North Little Rock Tourism Staff Prepare for Town Center Plaza Launch
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 plaza” will provide for residents, office workers and city visitors.
Thousands of 6-inch by 12-inch concrete pavers have been laid, porch swings that evoke the feel of a front porch are in place, and a cascading waterfall frame has been installed for the city property of 5, $36 million at 510 Main St.
The square will not open to the public until November 30 as part of the North Little Rock Northern Lights Festival which will kick off the Christmas holiday season downtown.
Preparing for this event, staff at the North Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau spent part of a hot afternoon last week viewing lunch hour workers, families and tourists moving around the 42,000 square feet of space, sitting in the swings, watching the water jets from the jet fountains or listening to live music from an elevated stage.
“To me, that makes it all the more real,” said Stephanie Slagle, director of marketing for the Convention and Visitors Bureau, of her first-hand look at the plaza. “We’ve been looking at diagrams of the place for months. To actually be there and see the work that’s been done and visualize that a tent can go here and there’s music going on the stage, you can see how everything fits together.
“It’s going to be a really cool venue.”
When protective screens have been taken down for photo ops or to test 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 Bureau. .
“We actually had people walking around asking if it was open and seeing what was going on,” Major said. “There’s a lot of excitement right now about 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 on the cobblestones and look around, it gives you a whole different perspective,” Major said. “You’re really excited about the potential of all the different things that can happen in the plaza area.
“The whole concept of the plaza is to have an open space that can have so many different uses, from a concert on stage, to people coming down and enjoying what we call the porch with the swing sets set up there and relax.”
The Convention and Visitors Bureau, now in Burns Park, will manage the square and its events. That will be easier to do once the 600-story, $8.37 million main building under construction just north of the plaza is finished early next year. The office will move to the first floor of 600 Main, along with a visitor center and souvenir retail store.
“The visitor center will be right next door,” Major said. “We are excited to move downtown and be part of Argenta. Argenta is the front door of North Little Rock. People can stop by our new building and get information about the town 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.
“Overall, it’s a new and different way to advertise and promote North Little Rock.”
The visitor center, not far from the Burns Park exit of Interstate 40, sees about 10,000 visitors each year, according to the office. According to market research conducted for the bureau, nearly three-quarters of North Little Rock hotel guests traveled to the city by personal car.
With the new Visitor Center downtown, 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 across 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]. We’ll have to figure some of that 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 downtown should also simplify the office’s job of persuading tourists to stay, shop, eat or visit an attraction, Slagle said, because they’ll already be “in the middle of middle of things”.
“They can feel the activity going on,” she said. “I think, from our side, it will be much easier to direct people.”
The city relies on Argenta Plaza to be a destination unto itself, particularly with the Main 600 Office Building and the $17 million First Orion Office Building under construction directly behind the plaza, providing a potentially high number of daily users. of the maximum capacity estimated at 3,000 people.
While the Northern Lights festival next month will be a public opening, not all of the space will be ready until the First Orion building is completed early next year.
“We’re talking about having more of a ribbon cutting and a grand opening of the full plaza, maybe in March or April when it’s warmer and the whole plaza is complete, once we have built First Orion as the backdrop for the plaza,” the Major says.
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 public to enjoy, Major said.
“The key is not to rent it out all the time, but to keep it open to the public all the time, so people say, ‘Let’s go to the square,'” Major said.
Metro on 10/06/2019