President Clinton Avenue
East of the Intersection of Markham and Cumberland Streets along the banks of the Arkansas River in downtown Little Rock
Little Rock, AR
Submitted by: Jessica Szenher
President Clinton Avenue is the heart of downtown Little Rock’s cultural, entertainment, retail and residential district, and leads to the Clinton Presidential Center and Park.
President Clinton Avenue is a six-block, tree-lined pedestrian oasis packed with music, parks, excitement, food, art, produce, books, brews and history. Along the avenue, which follows course of the Arkansas River, are art galleries, retail shops, the Central Arkansas Library Main Building, piano bars, loft apartments, the River Market, the Museum of Discovery, high-rise condos, the Riverfront Amphitheatre, restaurants, the Clinton Museum Shop, hotels and the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Center and Park.
The keystone of this busy street is the Clinton Presidential Center and Park, 30 acres of green in the heart of the city. The Clinton Center, opened in November of 2004, houses the largest archival collection in American Presidential history. Designed by James Polshek, the main building takes the form of a glass bridge symbolic of President Clinton’s theme, “Building a Bridge to the 21st Century. The 20,000-square foot museum with exhibits by Ralph Appelbaum and Associates of New York is both interactive and informative. Adjacent to the main building is the Clinton School of Public Service, housed in a restored passenger train station.
What Makes President Clinton Avenue a Great Place?
Most residents drive to President Clinton Avenue, but for visitors it is within walking distance of the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Center, the Peabody Hotel and the Capital Hotel are just two blocks further west along Markham Street. Taxis and hotel vans provide service from the Little Rock National Airport, just 10 minutes away.
President Clinton Avenue is served by the River Rail electronic trolley, which has logged more than 100,000 riders since operation began in November of 2004. An Arkansas Democrat-Gazette news story about the River Rail riders mentioned that along with the tourists and downtown businesspeople, the trolleys are used by a long-time Little Rock residents explaining to their grandchildren how they used to take the trolley downtown with their own grandparents.
Free two-hour parking along President Clinton Avenue, paid parking decks, free parking at the Clinton Center and paid lots serve the area for those who drive. Day or night, passengers entering Little Rock across the I-30 bridge over the Arkansas River can see the Clinton Presidential Center, the “Little Rock” sign on top of the River Market, the River Market Amphitheatre and the Museum Center – all along President Clinton Avenue.
Tree-shaded sidewalks offer respite from the heat for those who want a leisurely walks. Open green spaces ready for picnics and games fill the needs of the more active. Bike trails, the Amphitheatre, park exhibits along the river bank and the original “La Petit Roche” are a part of Julius Breckling Riverfront Park that sits between President Clinton Avenue and the Arkansas River.
Linking Riverfront Park and the Clinton Presidential Center and Park is the Sculpture Promenade, which includes many seating and sculpture plazas, the Tile Wall and the frequently photographed Eagle Plaza sculpture. The Tile Wall – which makes the freeway underpass an artwork rather than an eyesore – is made of four-inch by four-inch ceramic tiles hand painted by community participants aged three to 99. The Scholarship Garden and Celebration Circle areas of the Clinton Presidential Center and Park invite pedestrians to pause a while on benches to enjoy the scenery before their trek into Presidential history.
When visitors turn onto President Clinton Avenue there is an immediate change from a business environment to one of leisure, culture, history and excitement. The first impression in the evening is of bustling crowds, live music and inviting eateries. In the daytime, the street activities are more family-oriented as the parks and green spaces slow life down, rather than revving it up. Automobiles and the River Rail trolley transport visitors to President Clinton Avenue, but there is heavy foot traffic along the street both day and night.
The Amphitheatre seats 10,000 on concert nights and there are numerous benches in the green spaces along President Clinton Avenue, in Riverfront Park and in the Clinton Presidential Center Park to serve the public during the day. Picnic seating is available in Riverfront Park and many restaurants have outdoor patios and decks fronting the park and street.
