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. It is one of the major cultural hubs of Little Rock, as it is home of the William J. Clinton Presidential Center, the Main Library of the Central Arkansas Library System, the Cox Creative Center, the Museum of Discovery, the Arkansas Studies Institute, Riverfest Amphitheater, Riverfront Park and the Arkansas River Trail, and a number of fine art galleries. It is also increasingly becoming a residential neighborhood for young urban professionals and empty nesters.
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 the nonprofit public-private Downtown Little Rock Partnership. Many of the people involved in the revitalization of downtown Little Rock had read or pondered Jane Jacobs' classic text The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
Ottenheimer Hall (the "River Market" building), with its indoor food vendors and outdoor farmer's market pavilion, anchors the neighborhood. Ottenheimer Hall opened in 1996 at a cost of $3.5 million. The hall features restaurants, vendor stalls, shops, free public wi-fi, and other special attractions. Ottenheimer Hall currently houses a number of vendors:
- Andina Café and Coffee Roastery
- Big on Tokyo
- Boulevard Bread Company
- Casa Manana
- Coast Café/Pie Heaven
- Cocoa Belle
- Middle Eastern Cuisine/International Pantry
- River Market Grocery
- Shaka Smoke Lodge
- Shop the Rock
The surrounding River Market District is home to a large number of restaurants:
The River Market District also contains a number of nightclubs, including Ernie Bigg's, Rumba's Revolution Room, and Willy D's. A large number of historic lofts and new condominium highrises have emerged in or near the River Market District:
History of the River Market
Local developer Rett Tucker remarked that into the 1990s the warehouse district remained a "no-man's-land. ... [T]here was a store that sold caskets, and that was about it."
The renewed River Market is the brainchild of Little Rock developer Jimmy Moses who conceived the idea in the early 1980s following a visit to the Pike Place Market in Seattle, Washington. Plans for the market district were incorporated into the Project 2000 plan put before local citizens in October 1991. The $42.1 million proposal failed by a margin of 57 to 43 percent.
The $3.5 million market complex was eventually approved by taxpayers as part of the sweeping River Project to revitalize decrepit warehouse and industrial brownfield areas along both the north and south banks of the Arkansas River, expand the Statehouse Convention Center along Markham Street, and build ALLTEL Arena in North Little Rock.
The River Market Task Force that guided completion of the River Market part of the River Project was spearheaded by city director Dean Kumpuris. In 1995 Kumpuris called the project "a prime example of the way our city can accomplish great things when we work together." The market district part of the River Project 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.
Ottenheimer Market Hall opened at 400 East Markham Street (now President Clinton Avenue) in July 1996, and is operated by the Downtown Partnership from the second floor of adjoining Dickinson Hall. Both halls were designed/refurbished by Rick Redden of AMR Architects.
In total about $1 billion of direct investment accrued to the River Market District 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.
Continued economic development in the River Market District is spearheaded by Metrocentre Improvement District commissioners.
- "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.
- "Presidential Center Revitalizes Little Rock," American City & County 113.10 (September 1998): 106.