Clinton Presidential Library Spurs Little Rocks Growth

Little Rock, Arkansas is no Dallas or Atlanta or Chicago, but you’d never know that by the fundraising campaigns descending on the city of less than 300,000 citizens.

Although it’s more a national, even international campaign, fundraising for the Clinton Presidential Library, which will be built in Little Rock, is affecting Arkansas’ capital city in more ways than one.

The library, the city’s largest private sector construction project to date, is already creating a renewed stir in the economy. Hotels, office space, downtown condos and other attractions are making plans to open along with the library in 2004. And, fundraisers in the area say the library’s campaign is only helping their efforts.

“Good philanthropy in a community generates more philanthropy,” said John Bel with the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Foundation. “It gives nonprofits a greater opportunity for success. Donors usually don’t make just one gift. Most make three to six gifts of a similar nature. I tend to think we have a healthy environment right now. It makes us better at presenting our case if others are doing it too.”

The Arkansas Children’s Hospital has an ongoing campaign of $10 million per year, with a capital effort on the horizon. And even with large goals (Bel wouldn’t comment on the exact amount yet) to meet, he doesn’t seem worried by a presidential library campaign on his turf.

Little Rock is a small community, and it just so happens that Skip Rutherford, long-time FOB (Friend of Bill) and director of the William J. Clinton Presidential Foundation, the fundraising arm of the library, is on the hospital’s board. So is Sen. Hillary Clinton, who is a trustee emeritus and well known for her commitment to the hospital.

“We are very trusting of Skip, Sen. Clinton and President Clinton for making sure [the hospital wasn’t] put in a particularly competitive situation,” Bel said.

Charlotte Brown, vice president of operations for Forest Hill Capital in Little Rock, trusted the library wouldn’t get in the way of her $21 million campaign, back when she was the director of development for the state’s leading arts organization, the Arkansas Arts Center.

“We didn’t bump up against any library fundraising,” Brown said. “Skip and his campaign were very quiet when we went into our big public phase.”

Staying out of Little Rock’s public eye has been the mark of the $200 million library campaign.

Rutherford said the foundation has been extremely sensitive to the wants and needs of Arkansas nonprofits. “Arkansas is a small state, and there are lots of other organizations that don’t have national and international ties. And, we want all those groups to do great,” he said. “Our Arkansas fundraising is one-on-one. It’s not high pressure. There aren’t any big galas planned. We’re trying to be very sensitive to the situation.”

Raising the money

Much has been written and reported about the Clinton library fundraising, including a Congressional investigation into whether contributions to it were linked to last-minute pardons — most notably of the fugitive commodities trader Marc Rich.

Rich’s former wife, Denise Rich, who pressed for a pardon, gave $450,000 to the Clinton Foundation, while her friend, Beth Dozoretz, a Democratic Party fundraiser who also lobbied for the pardon, promised to raise $1 million for the library.

Rutherford doesn’t like to comment on the theories, opting instead with, “We’ll continue to follow the law, complying fully with the law, which we’re doing now.”

But Rutherford doesn’t mind talking about who the foundation is targeting, which are the same donor groups that most every presidential library campaign has approached.

The foundation is targeting five groups: friends and supporters of Clinton; individuals and organizations that support presidential libraries because they are educational; individuals and groups that support the library because of its regional economic affects; small donors through direct mail; and foreign governments. For example, Kuwait was a large donor to the Bush Library.

“We already have 42,000 donors to the library,” Rutherford said. “That’s probably more than any other [presidential] library, and we have just begun.”

Although the foundation is not making a lot of noise in Arkansas, the state is still one of the top five states in terms of small donors. That may have to do with the fact that many Arkansans are excited about the economic upsurge a presidential library is expected to bring to an area.

Expanding downtown

The library will be built east of an area of downtown Little Rock that has been revitalized and is experiencing intense growth. The area, dubbed the River Market District, is on the east side of downtown and sits on the Arkansas River. Interstate 30, which is a byway to Dallas, Memphis, St. Louis and Tulsa, runs along the district.

The library will be east of I-30 on a 27-acre city park along the south bank of the Arkansas River. The park will replace an industrial site of old warehouses and vacant space. The project will include the presidential library and archives, the renovation of the abandoned Rock Island Railroad Bridge as a pedestrian crossing that connects to North Little Rock on the other side of the river, and the refurbished historic Choctaw Station, built in 1899, to house the Clinton Public Policy Institute and Clinton School of Public Service.

“Our goal is to continue what the president did during his term — reach out to the poorest,” Rutherford said. “This library will help redevelop an area of Little Rock that had been forgotten. We are expanding east of the interstate in a difficult economic area.”

