Southland gift to allow completion of conference center at Hall of Fame

Southland Park Gaming and Racing at West Memphis has pledged $300,000 toward the completion of the Jimmie Lou and Floyd Sagely Conference Center adjacent to the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame Museum in the Verizon Arena at North Little Rock.

Southland’s pledge was announced during a news conference Thursday afternoon.

Jeremy Jacobs

Jeremy Jacobs (courtesy of Boston Bruins)

The main hall of the facility will be named the Jeremy M. Jacobs Great Hall in honor of the chairman and chief executive officer of Southland’s parent company, Delaware North Companies.

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. West Memphis already had a tradition of greyhound racing. The Riverside Kennel Club had been located at the Arkansas end of the Mississippi River Bridge before Southland was constructed.

“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.”

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 is joined by three of his sons in leading the company’s global efforts. Delaware North has operations in locations ranging from Yosemite National Park to the Kennedy Space Center to the Sydney Cricket Grounds in Australia.

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.

“We’re delighted to place Mr. Jacobs’ name on the Great Hall,” said Andrew Meadors of Little Rock, the president of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. “Thanks to his stewardship and advocacy, Southland has contributed thousands of jobs and millions of dollars of economic impact to this state.”

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.

The Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame inducted its first class in 1959. The Class of 2012 was inducted in February at Verizon Arena with more than 1,400 people in attendance at the induction banquet.

Ray Tucker is the executive director of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.

The Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame Museum is open each Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. The museum includes an 88-seat theater with a video highlighting the careers of Arkansas sports greats. There’s also a touch-screen kiosk with a database of all Hall of Fame inductees.

Members of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame vote each year on inductees. Membership dues are $50 annually, and membership forms can be obtained here.

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