Presidential center revitalizes Little Rock
When Bill Clinton was elected president, Little Rock, Ark., drew national attention for the first time since the 1957 court-ordered desegregation of Central High School. Now the city has found a new claim to fame as home for the Clinton Center, the nation’s next presidential library.
Typically, presidential libraries serve as archives filled with documents, audio/visual materials and memorabilia. They function also as museums, conference space, and research and educational institutions. In addition to those elements, the Clinton Center will incorporate the strengths of Little Rock with the key themes of the Clinton Administration. The center also will house a campus of the University of Arkansas and offices for Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Skip Rutherford, presidential representative and a chief organizer of the Clinton Center, says the facility will be “a multi-source destination. It will be a fun place, an educational place and a historical place.” Rutherford says the center will focus on community programs, including frequently changing exhibits and activities.
Unlike most presidential library complexes that typically are housed on academic campuses or small hometown sites, the Clinton Center will be built in an urban setting, anchoring the Little Rock River District bordering the Arkansas River. Rutherford says the center’s location, directly off the interstate, will encourage out-of-state visitors.
Local leaders — including the Mayor’s office, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Greater Little Rock Chamber of Commerce (GLRCC) and private investors — already have upgraded many of the city’s downtown assets in an effort to re-establish the waterfront area as a hot spot in the city. “[The center] has already spurred economic development, from restaurants to loft apartments to attractions,” Rutherford says.
The Convention Center, the Little Rock Central Library, the Museum of Science, the River Amphitheater and the River Market all sit within walking distance of the future home of the Clinton Center. “The uniqueness of this library is that it’s tied to a lot of different things,” says Paul Harvel, president of the GLRCC. “I think it’s going to be the busiest part of the city.”
On the opposite side of the river, the new ALLTEL sports facility has provided the impetus for the creation of a trolley/transit line, allowing visitors easy access to the River District. That part of the city also is pedestrian-friendly, with sidewalks and an open-market area, Rutherford adds.
Little Rock is providing the land for the library, and an estimated $80 million to $100 million from the private sector will be invested to build and operate the Clinton Center. Approximately 100 jobs will be created to operate the new center, which will be staffed, maintained and administered by the National Archives.
More than 300,000 visitors are expected each year, boosting the city’s status as the center of government, transportation, culture and tourism for Arkansas. The Clinton Center will provide an attraction that connects the education, government and business activities back to the community, which is actively preparing for the return of its two most famous residents.
According to Rutherford, President Clinton is involved with all the major decisions regarding the Clinton Center. He chose the location and also will make construction design and programming decisions. Rutherford says that construction should begin in the latter part of 1999, following a fund-raising campaign that started this past summer.