, Hempstead Hall is 64,000 square feet with 7,568 dividable square feet, and it features main theater seating for 1,600, an outdoor amphitheater and dividable conference seating for small groups or large groups up to 1,200. Indoors the facility features a full performance concert stage and a commercial kitchen.
By Rick Kennedy, managing editor