You won't meet a bigger fan of El Dorado. Scott Watkins sings its praises as sweetly as one of his favorite city's renowned South Arkansas Symphony performances. Watkins, the executive director of South Arkansas Symphony, isn't even from El Dorado, let alone Arkansas, but the Arizona expatriate said he couldn't get here fast enough.

"I knew Arkansas was home when we came here on our first visit; not only do you have the healing factor of the trees and nature, but also the slower pace just seemed to fit," Watkins said. "It's so nice to be able to hear silence versus the busy rat race in the big city."

Big cities are something Watkins knows well, having survived the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex while working at places like the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Symphony Arlington in Arlington, Texas. None of these cities matched his vision for his family's quality of life. (And with five kids, the El Dorado Promise Scholarship, which pays college tuition for students who graduate from the El Dorado School District, was quite a lure.) "I calculated this to be a good $300,000 in educational support," he said.

So, the Watkins family packed up and moved to El Dorado in 2008. "In fact, we signed the paperwork for purchasing a house the day we arrived, and moved in immediately," he said.

The excitement of the move hasn't dulled either, as he watches his new city grow. A high school, conference center and health and science center were just built, while plans are laid for a downtown hotel and three performance venues. In addition, El Dorado has taken steps to secure its new brand for the future: the "City of Festivals." The goal will be to bring in a festival every weekend.

"South Arkansas isn't a myth. We are here, we are thriving and we are an incredible place to live, play, raise a family and listen to some great symphonic music!"

Insider Knowledge

Where to eat:

  • Historic Downtown El Dorado - There are so many different shops and restaurants to enjoy on the square.
  • La Piazza Italian Restaurant - Try the pizza and chicken calabrese.
  • La Villa - For my Mexican fix and for the chicken chimichangas.

 

What to do:

  • MusicFest in El Dorado - A two-night festival of great music attended annually in October by more than 16,000 people.
  • South Arkansas Arboretum - 13 acres of beautiful native West Gulf Coastal Plain plants and exotic species.
  • South Arkansas Arts Center - The center hosts numerous theatrical productions and art exhibitions.