Central Arkansas venues have a full week of commemorative events planned
Former President Bill Clinton got on the phone in New York early Tuesday morning to talk to Times editor Max Brantley about the fifth anniversary of the opening of the Clinton Presidential Center. (See the To Do section in this week's Times for planned activities.)
Clinton talked about the library, current politics and his wife Hillary Rodham Clinton's work as secretary of state. The interview has been edited and condensed.
What did you hope to accomplish by placing the library in Little Rock? Has it lived up to your expectations?
I wanted to put it there for the obvious reason — I never would have become president in the first place if it hadn't been for the people of Arkansas. I knew it would be an important, maybe defining destination for people from all over the world and that's pretty much what has happened — 1.6 million people have visited since we opened.
Clearly, it increased the number of people coming to Little Rock, it increased the attractiveness of Little Rock as a convention and meeting place and it's become another interesting place where people can meet.
I thought it was important that a presidential library be in the middle of the country, in the heartland, and fairly easily accessible to people who might never go to Washington or New York in their lives even once. We've done everything we can to make it accessible to all people, beginning with very young kids.
I want to complete that bridge. [This is a reference to the former Rock Island railroad bridge over the Arkansas River between the library and North Little Rock. It has been envisioned as a pedestrian/bike connector, but work has been delayed by lack of funds.]
Will fund-raising for the bridge be completed soon?
I think so. We've all been working really hard on it. We set aside our money years ago, but it was supposed to cost $4 million and now it's over $10 million. I hope we'll have an announcement on it pretty soon.
Next week, during anniversary ceremonies?
I don't know. I have to talk to our guys down there. But it's really important to me. If we do it right, it can be a defining physical feature of the area and dramatically increase the library's attractiveness. It will be physically arresting in a very positive way.
Speaking of design: what do you think of the critics who still speak harshly of the rectangular library's design — trailer-like many have said?
The people who say that often have preconceptions about me and Arkansas. I like the building a lot. When people are in it, they see how well constructed it is and they see how it gives you a feeling of the library, and the exhibits and of being in Arkansas, on that river. You get the feeling of being outside and inside at the same time. I just don't agree with people who don't like it.
We know the library was the first LEED-certified building in the state for its environmentally friendly features. Tell me about the roof garden.
It's great. First of all, it absorbs lots of light and heat and water, which reduces runoff. It has more than 10,000 native plants from the state on it, counting all the different grasses. It's really quite beautiful.
I still hope to have better technology. I'd eventually like to generate virtually all the energy we need there on site.
What else is planned?
One day, I hope to get a presidential helicopter there, which should increase the number of people coming. The programming is coming along quite well, but we need to review the exhibits, upgrade and modernize them and make them more interesting.
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