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Before there was a Clinton Library

There was plenty of excitement.


The vision of a Little Rock injected with new life by a presidential library was first dreamt years ago, at least as early as the magical night in November 1992 when a throng celebrated Bill Clinton’s first election as president. The dreams multiplied over the succeeding years, particularly when the president chose Little Rock as the home of his presidential center. A long-time advocate for the project — through lawsuit, daily newspaper editorial derision, fund-raising travails and other obstacles — believes the library has already fulfilled many dreams. His list of “but fors,” things that would not have happened or changed had not Clinton chosen Little Rock as home for his library: • Heifer International would not be building a new world headquarters next door on land that was once a dreary, disused and polluted warehouse district. • The Belz family would not have bought the Excelsior Hotel and renovated it as a Peabody Hotel. • Acxiom wouldn’t have built its office tower down the street. • The Moses-Tucker real estate firm likely wouldn’t have built either the Capital Commerce Center or the First Security Bank tower, not to mention the Tuf-Nut Lofts and a variety of other smaller projects in the River Market neighborhood. • The Holiday Inn Presidential Center would likely still be a closed former Sheraton. • The Comfort Inn might still be in business, as the cheap flop house known as the Masters Inn. • The old Dailey building would likely be vacant, not a new loft development. • There wouldn’t be talk of new apartments on East Sixth Street and a marina and apartment development on the Arkansas River near the library site. • Downtown tourism wouldn’t have been jumpstarted by a series of library preview exhibits at the Cox Center of the Central Arkansas Library System. • There’d be no talk of not one, but two pedestrian bridges over the Arkansas River on former railroad bridges — the Junction Bridge in Riverfront Park and the old Rock Island Bridge linking the presidential park to North Little Rock. • Former Democrat-Gazette columnists would have been fully justified in referring to the land immediately east of Interstate 30 as Murky Bottoms. • Little Rock wouldn’t have an international marketing hook. • 1,100 library construction jobs wouldn’t have been created. • There wouldn’t be a new graduate school campus of the University of Arkansas. And on it goes, with the talk now about what an open library could mean, for expansion of redevelopment of the riverfront and eastern Little Rock and even sympathetic development of Little Rock’s Main Street, all with the library as a catalyst.

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