Merchants are working together to brainstorm ways to improve Pine Bluff’s business climate to attract more customers and generate more new enterprises.
Jan Robinson founded Pine Bluff Downtown Property Owners Association to provide a forum for people to take steps toward economic growth. She and Wil Jenkins run Amazing Restorations LLC and also own 204 S. Main St., where they plan to have a boutique florist.
Additionally, they own 301 W. Barraque St. and plan to operate a restaurant with a balcony overlooking the water. And at 205 S. Main St. and 209 S. Main St., they plan to operate a pool hall and restaurant.
“Our goal is to collectively plan for downtown events and business growth,” Robinson said. “Several of us had talked about collaborating and working together. It is hard to collaborate without coming together. We have non-property owners. We want Main Street to be better. Property owners need to be responsible for their properties. The city [government] is not responsible. If property owners cannot afford to take care of properties, sell it. We do not want to see empty buildings. What are you going to do? Have a historic district where downtown used to be?”
More than a dozen people have met as part of this association in November and December.
“We discussed offering free Wi-fi,” Robinson said. “I support whatever will draw people into downtown. We have had lots of issues with getting buildings approved to open businesses. Any building will not be approved until the city zoning department issues an approval.”
Robinson opposed the Pine Bluff City Council voting to detach the Quality of Life and Animal Control divisions from the city’s police department. The council took this action on Dec. 19. It follows a two-year period in which code enforcement decisions were backed by law enforcement.
Alfred Austin is the owner of Upscale Sports Bar at 208 Main St. and used to host a downtown blues festival with Harold Terry.
“I have been the owner of the bar for the last 12 years,” Austin said. “It is not open to the public. I do private parties because we do not have the foot traffic.”
“We are trying to bring back the traffic to downtown,” Austin said. “People who grew up remember the hustle and bustle. Any thriving city has a thriving downtown in the heart of the community. Most cities have bars and restaurant."
Robinson is concerned for the merchants of Pine Bluff.
“Our goal is to make things better,” she said. “The people who do not take care of their buildings cause problems for their neighbors. That is why we decided to come together as a group. Other initiatives are great but the property owners are going to make progress happen.”
Kenneth W. Cole used to own Shoe Doctor at 210 Main St. for about nine years. A U.S. Army veteran of 27 years, Cole opened the Vets for Veterans Resource Support Center at 2221 S. Olive St. He plans to expand into 210 Main St. and is upgrading that building.
“I have a vested interest with owning a building,” Cole said. “I want downtown to be alive and developed. We will offer veterans activities downtown to show it can happen and will happen. A lot of people talk negatively … I see veterans in dire straights.”
Robinson said she has identified problems that are hurting their efforts, including wastewater drainage problems stemming from rain. She said that water does not drain and enters buildings.
“It seems like it has been a problem that has not been addressed,” Robinson said.
Robinson said she expects the city government to address time frames and reasons for delays regarding condemned buildings and a lack of follow-up when a building is deemed unsafe and condemned.
She is asking the city government to address the model block program delays and to provide an annual report to include amount of state funding received and the amount of money that was reimbursed to property owners in 2016.
“Money is allocated to Pine Bluff’s historic districts,” Robinson said. “I filled an application one year ago, but have not received a response. [Arkansas State Senator] Stephanie Flowers applied four years ago. She paid for a new roof herself. There was no communication. As a senator if she cannot get something done, how is anyone else going to get anything done?”
The Pine Bluff Downtown Property Owners Association is scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017. at 204 S. Main St.