Several large projects in the area have already been announced. Acxiom Corp., a database technology company headquartered in Conway, Ark., is building a $25 million, 12-story office project in downtown Little Rock not far from the library. The Excelsior Hotel, which accommodates many of the city’s convention business, is under a major renovation and will soon be the new Peabody Hotel. A new $11.5 million office/condo project also has been announced, complete with Hollywood couple Mary Steenburgen (a resident of North Little Rock and a graduate of Hendrix College in Conway, Ark.) and her husband, Ted Danson, on board for one of the luxury condos. And a new nature conservatory is planned directly across from the library in North Little Rock.

Total economic impact of the Clinton Presidential Center will be $10.7 million annually in the city, according to a study conducted for the Downtown Little Rock Partnership by MRA International. About $7.1 million of that will be in direct visitor spending on lodging, meals, retail purchases and services from an estimated 300,000 visitors per year.

“That $10.7 million annually will cover the city’s investment in this library,” Rutherford said. “That’s the best deal in America right now. And, we think we can do better than that. With this project we’ve broken the barrier of the river and the interstate. We’re fighting urban sprawl.”

One of the biggest announcements since the library is the plan for the new headquarters of Heifer Project International, a 57-year-old nonprofit that promotes sustainable economic development worldwide by training residents to care for their own animals.

The almost $20 million project, which will be next door to the Clinton library, will be funded by Heifer’s largest capital campaign to date. The nonprofit is not announcing its goal until next spring when it goes into the public phase of the campaign.

After Heifer is done acquiring all its land, it will tout about 60 acres, 25 of which will be used for the new headquarters and a Global Village, which will feature depictions of five geographic areas Heifer serves.

“We think being next to the Clinton library will be a very complimentary relationship,” said James Kimbrough, director of advancement for Heifer Project. “We’ll share people interested in international issues and just regular tourists to the area. We expect about 200,000 to 250,000 visitors per year.”

The Global Village will be a big draw for students since visitors will be able to experience the sights, smells and sounds of various locations across the world. It will provide visitors with a two-hour walking tour.

“The Global Village has been a strong interest for us,” he said. “A key role for us is educating the public about global hunger. We would like to have 10-12 of these global villages around the country.”

The nonprofit has tested the concept with the Heifer Ranch, an overnight experience for visitors, including many youth groups and Boy Scout troops.

“We feel positive about the case for these facilities,” Kimbrough said. “The Heifer Project is the best kept secret in Arkansas. I think we’ll eventually become a major tourist attraction, especially since we’ll be between Dallas and Nashville.”

The nonprofit hopes to open its new campus in October, 2004, along with the library’s opening and coinciding with Heifer’s 60th anniversary.

“The Heifer Project could have gone anywhere,” said Rutherford with the Clinton Foundation. “We were at risk of losing their international headquarters, but the idea of sharing joint programming with a presidential library was [powerful]. That’s going to be very unique among the presidential libraries.”

Those associated with the planning of the library are quick to say the Clinton facility will be the first in a new generation of presidential libraries. Few of the 10 presidential libraries are located in urban areas. Many are located in remote or sentimental places. The Bush Presidential Library is on the campus of Texas A&M University in the university-town of College Station.

The Clinton Library will be modeled after the Lyndon B. Johnson Library, which is directly off Interstate 40 in Austin, Texas. Although it is on the University of Texas campus it is extremely visible from a major interstate.

“We looked at being on a college campus,” Rutherford said. “From a research angle, that’s good, but for economic development it’s not.”

Although it won’t be on a college campus, the Clinton Library campus will also boast the University of Arkansas Clinton School Public Service, which will offer a master’s program with a strong emphasis on international business.

The library itself will contain the largest collection of presidential history available. The collection touts more than 100 million documents, 40 million emails, 2 million photographs and about 75,000 artifacts. Artifacts range from gifts from foreign heads of state, such as a mother of pearl depiction of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper from Yasser Arafat to an Elvis collection that Rutherford said is second only to Graceland’s.

But will Clinton’s darkest moments be highlighted in flashy, million-dollar exhibits for all the world to see? Probably so, according to Rutherford and David Alsobrook, director of the Clinton Materials Project.

“The library will accept the facts of Clinton’s impeachment as they are,”Rutherford said. “We will deal with it factually and fairly. This library will be a balance of the good times and the bad.”

Alsobrook believes the Clinton Library will be a huge success for many reasons, but one is critical to its success: the former president’s involvement. The libraries that have had presidents who were very involved in its planning and programming draw millions of visitors each year. “When you’ve got an active, living president who spends a lot of time at the library, it makes a difference,” Alsobrook said.

Rutherford believes that Clinton’s popularity and the controversy surrounding his eight years in office will be a plus for the library.

“Controversy is good for a presidential library,” he said. “People are more interested in a dynamic personality. Look at his presidency; it’s inspired movies, TV shows. There is an enormous interest in Bill Clinton.”


Natalie Gardner is a Little Rock, Ark.-based business writer.