NORTH LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame announced another milestone Thursday — a lucrative one.
The financial foundation has been laid for construction to begin on the Jimmie Lou and Floyd Sagely Conference Center, which will be adjacent to the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame Museum in the Verizon Arena at North Little Rock. A pledge of $300,000 by Southland Gaming and Racing of West Memphis, on behalf of Jeremy Jacobs, its chairman and the chief executive officer of Delaware North Companies (Southland’s parent company), gave the green light for construction.
The main hall in the facility, which can be used for conferences and special events for small groups and organizations, will be named the Jeremy N. Jacobs Great Hall.
Southland’s pledge was announced during a news conference Thursday afternoon.
Southland Park Gaming and Racing, formerly known as Southland Greyhound Park, has been a part of the Arkansas sports scene since 1956 when it became Arkansas’ only greyhound racetrack. Originally owned by the Upton family and other individuals, Southland has been owned by Delaware North for decades. The Jacobs family was the original concession operator when the track opened.
"Given our long tradition in the state, we’re honored to be able to support the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame as it adds this conference center," said Troy Keeping, Southland’s president and general manager. "We’re especially honored that Mr. Jacobs’ name will go on the Great Hall. He is one of America’s top sportsmen."
The Economic Development Administration of the Commerce Department has awarded $1 million to Pulaski County to aid in the construction of the Sagely Conference Center. The conference center will, in essence, finish out the arena. It will be in unused space under the stands that originally was intended for a basketball practice court. The Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, which will operate the conference center, has been raising funds to match the EDA grant.
The center will accommodate 500 people for a seated dinner and 750 people for a reception. It will be designed so space can be divided for smaller meetings. The conference center will cover 12,200 square feet. The adjacent museum covers 13,975 square feet. The museum opened in April 2007 following a $4 million capital campaign.
Jacobs owns the Boston Bruins of the National Hockey League and has been the chairman of the NHL’s board of governors since 2007. He led the effort to build a new arena in Boston and was a pioneer in the regional television sports industry, transforming NESN into a model for all regional sports networks. Jacobs was inducted into the Western New York Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.
Jacobs is also among the most influential leaders in the sport of racing. Southland has donated millions of dollars to charity through the years in Arkansas. These donations include $1 million to Mid-South Community College at West Memphis for the Southland Greyhound Science Center, $1 million to Mid-South for its hospitality program and kitchen incubator project and $250,000 to Mid-South to start an athletic program.
Delaware North operates more than 50 professional sports venues around the world, including venues for the NHL, NFL, Major League Baseball and the NBA. There also are venues in Australia and Europe.
Jacobs became the chairman and CEO of Delaware North in 1968, meaning that he has headed the company the majority of Southland’s life. He has grown Delaware North into one of the most admired and largest hospitality companies in the world.
Jacobs has been a tireless advocate for tourism in the United States. He recently served four consecutive terms on the U.S. Department of Commerce Travel and Tourism Advisory Board. The board, appointed by the commerce secretary, created the new national tourism strategy that has been championed by President Obama.
"Thanks to his stewardship and advocacy, Southland has contributed thousands of jobs and millions of dollars of economic impact to this state," said Andrew Meadors, president of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.
Recent presidents of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame include David Grimes and Vance Strange Sr. of Conway. Several Faulkner County residents serve on the organization’s bgoard of directors.