Progress has been made with the Downtown Pine Bluff Streetscape Project. McClelland Consulting Engineers, the engineering company for the project, have provided potential start and completion dates, pictures and design plans.
“We have to get the highway department’s blessing on each and every stage, and we are 90 percent complete with highway approval for the project,” said Larry Matthews, Director of Economic and Community Development for the city.
The project was included in the Penny for Progress tax proposal approved by Pine Bluff voters in 2011 and consists of improvements being made to 13 blocks in the downtown area. Starting at the intersection of Walnut Street and Martha Mitchell, the project will extend one block down to Barraque Street, turning back east of Main Street to State Street. Starting from the courthouse, the project will include Main Street and Barraque Street all the way down to Eighth Avenue. The mission is to recreate a cleaner and safer downtown that encourages gathering.
In the design plans submitted from the engineering company, all cross sections in the area will be reconstructed. This includes wider sidewalks (10 foot minimum), reducing traffic from four lanes to two, landscaping with new trees and flowerbeds, water gardens, benches, bike racks, contributory signs displaying people that have contributed to the city, and installation of brick pavers at parallel parking and crosswalks. An entirely new lighting system will be installed with underground electric, and United Water will be upgrading the water lines.
The engineering company plans to begin construction in June 2018 and plans to complete the project in June 2019. The project will be done in phases, so as not to disrupt businesses on Main Street. Barraque Street will most likely be the first phase of the project. After entering into a contract with the contractors, negotiating will begin on what will be the best phasing to complete next.
“This is badly needed. We want to bring Pine Bluff back to its glory days,” said Matthews. “Most cities are doing renovations on their downtown streets, and it’s our time now to see if we can rejuvenate downtown again. Hopefully, it will be a point of destination in Southeast Arkansas.”
It has been a multi-year process in trying to come up with the funding for this project. Lori Walker, the assistant director of the Economic and Development Department, said the city had committed $2 million from a 2011 bond issue funded by a five-eighths cent sales tax approved by voters and they collected almost $1 million from the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department.
“The transportation department has a Transportation Alternatives Program for funding, and we had applied for three cycles of the program and received approval for two,” said Walker.
The Delta Regional Authority has also contributed over $1 million to the project.
Many businesses are looking forward to and excited about the revitalization of downtown due to the Streetscape Project.
“Appearance always makes a difference,” said Kendrick Williams, owner of Pops Barber and Beauty Shop. “When something looks good, it makes people want to come see it.”
Thom Brown, owner of Southeast Engravers, Inc. said, “I think it’s going to make a big difference down here. We’ve needed sidewalk improvements for years and haven’t been able to get them.”
Margaret Young, owner of Miss Margaret’s Cupcakes, said, “I think it’s going to be a really great asset to Barraque Street. We have so many things happening here, and once people see how nice it looks and how much there is to do, they will love it!”