AP: Clinton marks start of work on bridge at library
By Chuck Bartels
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A decrepit railroad bridge that crosses the Arkansas River at Bill Clinton's presidential library will become a focal point for the city once it is refurbished as a pedestrian link in the area's trails system, Clinton said Friday.
When Clinton picked a Little Rock site for his library in 2001, he said the bridge would one day become a focal point for the city. Clinton raised $180 million for the library, which opened in 2004, but only recently has the $10 million needed to rehab the bridge become available.
"If we do this bridge right, there will be no city in America that will have a more defining landmark," Clinton said.
Clinton and officials that included Gov. Mike Beebe and Assistant Commerce Secretary John Fernandez broke ground underneath the bridge as several hundred people looked on Friday morning.
Area leaders have designed the trail system to set Little Rock and North Little Rock apart. The 14-mile walking and biking trail already includes two bridges: the renovated Junction Bridge downtown and the Big Dam Bridge at Murray Lock and Dam. A third pedestrian bridge that's under construction will cross the Little Maumelle River and connect the main trail to Two Rivers Park in western Pulaski County.
Plans call for the trail system to eventually extend west to Pinnacle Mountain State Park, about 15 miles west of the library.
The Clinton Presidential Center, located just west of downtown, has been the anchor for more than a decade of redevelopment in the River Market District and beyond. The center has also helped the state boost its tourism numbers and sustain its rate of visitors through the recession.
The bridge will be renamed as the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge.
Clinton said other cities can look at Little Rock as a model.
"What we're doing is taking our assets and reimagining them," Clinton said.
Fernandez said effort to build the trail system and include the Rock Island bridge make an important statement.
"It's a real measure of the vitality of a community," Fernandez said.
The Commerce Department is providing a $2 million economic development grant to help the project along. Fernandez said the tedium of processing grant applications produces important results.
"You have to have places where people want to be," Fernandez said.
In addition to the Commerce Department grant, the Clinton Foundation raised $4 million itself and won $2.5 in federal stimulus money. Little Rock has contributed $1 million and North Little Rock kicked in $750,000.
When Clinton picked the site, which held a collection of dreary looking warehouses an a long-shuttered railroad depot, he said he saw beauty in the setting. The Choctaw railroad depot was renovated to house the Clinton School of Public Service. And Clinton wanted the bridge as part of the package.
"I would like to light it up at night," Clinton said in 2001. "There is no place like this anywhere in America."