The acknowledged showcase of downtown Little Rock and our state, President Clinton Avenue attractions and parks are clean, with litter removed from trash receptacles regularly. The street is very safe, with Little Rock Police patrols on horseback and by car and a small police station across the street from the River Market. The Clinton Presidential Center has its own security force and visitors must pass through security checkpoints to enter the museum there.
President Clinton Avenue is a destination for Little Rock residents and tourists of all ages and backgrounds. An Arkansas-Democrat Gazette article in April of 2005 observed the following sights and sounds, “Tourists speaking in various languages as they peruse the artifacts in the Clinton Presidential Center. A group of school bus-riding Mennonite youth canvassing the area and passing out CDs. Local jazz artist Michael Eubanks, jamming along with other musicians in the River Market pavilion. Our new friend, Brother Anthony Fidelis, a Franciscan monk who accepts donations to help the sick and the needy. The crew of yuppies; bikers; well-heeled West Little Rock types; hip-hoppers and modern-day hippies and artsy types.”
Residents of both loft apartment and high-rise condos enjoy the pleasures of living along the Arkansas River. Some visitors come primarily to learn about Clinton presidential history, but stay for crayfish and hushpuppies at the Flying Fish and the club scene at Sticky Fingers. On Tuesday and Saturday mornings and Thursday evenings from May to October, farmers from throughout the state bring in their wares – home-grown tomatoes, ripe peaches, fragrant strawberries, barbecue sauce and black-eyed peas to name a few – to the River Market Pavilions.
The Cox Center’s Boulevard Bread sandwiches are a gourmet lunch surprise for those who spend the morning looking through volumes for sale at the Central Arkansas Library bookstore. Big Downtown Thursdays, live music events targeted to Little Rock business people at the River Market Pavilions, have a decade-long tradition of bringing people downtown.
Tourists enjoy President Clinton Avenue for a day or so, but residents reap the benefits all year long. Little Rock people who don’t often interact in other parts of the city enjoy each other’s company along President Clinton Avenue. Friendly regulars don’t meet a stranger and first-time visitors leave wanting to come back soon. There is a visible relaxation that occurs when a businessman loosens his tie in an eatery or one young family meets another for a play date in Riverfront Park. It’s common to see groups of women in heels and suits stop to listen to sidewalk musicians.
One example of how people interact here is the story of a homeless man who offered a drawing to a resident for food money. His talent was recognized, publicized in local media and a residence was found for him in Little Rock, where he now makes a living selling his art. A recent visit to a local hobby store found a civil servant purchasing frames for some of the artist’s works to be hung at City Hall.
Groups of children on field trips, families walking toward the local eateries, knots of young adults lining up to hear live bands and colleagues celebrating birthday lunches are some groups you find on President Clinton Avenue. Individuals stop to read on a bench in Scholarship Garden, get souvenirs from the Clinton Museum Store for the folks back home, buy vegetables at the River Market or return books to the Main Library.
History & Background
In the mid-80s, there was nothing along Markham east of Cumberland except abandoned warehouses, a couple of furniture storage centers and an aging schoolbook depository. City government and many community leaders worked to initiate the turn-around of the urban waterfront district that began with Riverfront Park and its Amphitheatre. The movement was fed by the construction of the River Market and Main Library, and soon the area became a magnet for private investment in restaurants, residences and retail. This development work in the 90s was rewarded with the decision to place the Clinton library in Little Rock and the name change to create President Clinton Avenue.
Today proposed location of Lions World for the Blind and construction of the headquarters of Heifer International adjacent to the Clinton Presidential Center promise to bring even more visitors and residents to the avenue. Some sources speculate that the area around President Clinton Avenue will become a global nonprofit campus.
In the short span of 20 years a dreary area of Little Rock that was virtually unused has become the heart of the city’s International tourist trade and a downtown gathering place for its diverse residents.
Mark Webre: (501) 371-6839
- Access Little Rock - homepage of the City of Little Rock
- Little Rock Parks & Recreation Department
- Clinton Presidential Center - the homepage for the Library and Center