Three entities, all non-profits, currently aim to help Pine Bluff strengthen, whether through broad, city-wide revitalization or targeted economic development: Go Forward Pine Bluff, Pine Bluff Rising, and Delta Rhythm ‘n’ Bayous. These entities, their major goals, and progress are described here.
◊ Go Forward Pine Bluff ◊
Entity and Key Members: Task force established and funded by Simmons Foundation, a nonprofit affiliated with Simmons Bank. Operated with donation from the bank to this foundation for the purpose of establishing this task force. Task Force Chair Mary Pringos; Committee/Pillar Supervisor Carla Martin; task force members comprised of 100 Pine Bluff residents. Other key individuals: George Makris, Simmons Bank Chief Executive Officer; Tommy May, Simmons Foundation Chair; and consultants at UALR’s Institute for Economic Advancement (IEA), hired to facilitate research and guide this large task force that operated for well over a year. The history of this task force and its logo, designed by Aisha Shelton, have been covered by the Pine Bluff Commercial.
Information/Contact: Twitter handle @GoForwardPB
Goals: To provide recommendations to the City of Pine Bluff for revitalizing according to each of four pillars: government/infrastructure, economic development, education, and quality of life. More specifically, to research Pine Bluff’s strengths and weaknesses, causes of problems, and strategies for dealing with those problems.
Progress/Results: Recommendations for revitalization of Pine Bluff, made to the city of Pine Bluff’s elected officials and residents; scheduled follow-up with residents. Examples listed below:
- Recommendations for each of the four pillars, revealed on January 12, 2017, at the Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas. Examples listed below, followed by a link to the full report:
- Government/Infrastructure: Create master plan that includes city code updates; acquire and manage abandoned and foreclosed properties (through land bank); repurpose land in the downtown area; build a new multi-purpose center.
- Economic Development: Develop an innovation hub; target employability training; endorse renewal of 3/8 cent economic development tax.
- Education: Create an educational alliance; rely on the expertise of area colleges.
- Quality of Life: Establish downtown historic district; establish downtown food court pavilion; hold annual festival that celebrates Pine Bluff’s heritage; develop a program to enhance the law enforcement-community relationship; coordinate/establish neighbor associations and watches; hire community planning and development coordinator; develop a marketing plan; improve the regional park area with biking and walking trails; establish sports tournaments
- For more information on the recommendations, link to Go Forward Pine Bluff’s full report on its recommendations, the Pine Bluff Commercial’s full article on the initial meeting, and KATV’s coverage of the same meeting.
- Additional progress: Scheduled follow-up Q&A meeting for residents: February 2, 2017, at the Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas.
These recommendations have been made, but it is up to local officials to decide whether to act on them. That, in turn, means it is up to the citizens of Pine Bluff to learn these recommendations and communicate with local officials about them. For contact information, please check the city’s website as well as PB Junction’s Elected Officials page and recent city council post (at bottom of post).
◊ Pine Bluff Rising ◊
Entity and Key Members: A new non-profit with the following board of directors (affiliations in parentheses): Ryan Watley (Assistant Director of Development for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff); William Carpenter (Little Rock-based entrepreneur and management consultant); Caleb McMahon (Director for Economic Development for Jefferson County); Tom Reilly (Businessman and Chairman of Highland Pellets)
Information/Contact: Twitter handle @PineBluffRising
Goals: To enhance economic development in Pine Bluff, strengthen infrastructure, improve quality of life, and improve the city’s image.
Progress/Results: Historic hotel purchase, business negotiations, and planning/informational meetings. Examples listed below:
- Purchase of the Pines Hotel on Tuesday, January 17, 2017, for $1 from Elvin Moon. Further plans unknown until Pine Bluff Rising has inspection results.
- Informational meeting held on Tuesday, January 24, 2017, at the Pine Bluff Convention Center. Those presenting at the meeting shared or proposed the following:
- City’s Image: Proposed that citizens promote a positive image of the city through social media
- Quality of Life: Described negotiations underway with Union Pacific to establish a “quiet zone for trains passing through downtown”
- Quality of Life and Business: Shared their intention to bring Uber transportation to Pine Bluff
- Infrastructure: Proposed conversion of Greystone residence into a bed and breakfast
- City’s Image and Quality of Life: Recommended neighborhood cleanup groups and local volunteer and youth mentorship programs.
- Summit meetings to be held once a month. In each meeting: discussion of progress made over last 30 days and goals for the upcoming month.
- Next month’s meeting agenda: Discuss and develop plans toward these goals:
- To resolve issues of blighted property downtown
- To raise capital for city improvements and
- To improve “collaboration between Pine Bluff Rising, Go Forward Pine Bluff group, city leaders, and other stakeholders” (This, above quote, paraphrased items listed here from Pine Bluff Commercial; see above link.)
◊ Delta Rhythm ‘N’ Bayous Alliance ◊
Entity and Key Members: Non-profit with CEO Jimmy Cunningham, Jr.
Information/Contact: Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/deltarhythmnbayousalliance/
Goals: To lay the foundation for tourism-based economic development in a specific part of the Delta region, with Pine Bluff as one of two anchor cities (and with Greenville, Mississippi, as the other anchor). More specifically, to increase tourism-based economic development along Bayou Bartholomew and the U.S. Highway 65 corridor which extends from Pine Buff, Arkansas, south to Lake Providence, Louisiana, and eastward to Greenville, Mississippi; to base the tourism on the heritage of Bayou Bartholomew itself as well as the art and music born of this region.
Progress/Results: Planning and dissemination of information about the area’s heritage and its potential ties to economic development; working with local and state elected officials for necessary support; working with federal entities (e.g., National Park Service) for necessary support. Examples listed below:
- Meetings, including a forum on December 10, 2016, at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, to share goals and begin to educate the public on the following:
- Bayou Bartholomew’s geology and ecology as well as its fundamental, history-defining place in Arkansas heritage
- The many art forms, including multiple genres of music, that were born of this region
- Communication with and support from state legislators
- Received the support of Arkansas House Representatives Flowers and Ferguson who recently proposed a bill to designate a portion of U.S. Highway 65 (the Arkansas Delta portion) as the “The Delta Rhythm and Bayous Highway”
- Researched opportunities in existing state legislation that allows the creation of art and cultural districts in the state (ie, to encourage Arkansas legislators to provide the funds for these districts)
- Research on and pursuit of National Heritage Corridor status from the U.S. National Park Service
- Development of plans to provide a well-paved avenue for entrepreneurs to establish businesses based on these concepts.