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What goes down will go up 

SHELL GAME: The core of new institute.
  • SHELL GAME: The core of new institute.

Patrons of the Little Rock River Market downtown have noticed, could hardly keep from noticing, the demolition across the way at Clinton Avenue and Rock Street. But the substantive demolition phase of the project is over, according to Bobby Roberts, director of the Central Arkansas Library System, and henceforth people will look at construction and renovation.

It’s a CALS project, the future home of the Arkansas Studies Institute, which will be, according to Roberts, “the largest center in the state dedicated to Arkansas history.” The demolition phase of the project included knocking down a couple of walls, giving the property a sort of bombed-out look that attracts stares. One of the walls was virtually falling down, Roberts said, and the other was removed to allow for additions to the existing buildings.

CALS paid $2.5 million for two old buildings and a vacant lot, once a parking lot, at Clinton and Rock. Including that purchase price, the cost of the Arkansas Studies project will be $16 million, less furnishings. The money comes from refinancing of an old bond issue. Voters approved the refinancing, which also provided $4 million for new books.

Among other things, the institute will house the existing Richard C. Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, now located on the third floor of the main library building at 100 Rock St. The Butler Center preserves and interprets Arkansas history, with special emphasis on genealogy and on African-American, business, cultural and political history. The new institute will have a broader scope, Roberts said. It will “promote all things Arkansas — books, music, art.”

A new manuscript facility will be built for various documents, including the gubernatorial papers of Bill Clinton, whose presidential papers are just a few blocks down Clinton Avenue at the Clinton Library; Dale Bumpers, Winthrop Rockefeller, Jim Guy Tucker and Frank White. The papers of some other governors are housed in the Ottenheimer Library archives at UALR. Those papers too will be kept at the institute, with UALR as a tenant.

The two old buildings are of historic interest in their own right. One was built and used for years by the Little Rock Jewish community for meetings and social activities. It was known as Concordia Hall in those days; more recently it was called the Budget Office Building. The building on the west was known as the Geyer-Adams Building and once housed a wholesale grocery business. Roberts knows little about Mr. Adams, but Geyer was a German immigrant who came to Little Rock in the 19th century and prospered.

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