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Clinton Library Includes Messy Details

As Bill Clinton's (search) library is unveiled at a gala opening this week, one thing is certain: His messy legacy will be on full display.

One alcove will be dedicated to impeachment, and organizers have promised not to sidestep even Monica Lewinsky (search) or Paula Jones (search). The 58-year-old political superstar is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors a year to his library.

"Bill Clinton is a rock star," said Skip Rutherford, head of Clinton's nonprofit foundation that built the $165 million library. "He is Elvis."

The William J. Clinton Presidential Center (search), a metaphorical "bridge to the 21st century" cantilevered out over the bank of the Arkansas River, opens Thursday as the highlight of a week of programs, exhibits and symposiums.

The week will include an Aretha Franklin concert, a science discussion by astronaut and former Democratic Sen. John Glenn, dedication of new sculptures on the riverfront and at the airport, and a reception to which Whoopi Goldberg, Cicely Tyson and Quincy Jones have been invited.

At Thursday morning's grand opening, speakers will include Clinton, his wife Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (search), President Bush, former President Bush and former President Carter. Some 30,000 guests have been invited to gather on the library lawn and U2's Bono and The Edge will perform.

Visitors to the 150,000-square-foot glass and steel center designed by architect James Polshek (search) will get to see how Clinton, his closest advisers and exhibit designer Ralph Appelbaum (search) tell Clinton's story.

Clinton has promised to give scholars early access to previously private policy advice and other documents he isn't required to release until 2006. He already has written about the Lewinsky and Jones sex scandals, impeachment and his political missteps in his memoir, "My Life."

Hillary Rodham Clinton has said controversial subjects shouldn't be kept out of the library because "this is part of history." On Friday, she said the library would be "a comprehensive accurate story of the eight years of the Clinton administration."

Because Clinton is still so topical, Rutherford believes the nation's 12th presidential library will establish a new model for presidential libraries. Officials hope the center will draw more than 300,000 visitors a year to Little Rock and help drive the area's economy.

Other presidential libraries have struggled to draw admission-paying visitors. Rutherford said that's because they are either in sentimental locations too far off the beaten path or are lost in larger metropolises. Downtown Little Rock is a happy medium, he said.

The library has already had an economic impact. Since the site was chosen in 1997, the depressed surrounding warehouse district has been reinvigorated and downtown Little Rock is suddenly the place to be, with shiny new condos, hip renovated lofts and swanky restaurants.

The library has directly or indirectly inspired $800 million in new downtown development, 2,000 new or refurbished hotel rooms, cultural events in the nearby River Market District (search), a streetcar line that opened Nov. 1, and the selection of Alltel Arena as an opening-round venue for the 2008 NCAA basketball tournament. There are plans for a new minor-league ballpark, talk of a $100 million arts and entertainment district and efforts to start a nonprofit corridor.