Dreamland, AFB All Under One Roof

Dreamland was and is worth the risk

Dreamland with no roof! YIKES!

The month of October is busy with football, Komen Breast Cancer Race for the Cure, Columbus Day, Halloween, and pre-planning for our fundraiser “Dancing Into Dreamland.”  For those that don’t know where the sticks and bricks of AFB are, it is in a 1916, historically significant, ­neo-classical style, building, in downtown Little Rock, known as the Taborian Hall.

I first fell in love with the Taborian Hall from its outside appearance, a stately, three story, red brick building, standing alone on I-630, abandoned, with a huge hole in the roof that let in the sun and rain.  I always envisioned, my company, Arkansas Flag and Banner, housed in a building of such grandeur.

After driving by this vacant building many times, I finally got up the courage to come inside.  Stepping over debris and skirting the homeless people, I worked my way to the third floor and it was beyond love at first sight.  Because the roof was missing, birds were flying around and the sun was illuminating the scene. Staring across the open hole in the floor, to the Dreamland stage and her box seats, I had a feeling that was indescribable, a kind of euphoria. It could have been because I was pregnant, with my third child, and my nesting instincts were heightened, or it could have been past performers speaking to my heart from the grave, but whatever it was, it sent me on a chain reaction that I have never regretted.

It took about a year to secure financing, shore up the building and renovate the first floor. In 1992, we had our ribbon cutting ceremony and moved in. About 1998 we borrowed more money to renovate the second floor and expand AFB, accordingly.  Ten years went by and it was time to renovate the third floor, the biggest and the best floor of all, the ballroom.  No matter how I scrubbed the business plan it just wouldn’t add up.  The most minimal restoration for Dreamland Ballroom was 1 million dollars.  There is not an event center on the planet that can make enough profit to pay back a million dollar note.  My choices became 1.) Do nothing, 2.) Break-up the ballroom and rent it to a chain restaurant, or apartment developer, or 3.) Start a non-profit to try and fund its restoration.  Knowing absolutely nothing about non-profits, that is what I decided to do.

I called like-minded friends and acquaintance that love old buildings and started a board, applied for non-profit status, and we named ourselves Friends of Dreamland (FOD).  That was 3 years ago.

I am awed by all we have accomplished.  I have to confess, I was naive at how much work and time it would take.  And I didn’t realize that because I am the landlord of the building I cannot serve on the board, all I can be is a super volunteer and the biggest donor.  FOD pays no rent, and runs all its office expenses like desk, telephone, computers, software, printing, postage, repairs, utilities and other misc expenses through AFB.  Sometimes, my employees don’t know if they are working for AFB or FOD.

Unknowingly, the business model of a for-profit businesses doing non-profit work has a name, it is called a C Corporation.  Even though AFB has not legally made the jump from S corp to B corp, it is nice to know we are still progressive in our business models and thoughts.  If there is one thing AFB has always been good at it is being on the bleeding edge.

I want to thank all the people who have supported the Dream: our donors, our board, my friends, my employees, my husband, my children, my bankers, and all the volunteers.  Our current goals are an elevator, for the handicapped, and air conditioning so we can display and preserve our artifacts. Follow our progress on facebook or sign up for our DreamMails via email, we promise not to over fill your inbox.