The legacy of Riverfest is much greater than memories of fun, music, food and the occasional festival-goer wearing much too little clothing for his frame. In many ways, the festival helped focus attention on a fabulous resource that both Little Rock and North Little Rock ignored for far too long: the Arkansas River.
Smart cities — like smart people — leverage whatever assets they have to achieve success. One of the geographical assets of Little Rock and North Little Rock is the river, the reason the cities are here to begin with. Riverfest highlighted that asset, and as it grew and evolved and moved along the riverfront, that riverfront changed too — for the better.
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It’s an overused word, synergy, but it’s particularly useful in the context of the riverfronts of the two cities, because synergy is what created the vibrant downtowns we now know. Real estate visionaries Jimmy Moses and Rett Tucker contributed mightily to that synergy, probably the most, with the River Market, but the Clinton Presidential Library was another huge element.
The River Project — which led to Alltel Arena and an expanded Statehouse Convention Center and which was driven by then-Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines, then-North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Henry Hays and then-Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey — was also a major piece of the puzzle.
And the synergistic work continues with the development of the Arkansas River Trail.
After 40 years, maybe it’s time for the Riverfest festival to call it quits. But we hope that somehow the name continues, that people will look at the Arkansas River with new eyes and, with fresh energy, will celebrate the river that gave our cities life.