May 25, 2011 Edition

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Beatles sculpture will be
located in downtown WR

Growing enthusiasm surrounding a sculpture of the Beatles in Lawrence County has led to a change in plans for its location, according to Charles Snapp of the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce Tourism Committee.

Plans now call for the tribute to the Fab Four to be located in downtown Walnut Ridge.

"All along our plans have been to promote and preserve our musical heritage, while generating economic development through tourism," Snapp said. "By moving the Beatles tribute to the downtown Walnut Ridge area, every business in Walnut Ridge and Hoxie will have a chance to benefit directly from the tourists from day one."

The Beatles sculpture was originally to be placed at the Walnut Ridge Regional Airport, but popular response to the planned tourist attraction raised estimates for the crowds it could draw. That, in turn, created concerns at the airport and the Wings of Honor Museum about whether their facilities could handle the expected influx of visitors.

Original plans also called for a Beatles museum exhibit to go along with the sculpture at the airport, but facilities could not be located for the exhibit. The committee decided to change locations after discussions with airport and museum officials.

"After going over the plans and detailed information regarding our expectations for visitors to the Beatles tribute and the museum section, it was determined that the terminal building is not large enough to handle a tour bus of 40 people at one time, much less in the event two buses were traveling together, as they sometimes do," Snapp said.

"Not only does the terminal building not have large enough facilities to handle the crowd, a crowd that size would hinder the operation and safety of the runways," he added.

Committee chairman Brett Cooper said the move is in the best interest of all involved and thanked the airport and museum.

"The airport staff has been very cooperative, and everyone we have dealt with has been cordial toward us," he said. "We sincerely appreciate them."

The tourism committee is planning the Beatles sculpture, as well as a large guitar plaza that pays tribute to other early rock 'n' roll musicians who visited the area.

Plans call for the guitar plaza to be built south of the chamber of commerce office, along Front Street.

Cooper said that the committee is excited about several options it has considered for a downtown location of the Beatles tribute.

"Having the sculpture in the vicinity of the guitar plaza simply helps us attract more tourists to our downtown area," he noted. "We are considering placing it next to the guitar plaza, and we are also looking into sites a few blocks away that would motivate people to walk through downtown to get from one attraction to the other."

The Beatles sculpture, which is dubbed "The British Invasion of the Rock 'n' Roll Highway," is an artistic rendering of the group's iconic Abbey Road album cover. It commemorates the Beatles' surprise visit to Walnut Ridge in 1964, when they landed at the airport en route to a weekend retreat in southern Missouri.

Both the Beatles monument and the guitar plaza are meant to capitalize on Lawrence County's placement on Rock 'n' Roll Highway 67.

The unveiling celebration for the Beatles sculpture is still set for Sept. 18, according to the committee. The event, which had been planned for the airport, will now take place in the area where the annual Iron Mountain Festival is held in downtown Walnut Ridge.

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