My checklist of spots to pay a visit to grows lengthier as the pandemic drags on. I require to invest substantial time in northwest Arkansas, which has develop into just one of the most dynamic parts of the nation and is established to soar even larger at the time the virus is long gone. There are classes there that company and civic leaders in other pieces of the point out need to listen to.

From time to time, however, lessons appear from destinations that are battling. It is really the motive I’ve devoted columns and stories for the previous 7 days to Pine Bluff.

Sure, the general public educational facilities are nevertheless a mess. Yes, crime premiums are too substantial. But you will find a budding renaissance taking location that will acquire nationwide notice if it succeeds. That renaissance may possibly be fragile at this place, but it is really serious. In a condition exactly where a the greater part of counties are losing population, there are a good deal of lessons to discover from Pine Bluff.

The initially lesson is to system. Far too quite a few communities have no strategic system. In Pine Bluff, hundreds of men and women invested 2016 keeping dozens of meetings to appear up with the 27-issue Go Ahead Pine Bluff blueprint. Since so lots of participated in the process, there was wide invest in-in amid citizens.

The 2nd lesson is to invest in your self, then execute. In June 2017, a income tax maximize passed by additional than a 2-to-1 margin. Proceeds from the 5-eighths-cent tax develop resources desired to put into practice Go Forward Pine Bluff suggestions. Voters had before accredited a 2016 assets tax raise to establish a 33,000-sq.-foot library on Major Street which is now the architectural marvel of southeast Arkansas.

In a 2011 distinctive election, voters had approved nevertheless another profits tax maximize that resulted in a $6.5 million aquatics center in close proximity to the city’s civic sophisticated. Pine Bluff voters continually have invested in by themselves, which is much more than I can say for a whole lot of Arkansas metropolitan areas.

The third lesson is to bring in outside funds. Pine Bluff was privileged that it was amongst 4 towns picked for on line casino expansion in a constitutional modification approved by the state’s voters in November 2018. Nonetheless, the folks in Pine Bluff experienced to make it come about.

They did that–swiftly and smoothly–and are observing a $300 million money financial investment by the Quapaw Country of Oklahoma. Contrast that to the authorized wrangling still getting location in Pope County, which has still to start off construction on its casino.

The fourth lesson is to plainly talk what is actually happening. I’m biased, but I can convey to you that Pine Bluff gained a wonderful reward on the closing working day of August when it was introduced that the Gannett chain had offered The Pine Bluff Business to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and its mum or dad company WEHCO Newspapers Inc. of Tiny Rock. One of the South’s most historic modest newspapers life on and chronicles for visitors throughout the point out the city’s journey back to relevance.

Three times just after that announcement, Dale Ellis wrote in a entrance-page story: “For numerous months, inspite of a raging pandemic, signals of construction activity have been likely practically nonstop all-around Pine Bluff, and city officials are expressing optimism that financial and populace declines that have plagued the town for additional than two a long time are viewing a reversal. A great deal of the function of revitalizing the city has been using area in 3 parts specified as city renewal zones.”

A chief of the revitalization attempts is the Pine Bluff Urban Renewal Company, headed by director Maurice Taggart. The company has been getting rid of blighted homes and purchasing other people for renovation. The buys involve structures at 316, 322 and 324 S. Most important St. that will be offered or leased for commercial use.

Taggart eventually has a thing to sell. About $2.8 million is getting invested downtown for a plan acknowledged as Streetscape that involves enhanced sidewalks and outdoor lights. There is certainly also a new outdoor plaza at 601 S. Major St.

Taggart reported the re-institution of the Pine Bluff Urban Renewal Company immediately after several years of dormancy “established the stage for revitalization with blight elimination” and furnished the metropolis an company that can lover with other projects these kinds of as Streetscape. Taggart took more than the company in September 2018.

Ellis wrote: “The major photograph for downtown revitalization is to make the area much more pedestrian-

welcoming with wider sidewalks and adequate lighting, to install public widespread spots and aesthetically satisfying landscaping, and to renovate present structures and deliver for development that accommodates a variety of works by using encompassing business, professional, residential and mixed-use facilities. . . . Taggart explained as public financial commitment pounds are place into the downtown region, original private investment decision dollars will observe, and all those investments will commence to produce final results.”

Questioned about the agency’s renovation of properties on Principal Street, Taggart said: “It really is tangible evidence to the community that we’re undertaking what we explained we had been likely to do. At the time there are prosperous tenants in those people structures, other individuals appear along and observe match. . . . Financial commitment follows investment decision.”

Taggart’s company is also doing work with non-public traders to deliver household advancement downtown. Ryan Watley, director of Go Forward Pine Bluff, explained he and Taggart get the job done closely jointly to arrive at out to investors. Watley explained the Pine Bluff marketplace continues to get “more powerful through building and renovations that are getting spot.”

Taggart and Watley grew up in Pine Bluff.

“The resources are there, and the ideal individuals are in the suitable spots to push these assignments forward,” Taggart claimed. “I you should not do it for the revenue or glory. I have to do my part since I don’t forget what it applied to be. I know we have the opportunity to get it completed. But if we never move now, we may perhaps not get this chance again.”

I guess I need to have shown as a fifth lesson from Pine Bluff the fact that a perception of urgency is vital.

Taggart reported the company stays absent from what he dubs “fly-by-night time operators. We’re wanting for tenants with methods and a monitor history of accomplishment. Just one of the things we have to do when it comes to downtown is make certain the synergy is on issue. . . . The housing piece is vital due to the fact the intent of it is to feed the downtown current market and make certain that we have foot targeted visitors in the downtown corridor.

“I was lifted in Pine Bluff. This is my household. A lot more than something else, I want to see Pine Bluff get back again to what it was when I was growing up–the vibrant town filled with lifestyle and exhilaration that I try to remember. That’s why I am listed here.”

The initially issue Taggart looked at when he came on board was a map outlining nearly 600 blighted qualities throughout the metropolis. In addition to downtown renovation, eliminating blight requires up much of his time.

Taggart and Watley worked late past year to facilitate the sale of a vacant Walmart setting up to Apex Cinema of Oklahoma. Apex operates theaters in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. The firm hopes to convert the 90,000-sq.-foot setting up into not only a multiscreen cinema but also a relatives enjoyment middle.

Apex proprietor Felix Waller delivered the style of concept that Taggart, Watley and Mayor Shirley Washington want other buyers to hear.

“When I commenced to seem for opportunities and arrived throughout the prospect in Pine Bluff, I commenced to establish relationships,” Waller said. “I had a conference with the mayor, and that is exactly where I fulfilled Mr. Watley and some of the town leaders. Which is when my heart commenced to be swung by Pine Bluff. To this working day, I have nonetheless to see a neighborhood that has come collectively to set such a extensive and strategic approach alongside one another to consider back their metropolis and make it some thing exclusive like Pine Bluff has.

“I know there are a great deal of issues that have to happen to Pine Bluff for the group to grow to be anything that everybody would like it to be. But I imagine it is really perfectly on its way. I really do think anything wonderful is happening in Pine Bluff.”


Rex Nelson is a senior editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.