Arkansas eyes 2004 for debut of Clinton Center

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- The William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Heifer Project International's Global Village Educational Center, both located in downtown Little Rock, are expected to open here during 2004.

Although Bill and Hillary Clinton moved to New York, the former president expects to open his center -- which will be situated within a new 27-acre city park along the south bank of the Arkansas River -- by spring of 2004.

The park area will be used for festivals, theatrical and musical performances, urban fishing, picnicking, strolling and nature studies.

The center, financed by donations to a foundation, will include a Presidential Library and Archives.

The abandoned Rock Island Railroad Bridge, which spans the Arkansas River, will be renovated and converted into a pedestrian crossing linking North Little Rock and downtown Little Rock.

The historic Choctaw Station, built in 1899, will become the site of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service and Clinton Public Policy Institute.

A rendering of the William J. Clinton Presidential Center.The Presidential Center's main building will contain 15,000 square feet of space housing an orientation theater, exhibits, a hall for banquets (seating 350) or forum use (seating 400), a cafe, gift shop, media hall and classrooms.

The Archives structure will be linked to the main building and contain the National Archives and Records Administration research and storage facilities. Some 2 million photos, 100 million-plus documents and 40,000 e-mails will be available.

Also, 75,000 works of art and artifacts will be available, most likely rotated in temporary exhibits.

Heifer Project International is a Little Rock-based charity that provides work and food animals as well as training and technical assistance to residents of undeveloped countries to help make them self-reliant.

Its proposed Global Village Educational Center, expected to cost up to $45 million to build, could open by late 2004, but is yet to be fully funded. It will be situated near the River Market District and near the Clinton complex.

Plans call for outdoor exhibits and habitats depicting the group's work in Asia, Africa and Central America. Guatemala and Tibet would be among nations featured.

It also would include a coffee-tea house, dining hall, an amphitheater, conference rooms, museum space and a gift shop.

Little Rock hopes venues bring big growth

The new Clinton Center and Heifer Project International's Global Village here will spur an increase in downtown hotel rooms, bolster convention sales and create an international awareness of the city, according to officials connected with both projects and local tourist organizations.

The Little Rock area contains 8,400 rooms in hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfasts, according to the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau -- with 1,200 located within walking distance of both projects and 1,960 in North Little Rock.

Barry Travis, executive director of the bureau, said that although hotel chains have inquired about building here, none have yet committed to do so.

However, he expects that at least one new hotel with meeting space will be added in the next few years as a direct result of the Clinton and Heifer projects.

A bureau spokeswoman noted that there is plenty of land for new hotels just east of Interstate 30 near the River Market District, a dining-enter-tainment area. Both attractions also will help the bureau expand its international tourism efforts, she said.

The bureau employs sales representatives who promote Little Rock to travel agents and tour operators in Europe, Mexico and Japan.

Richard Davies, executive director of the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism, predicted the Clinton and Heifer projects will draw researchers, scientists, governmental officials, tourists and historians.

"The greater impact, however, may come from the attractions' effect on the convention and meeting business in Little Rock," he said, "since downtown attendees are always looking to fill in free time."

Davies added that "the resulting visitation to these places would overlap into other areas of Arkansas."

"Most of our visitors drive here, and you have about 200 miles from Little Rock to the state border in almost any direction. Even if folks fly in, they may take sidetrips to places like Hot Springs utilizing rental cars," he explained.

The Department of Parks & Tourism will make both projects part of the attractions database on its Web site, at www.arkansas.com.

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