Tourism staff

North Little Rock tourism staff prepare for downtown plaza debut

With much of the work already done in downtown Argenta Plaza in North Little Rock, it has become easier to imagine the various activities and opportunities that the “public square” will offer residents, office workers and residents. visitors to the city.

Thousands of 6-by-12-inch concrete pavers have been laid, swings that evoke the feeling of a porch are lifted, and the frame for a cascading waterfall has been installed for the 5.36 million municipal property. dollars at 510 Main Street.

The plaza won’t open to the public until November 30 as part of the North Little Rock Northern Lights Festival which kicks off the Christmas holiday season downtown.

In preparation for this event, staff at the North Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau spent part of a hot afternoon last week viewing lunchtime workers, families and tourists moving around the 42,000 square feet of space, sitting in the swings, watching the water jets from the fountain jets or listening to live music from an elevated stage.

“For me, it makes things even more real,” said Stephanie Slagle, marketing director for the Convention and Visitors Bureau, of her first-hand look at the plaza. “We’ve been looking at diagrams of the plaza for months. To actually be there and see the work that has been done and visualize that a tent can go here and there is music on stage, you can see how it all fits together.

“It will be a really cool place.”

When the protective screens were removed for photo ops or to test out the fountains on some recent evenings, curious onlookers have been drawn to what has been done so far, said Bob Major, general manager of the Convention and Visitors Office.

“People actually walked around asking if he was open and seeing what was going on,” Major said. “There is a lot of excitement right now for the place from people who are ready to experience something new in North Little Rock and something really new in Argenta.

“When you look at something on paper you see one thing, but when you can actually stand there on the cobblestones and look around, it gives you a whole different perspective,” Major said. “You are really excited about the potential of all the different things that can happen in the area of ​​the square.

“The concept of the square is to have an open space that can have so many different uses, from a concert on stage to people coming to enjoy what we call the porch with the swings set there and relax.”

VISITORS CENTER

The Convention and Visitors Bureau, now in Burns Park, will manage the square and its events. This will be easier to do once the $ 8.37 million, three-story main building 600 under construction just north of the plaza is completed early next year. The office will move to the first floor of 600 Main, with a visitor center and retail store to sell souvenirs.

“The visitor center will be right next door,” Major said. “We are so excited to move downtown and be a part of Argenta. Argenta is the porch of North Little Rock. People can stop by our new building and get information about the city if they are a visitor, but someone who lives here might want to send a friend a North Little Rock T-shirt or coffee mug. .

“In general, this is a new and different way of advertising and promoting North Little Rock.”

The visitors’ center, not far from the Burns Park exit of Interstate 40, welcomes about 10,000 visitors each year, according to the office. Nearly three-quarters of North Little Rock hotel guests have driven into town by personal car, according to market research for the office.

With the new downtown visitor center, more visitors will exit Interstate 30, instead of I-40, which may change who stops and why. The new center will also be closer to attractions such as the Old Mill, Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum, Simmons Bank Arena, Arkansas River Trail, Dickey-Stephens Park baseball stadium and, on the other side. from the Arkansas River to Little Rock, the River Market District, the Clinton Presidential Center, and the Statehouse Convention Center.

“There’s going to be a little learning curve,” Slagle said. “We just don’t know how many people will come out [I-30 into downtown]. Some of that we’ll have to figure out as we go. Our main focus will be on serving visitors and making sure they have all the information they need, whether they need a hotel or need to know where to eat. That’s what we’re here for. “

Having a visitor center in the city center should also simplify the office’s job of trying to persuade tourists to stay, shop, eat or visit an attraction, Slagle said, because they will already be “in. right in the middle of things “.

“They can feel the activity going on,” she said. “I think on our side it will be much easier to lead people.”

Argenta Plaza is seen by the city as a destination in itself, particularly with the 600 Main office building and the $ 17 million five-story First Orion office building under construction directly behind the plaza, providing a number potentially important daily users. of the estimated maximum capacity of 3,000 people of the place.

While the Northern Lights Festival next month will be a public opening, the entire space won’t be ready until the First Orion building is completed early next year.

“We’re talking about having more than one ribbon cut and a grand opening of the full square, maybe in March or April, when it’s warmer and the whole square is over, once we have built First Orion as the backdrop for the plaza, ”says the major.

The office will oversee the rental of the taxpayer-owned plaza for private events, such as receptions, fundraisers or weddings, but its primary focus will be for the benefit of the public, Major said.

“The key is not to praise it all the time, but to keep it open all the time for the public, so people will say ‘let’s go down to the square,’” Major said.

Metro on 06/10/2019


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