One of Central Arkansas' top tourist destinations, the Clinton Presidential Center, plans to reopen for the first time in over a year, giving officials hope that tourism in the region could get a much needed boost.
Rebecca Tennille, spokeswoman for the Clinton Center, says the presidential library will reopen with reduced hours on July 1. The center, which usually attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors per year, has been closed since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even so, Tennille says the center has not been idle during that time.
"We did take some time during COVID to update and make some repairs throughout the center, so the permanent exhibits are as they were or better. We've got some temporary exhibits coming up. We don't have any installed just yet because it's going to take a little bit to ramp those up," Tennille said.
While there are no new temporary exhibits inside, the Clinton Center recently unveiled a new outdoor installation. "Cool Globes: Hot Ideas for a Cooler Planet" is an exhibit consisting of about 20 large globes scattered throughout the Clinton Presidential Park that depict different artists' perspectives on climate change.
Arkansas tourism took a big hit in 2020 due to the pandemic, showing a 22% decrease in collections of the statewide tourism tax, despite seeing growth in the industry for more than a decade according to the Arkansas Tourism Ticker.
Gretchen Hall, president of the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau, expects the reopening of the Clinton Presidential Center to provide a boost to Central Arkansas tourism.
"From a leisure component, I think it is absolutely a driver and brings people here. There are only 13 presidential libraries in the country, so it's a unique component for political buffs, history buffs, those that want to mark that off their bucket list."
Clinton Center spokeswoman Rebecca Tennille says the indoor facilities will operate with reduced hours for at least the immediate future in response to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Arkansas Department of Health.
"Because the Clinton Center is part of the National Archives and Records Administration—we partner with them—we are opening in accordance with their guidelines, as are most of the other presidential libraries in their system."
The new temporary hours for the Clinton Center will be Wednesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and there will be no restrictions on the number of patrons allowed inside the center at the same time. In addition to the repairs being made while the center was closed due to the pandemic, The Clinton Foundation, along with the City of Little Rock, World Central Kitchen, the Central Arkansas Library System and the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance worked together to provide more than 700,000 meals to vulnerable populations experiencing food insecurity during the pandemic.