Little Rock tourism master plan calls for Statehouse Convention Center renovations and reinventing River Market hall

FILE - A sign outside the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau is shown in this 2019 file photo.
FILE - A sign outside the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau is shown in this 2019 file photo.

Among the recommendations contained in a 10-year tourism master plan that the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau will unveil at a press conference Wednesday afternoon are studying possible renovations to the Statehouse Convention Center and reinventing Ottenheimer Market Hall in the River Market.

Officials set out to develop the master plan in late 2021, according to a copy of the report.

The visitors bureau hired officials at the firm Jones Lang LaSalle to help produce the report.

"Analyzing the three years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic showed that from 2017-2019, utilization of the [Statehouse Convention Center] was approximately 45% in total," the master plan says. "Over the next five years, the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau aims to increase utilization by 15%." 

In addition to changes to booking practices, the plan recommends that officials undertake a convention center expansion and renovation study. 

"Currently, the building is positioned with its 'back' along the river which is not the highest and best use of river frontage," the report says.

For Ottenheimer Market Hall, the plan recommends that the visitors bureau "explores alternative operating models, including partnering with local brands as well as regional and national entrepreneurs in reimagining and reactivating the space." 

Currently, the hall features a series of food vendors operating from different stalls. Its hours of operation do not extend into the evening. 

Although the plan's authors note that the issue of crime and safety came up nearly every time in stakeholder interviews and focus groups, they concluded that "the perception issues appear to be more pervasive than the actual issues of crime and safety for visitors." 

"While there is a need to address the actual issues of crime and safety, allowing the negativity to continue in headlines only bolsters perception issues," the report says at one point. "Stakeholders felt strongly that Little Rock has too much to offer to be brought down by crime statistics that do not penetrate the tourism districts." 

In conjunction with the 10-year master plan, visitors bureau officials have also produced a 2023 business plan that is intended to serve as a guide during the first year of the master plan's implementation. 

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