Creating A Marketplace
Celebrating Little Rock’s River Market
By JIM RICE, Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau
In the mid 1990s, the Little Rock Farmer’s Market was housed in the parking facility at Sixth and Scott in what was then a struggling downtown. Combined with ongoing efforts to revitalize the area, Little Rock leadership and downtown stakeholders felt the market would better serve its vendors, customers and the downtown revitalization efforts by moving to East Markham Street in Riverfront Park.
The goals for the location change included creating a more user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing location and offering an impetus for further residential development in the nascent downtown. The hope was this initiative would act as a catalyst for future economic development along the river.
The project was originally the vision of three men—Little Rock developer Jimmy Moses, City Director Dr. Dean Kumpuris and architect Rick Redden—and these stalwart pioneers led a passionate group to embark upon a fundraising effort to bring the River Market from plan to reality. An initial $500,000 was secured from proceeds of a Little Rock bond initiative. In addition, U.S. Rep. Ray Thornton secured a $1 million federal grant with matching private sector funding of $4 million and a $250,000 gift from the Ottenheimer Foundation.
Following a study provided by Robert Gorman of RTKL Design in Baltimore, the neighborhood’s market hall and pavilions were constructed and opened over the July 4 weekend in 1996. What followed over the next 23 years has been explosive growth in residential, business and tourism development in the neighborhood, the likes of which have rarely been seen since.
Early adopters of the vision began to invest in the surrounding area, including First Security Bank, Crews and Associates, multiple hotels and restaurants, and Axciom Corporation. Other foundational elements to come along have included the William J. Clinton Presidential Center, Central Arkansas Library System main library branch, Heifer International, Clinton School of Public Service and Museum of Discovery.
“Ottenheimer Market Hall has been a key catalyst in the development of downtown Little Rock,” said Gretchen Hall, president/CEO of the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Hall said the aggregate economic and cultural impact of the adjacent public and private investment has been enormous to downtown. The Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau and the city of Little Rock have retained a consultant to evaluate and reimagine the market hall.
“We want the Market Hall to continue to be the anchor and economic driver for the downtown entertainment, convention and visitor district for years to come,” Hall said.