Leader Blues

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

EDITORIAL >> Credit to the city fathers

Remember when the Clinton haters were frothing over the plans to build the presidential library on riverbank land that the city of Little Rock had acquired with the proceeds of a city bond issue? The statewide newspaper was in the forefront.

The city directors had utterly destroyed the public’s trust in municipal government, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette roared. The paper editorialized that the city should hold a citywide vote on a new tax to buy the land. You could surmise that the editor and owner of the paper were confident that people would defeat the tax and thwart the construction of a library and museum for the newspaper’s old nemesis, the 42nd president of the United States.

The newspaper’s tone has softened considerably of late, since it has divined the intense pride that people invest in the Clinton Presidential Center and the riverside park of which it is the central feature. A summary of the financial impact of the presidential center and park suggests other reasons that the city’s wisdom in finding a quick arrangement to acquire the parkland should be celebrated. In just short of one year since it opened, the library has brought tens of millions of dollars in new tourism business to Little Rock, and the fallout has been countywide. The goal was to have 300,000 visitors the first year; the actual number will approach 500,000.

“The city has changed,” said Dan O’Byrne, chief executive officer of the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau. “There’s a new energy and a new dynamic here.” The bustling riverfront, on both sides of the river, is a testament to the city fathers’ wisdom. Try navigating the traffic to reach one of the riverfront diners or shops, or the public library, day or night. The city overdid it.