When I look around El Dorado and see the renovated and repurposed old mansions, it makes me sad all over again that members of the Pine Bluff City Council -- the people who should be supporting progress -- are the ones slamming the door.
The old Greystone on South Cherry Street in Pine Bluff was set to become a bed and breakfast. The investors proposed strict rules for operations to ensure respect for the neighborhood, while making a worthwhile and much-needed accommodation available.
I'll give props to Aldermen Bill Brumett and Lloyd Holcomb Jr. for their recent vote of "yes" to rezoning the Greystone. They could see the vision of a bed and breakfast -- a nice, appropriate plan for the old home. The Pine Bluff Planning and Development Commission could see the vision, too. They approved the rezoning request back in June. The majority of the city council had on blinders and voted no.
Neighbors of the Greystone have concerns about a B&B disrupting the neighborhood. It won't. The Myrtle House and Granite Club in El Dorado are both lovely old mansions that were renovated and repurposed by Richard and Vertis Mason. After giving El Dorado's downtown a makeover, the developing duo took on historic homes in the community. The houses are now available for special events. They stay busy -- and just as important, the neighborhood has upgraded properties.
The folks in Pine Bluff -- the progressive ones -- understand this. Consider the statement issued on Pine Bluff Rising's Facebook page addressing some concerns about the project:
“In order to not have an undesirable affect on the surrounding residential uses, the Inn will have strict operating restrictions,” the statement said. “The Inn will enforce quiet hours starting at 10 p.m., which is consistent with the neighboring condominium association.
“The Inn will also abide by all noise ordinances. ... Only two events per month with more than 25 guests will be held on the grounds with a maximum capacity of 125 guests. All outdoor event activity will cease at 8 p.m. and all indoor events will cease at 10 p.m.
“In summary, we believe that with the proposed operating restrictions, along with the significant investment in the neighborhood we will boost property values and at a minimum, keep them from falling.
“When we acquired the property the sidewalk was in disrepair, the house was rapidly deteriorating, the landscape was over grown. If we execute on the plan the property will be a beautiful asset that the community will be proud of and will reflect well on the rest of the street. We hope you agree and look forward to your support in our project.”
Sadly, the city council did not.
Here's the deal: Investors who have the interest and means to renovate old mansions don't show up every day. Most average citizens can't afford to renovate and maintain those properties because they need costly upgrades. That's why Pine Bluff is wrapped up in blight. Aren't there enough sad, but once grand, old houses in town?
I shared the recent Pine Bluff Commercial article and editorial about the Greystone vote on social media and one person commented: "Pine Bluff is a dumpster fire." Who wants that for a city brand? Those types of perceptions won't change by turning down investment opportunities.
When a city has committed citizens who want to invest and make improvements, they should be lauded and supported. El Dorado was at a crossroads many years ago and its city leadership chose the right turn. It is my hope Pine Bluff city officials will reconsider and do the same.
The city has many champions and cheerleaders. Listen to them. And if certain city officials turn deaf ears? Don't be discouraged, Pine Bluff. If city leaders don't share your vision, choose new ones. You are only an election cycle away from progress.
Shea Wilson is the former managing editor of the El Dorado News-Times. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @SheaWilson7.