by Tyler Hale
On Friday, August 23, Little Rock will see the launch of its new downtown entertainment district. Dubbed the River Market Entertainment District, the move is designed to stimulate activity in the capital city’s downtown.
Getting an entertainment district has been in the works for some time, according to Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Gretchen Hall. However, it was necessary to pass the legislation enabling the district first.
Sen. Trent Garner (R-El Dorado) was one of the primary sponsors for the bill, originally entitled Senate Bill 492, which later became Act 812. Under the act, cities and towns are allowed to designate sections of the city/town as “entertainment district” – either permanently or temporarily – to promote hospitality and tourism in Arkansas.
On Tuesday, July 23, the Little Rock City Council voted to pass an ordinance creating the entertainment district, which will be contain “all public places lying within (1) Block 1 of Pope’s Addition in the City of Little Rock and (2) 30 feet of each side of the centerline of the following blocks of the following streets in the City of Little Rock: 300-600 blocks of President Clinton Avenue, 100 block of North Rock Street and 100 block of St. Vincent Plaza, also known as the 100 block of North Commerce Street,” according to the ordinance.
However, Little Rock isn’t the first Arkansas city to set up an entertainment district. Mountain Home got there first, followed by El Dorado.
Downtown Little Rock Partnership Executive Director Gabe Holmstrom says the district will be a boon for Little Rock because he’s seen the proof. While he hasn’t visited the other Arkansas entertainment districts, he has visited and heard from other cities with districts who have reported positive growth.
“We’ve talked to other cities and states, and…they have very positive feedback about the entertainment districts,” he says.
Holmstrom views the district as one more “amenity” for people downtown. The district, he says, should entice additional attractions to the downtown region.
“I think this is the next step. I would hope that this would attract more entertainment options and more people to our downtown,” he says.
But the most important aspect for Hall is increasing the footprint of downtown. Getting people downtown and engaging with downtown businesses is crucial, she says.
As for people downtown, they will be able to enjoy the perks of the district starting Aug. 23 starting at 5 pm. The Little Rock ordinance states that open carry and public consumption is limited to Fridays from 5 p.m. to midnight, on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to midnight and on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. In addition, open alcoholic beverage containers will be allowed on December 31 from 8 a.m. to January 1 at 2 a.m., on January 1 from 8 a.m. to midnight, on February 14 from 8 a.m. to midnight, on March 17 from 8 a.m. to midnight, on July 4 from 8 a.m. to midnight and on December 24 from 8 a.m. to midnight.
Individuals taking alcohol into public spaces must wear a wristband given to them when they receive a River Market Entertainment District (RMED) cup.
Several establishments will offer cups. These establishments include: Buenos Aires Grill & Café, Club 27, Cache, Courtyard Marriott (bar), Damgoode Pies, Ernie Biggs, Gus’s, Flying Saucer, Stickyz, Rev Room, Sonny Williams Steak Room, Willy D’s and Nexus Coffee.
Patrons are also allowed to bring a RMED drink into The Galleries at Library Square, Bobby Roberts Library of Arkansas History, The Barn, UA Little Rock Downtown, Kilwins, Freckled Frog and Four Square.
However, individuals are not permitted – due to state law – to bring alcoholic beverages from one restaurant or bar to another. However, they can bring an empty RMED cup.
Alcohol purchased outside of the district is not permitted, and individuals are not permitted to take alcohol purchased within the district outside its borders.
The borders will be marked by light pole banners and sidewalk decals.
“We’re excited about getting the district open and up-and-running,” Holmstorm. “We look forward to working through any tweaks that may need to occur in the first couple of weeks.
Map provided by Downtown Little Rock Partnership