Little Rock River Market District
The Little Rock River Market District is an eight-square block public food, shopping, and entertainment nexus in the heart of downtown Little Rock, Arkansas. The River Market occupies the area of the old river-landing along the Arkansas River, and is the result of a local grassroots coalition of citizens, business owners, and bankers now represented by such organization as the Downtown Little Rock Partnership. Many of the people involved in the revitalization of downtown Little Rock had read or pondered Jane Jacobs' 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
The River Market's Ottenheimer Hall was the brainchild of Little Rock developer Jimmy Moses who conceived the idea in the 1980s following a visit to the Pike Place Market in Seattle, Washington. In 1990 Moses brought his idea, then called Diamond Center, to the Little Rock City Board of Directors. In October 1991 the $42.1 million proposal failed in a vote by Little Rock residents by 57 to 43 percent. Local real estate developer Rett Tucker remembers that by 1994 "this was a no-man's-land. The River Market District was ... there was a store that sold caskets, and that was about it."
The failed 1991 vote did not deter Moses and City Director Dean Kumpuris who together hired Little Rock advertising agency Stone Ward and Baltimore planning firm RTKL to create the "River Market" concept. The River Market collected more than $5 million, including $1.2 million in federal funds, $1.1 from the Capitol Improvement Bond Fund, $200,000 from city street department coffers, $170,000 from the Downtown Little Rock Partnership, $100,000 from Riverfest promotional events, and $80,000 from the Central Arkansas Library System.
The River Market's Ottenheimer Hall opened in 1996 at a cost of $3.5 million. The hall features restaurants, vendor stalls, shops, and other special attractions.
In total about $1 billion of direct investment in the downtown district occurred between 1997 when the city was selected over Hope, Fayetteville, and Hot Springs as the site of the Clinton Presidential Center and 2004 when the Clinton Library dedication ceremony took place. Said Little Rock City Manager Bruce Moore in 2004, "The presidential library has had a tremendous impact on our central core. It has totally revitalized downtown." Between 1998 and 2003 property values in the River Market area doubled on the expectation of $10.7 million in additional annual revenue.
- "Clinton Library Jump-Starts Downtown Little Rock," American Libraries, 34.2 (February 2003): 23.
- Larry Copeland, "City Takes Cue from Comeback Kid: Clinton Library Breathes Life into Struggling Little Rock," USA Today, October 8, 2004.
- Michele Norris and Greg Allen, "Building Boom Around Clinton Presidential Center and Park in Little Rock, Arkansas," NPR News: All Things Considered, June 14, 2001.