Archive for Sunday, November 7, 2004

Little Rock attractions to anchor state tourism effort

November 7, 2004


— With the dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library just days away, officials are wrapping up plans for a huge celebration. But they want the festivities to leave the city with lasting benefits rather than a hangover.

The library is the key piece in anchoring what officials hope will be a larger tourist industry in Central Arkansas.

Clinton Library foundation president Skip Rutherford said the center anticipated having 300,000 visitors in 2005 and he predicted those guests would lead to more people making trips to the city.

The city of Hot Springs, about an hour away, aggressively touts its ties to Clinton and, with its sprawling convention center, draws plenty of visitors on its own.

Opening festivities for the library take place Nov. 14-18; it will be open to the public beginning Nov. 19. The schedule is still being filled in for the many events that will surround Clinton dedicating his $165 million library complex, which will include a public policy school.

The city plans an extended block party in its downtown River Market District, with large screens carrying the dedication for overflow crowds. Events ranging from special museum exhibits to a 3.1-mile foot race to an Aretha Franklin concert will support the main event.

City officials for years have said they want the library to be a long-term anchor for tourism. When Clinton chose the site east of downtown Little Rock -- bypassing Fayetteville and Hot Springs -- development began to blossom in long-vacant warehouses and other properties. What 10 years ago was a largely stagnant downtown has been transformed.

The city is already looking years down the road.

"What we see is happening here is a mix of eclectic offerings," Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey said.

Dailey quickly ran through the numerous attraction visitors will find once they visit the library -- restaurants, museums, nightspots, a 14-mile foot- and bicycle-loop trail that will include a bridge at the library property and more.

"This area is stepping up to a new level," Dailey said. "I think the offerings are pretty broad and diverse."

Looking a few years down the road, to March 2008, the first-and second-round games of the men's NCAA Tournament will be played in North Little Rock. The library will have put four years astern by then, and the cities will have had time to develop new attractions, including a maritime museum and a nature center. A downtown trolley line that is making test runs now is to be extended to take in the library, too.

To land the basketball tournament, the cities had to put up more than 7,000 rooms that meet quality standards set by the NCAA. The cities also had to demonstrate they had enough restaurants to feed all the visitors.

Dailey said when he spoke to groups considering booking conventions in Little Rock, they all wanted information about what's going on at the Clinton Library.

The library will open without all the work being complete. Work to convert the old railroad bridge into a pedestrian walkway will have to be finished later. And Rutherford said much of the landscaping would be done only after the initial crush of crowds.

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