(Editor's Note: Each year, Arkansas Business partners with the Arkansas Municipal League to present the Trendsetter City awards, which recognize exceptional initiatives underway in municipalities across the state. Large, medium and small-sized cities were honored in six categories: Education & Workforce Development; Environmental & Green Management Practices; Infrastructure & Water; Public Safety; Tourism Development & Creative Culture; and Wellness & Fitness. Below is one winner's story. For more, click here.)
Tourism Development/Creative Culture
Winner • 20,000 or Greater
The city of North Little Rock and the North Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) envisioned a community space downtown that could be used for events as well as for the public to enjoy.
Mayor: Terry Hartwick
Before construction of Argenta Plaza, the 34,320-SF space was a large gravel parking lot that was underused for parking and used for small events but with limited capabilities. With North Little Rock’s growing arts and culinary scene downtown, the city needed an outdoor gathering place to serve as a cornerstone for not just visitors and residents, but to attract economic development.
When people host events at Argenta Plaza, they are supporting the local economy through costs associated with the event (space rental, vendors, caterers) and also generating revenue for nearby restaurants, hotels and other local businesses. Before it even broke ground, Argenta Plaza was an economic driver, with more than $40 million in pledged or recent development surrounding the site.
The development of Argenta Plaza was part of a master plan to improve North Little Rock’s downtown area to attract new development, improve quality of life and provide unique arts and cultural experiences. The city worked with Taggart Architects in North Little Rock and DLANDstudio of Brooklyn, New York, to design the space, with an estimated budget of $4 million.
Strategic green spaces, state-of-the-art audio and visual capabilities and water features were essential to the design.
The groundbreaking was in August 2018 in tandem with the groundbreaking of First Orion Corp.’s 60,000-SF global headquarters, which lines the east side of the plaza. In March 2019, ground was broken for construction of the four-story “600 Main” building north of Argenta Plaza.
In 2019, the North Little Rock CVB created a strategic plan for Argenta Plaza that included signature events and festivals as well as free, public programming.
The city oversaw the construction, which was completed in early 2020 with a final budget of $5.36 million. A preliminary grand opening took place in November 2019, as part of North Little Rock’s annual Northern Lights Festival.
The event drew 10,000 residents and visitors and was successful in attracting business to downtown restaurants, bringing the community together and promoting North Little Rock as a vibrant place to live and work.
The North Little Rock CVB assumed responsibility for managing and marketing the space for public and private events.
Argenta draws its name from the original name of North Little Rock and was once the Eighth Ward of Little Rock before being annexed in 1904.
Argenta Plaza and its programming complements other efforts by the city to support a strong downtown, including the creation of an entertainment district in 2020. This includes permission for Argenta to allow restaurant patrons to carry alcoholic beverages within district boundaries, a major assist to restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Argenta Plaza has been a catalyst for more than $50 million in economic development, thanks to the presence of First Orion Corp. and its 200 employees, and a four-story office building housing the North Little Rock CVB, North Little Rock Welcome Center, Arkansas Automobile Dealers Association and Taggart Architects.
The city of North Little Rock and the North Little Rock CVB’s collaborative efforts have made the plaza successful in bringing the community together and attracting new economic development.