Cue DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win” and blast the pyrotechnics. The Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau announced the city’s first tourism master plan Wednesday afternoon, and they really did play DJ Khaled and blast pyrotechnics.
The Wally Allen Ballroom at the Statehouse Convention Center was turned into a mini convention for Little Rock tourism sites for the report presentation. The Museum of Discovery, ESSE Purse Museum, Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport, Historic Arkansas Museum and others set up booths displaying details about their attractions. Complimentary snacks, libations and Big on Little Rock swag were available for those present.
The 60-page master plan included nine broad recommendations, which were further broken down into detailed improvements for specific Little Rock attractions, infrastructure investments, technical perspectives on building the city’s “brand” and an overall boost for visitor experience and community engagement.
“In short, if residents aren’t excited about a part of their city, visitors won’t be either,” according to the report.
Gina Gemberling, president and CEO of the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau (LRCVB), welcomed city officials and introduced Dan Fenton and Bethanie DeRose, leaders at Jones Lang LaSelle, the global real estate company that put together the report. Fenton and DeRose took over the presentation to walk through the 10-year tourism master plan and a 2023 business plan. They noted that the business plan would ensure that the master plan isn’t going to “sit somewhere and gather dust.”
Joseph Flaherty with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Thursday that Jones Lang LaSelle would be paid a contracted $337,500 for the plans.
Among River Market District suggestions, the report’s proposed makeover for Ottenheimer Hall included hosting live music, selling alcohol and extending the hours of operation. The master plan also noted a need to further enhance and build family-oriented attractions. How about an indoor-outdoor hotel with a water attraction? It’s a yes from the folks at Jones Lang LaSelle. According to the report, there’s not a similar hotel within a four-hour drive from the city, and the surrounding population could “easily support this development.”
The report also stated that the LRCVB should “be even more proactive” in booking talent at the Robinson Center. It suggests that there’s more opportunity beyond the Broadway and Arkansas Symphony Orchestra seasons, and “the facility’s ability to lift the entire market should not be underestimated.”
Sports should be included in the city’s 10-year plan, too, with a priority for an indoor sports facility first propelled by outdoor flat fields and a network of trails, according to the report. With this implementation, the Statehouse Convention Center — which the report noted should also have its own expansion — would eventually have free space that is currently used for various competitions.
In the past, Mayor Frank Scott Jr. has floated the idea of a centralized sports complex. He has also talked of turning War Memorial Park into a Central Park of sorts. Scott closed out the ceremony Wednesday focusing on the importance of hearing all of the city’s voices in developments from College Station to Chenal Valley and Pleasant Valley to Pettaway, he said. This further recognized the goal of “breaking down barriers” as outlined in the master plan.
“We are focused on what the city of Little Rock will look like in 2030 and beyond,” Scott said. “What the city looks like 2030 and beyond is all of us focused on the next level to higher heights. Let’s do this together.”
The report included a recommendation to increase transportation, both vehicle and pedestrian. Expansion for Rock Region METRO through an on-demand service and a network of trails and bikeways were both included.
“Simply put, where visitors go, their dollars follow, and every effort should be made to make as many parts of the city easily accessible as possible,” according to the report.
The beautification of the city, from consistency in curb appeal to the development of an “iconic piece that will become known as synonymous with Little Rock,” should be important to the city’s visitors bureau, according to the report. Such a landmark would help build the city’s brand and placemaking to form an “overall vibe within the city’s downtown core.” Think Chicago’s “Cloud Gate” sculpture — a.k.a. the bean — or Los Angeles’ Hollywood sign. The report also suggested the building of a state information center.
When it comes to working with the perception of Little Rock as it’s related to public safety and crime, the master plan noted the LRCVB’s “unwavering” support for the police department. Recommendations include telling positive stories and engaging in a campaign that “lessens the impact of the crime and safety issues that are perpetuated.”
“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,” according to the report. “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.”
The report rounded out its final recommendation to increase diversity in the city through marketing strategies that mirror the diversity of the city. Positive word-of-mouth from the communities would help to improve the perception of the city. The report included pictures of people of color and a queer couple. It also mentioned the 2021 Little Rock campaign “Big on Black Culture,” which was an award-winning initiative.
The development of the tourism master plan started in 2021 and included more than 200 stakeholder interviews and focus group conversations. The 2023 business plan was crafted to serve as a guide for the first year implementation of the tourism master plan. It includes nine goals, each with detailed objectives.
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