LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — After working to bolster tourism at its Little Rock location, the Clinton Presidential Library will seek to do the same for Arkansas' three other "presidential cities" before the library's November opening.
Tourism officials in Fayetteville, Hope and Hot Springs are beginning to coordinate efforts with the Clinton Presidential Foundation, the organization building the $160 million library, museum, graduate school and park in downtown Little Rock.
Former President Clinton was born in Hope and lived in two different homes there between 1946 and 1950. After his widowed mother remarried, Clinton moved to Hot Springs, where he attended elementary and high school.
After returning to Arkansas from Georgetown, Oxford and Yale, Clinton taught in law school, married and lost a bid for Congress in Fayetteville before rising to political prominence as state attorney general and governor in Little Rock.
"One of the great things about the presidential library, it can be the gateway to the other aspects of the president's life," said Skip Rutherford, president of the foundation. "A lot of people are inquiring about the grand opening and special tours to Hope and Hot Springs."
Both cities are southwest of Little Rock and relatively close to I-30, which connects to Dallas.
Rutherford is pushing partnerships with Elvis Presley's Graceland and the National Civil Rights Museum, two attractions in Memphis, Tenn., an international gateway to the mid-South that is a two-hour drive from Little Rock.
"These two places combined bring in 1 million tourists, and most of them are interested in two important interests for Clinton: civil rights and Elvis," Rutherford said. "We've found most international visitors spend two weeks traveling in the region. If we can get those people to Little Rock, we can get them to the other presidential cities."
Hot Springs already draws tourists in its own right with its annual documentary film festival, which draws 24,000 visitors each October. Hot Springs may provide the "gateway" to Little Rock this year with the film festival institute offering three days of special documentary screenings in downtown Little Rock in the week leading up to the library's Nov. 18 grand opening ceremony.
"We're just beginning the collaboration, but we're hoping to keep it going well into the future," said Melanie Masino, executive director of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute. "We hope to take this program on the road after premiering it during the library opening."
The Hot Springs festival is designated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as a site for selecting nominees for the best documentary Oscar. Last year, it offered the premiere of Harry Thomason's "The Hunting of the President" and one of the first showings of the Oscar-winning "Spellbound."
Collaboration with the library will be particularly welcomed in Hope, where the Clinton Birthplace Foundation has struggled with its finances, especially since the library foundation began fund-raising in earnest in 1999.
As Clinton supporters donated more to the Clinton Library effort, donations slowed to the museum at Clinton's 87-year-old white, foursquare birth home.
But Gary Johnson, who lives in Clinton's second home in Hope and runs the town's historic museum in a renovated train station, believes donations will start turning around once the library opens.
"We're definitely going to start setting up activities now," Johnson said. "This should be a very good year for tourism in Hope in general."
The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, a three-hour drive northwest from Little Rock, is not as focused on Clinton tourism, but a plaque marks his former residence there.
More significant to connecting Fayetteville to the library in Little Rock, the school is involved with a number of projects to coincide with the library opening.
A state board has approved a Clinton School of Public Service graduate program with classes in Fayetteville. The school will be based on the library grounds in Little Rock, but without the means for accreditation, it must rely on established University of Arkansas campuses for course offerings and faculty.
The Fayetteville campus has also partnered with the University of Virginia to compile an audiovisual history of Clinton's life. Arkansas will have interviews and video footage of the pre- and post-presidency and Virginia will produce records of Clinton's time in the White House.
Rutherford said there will be three complete collections created, one for each university and one for the Clinton Library.