As the first African-American to hold the position, Joseph McCorvey, executive director of the Pine Bluff Convention Center, is determined to help steer the facility's growth and revitalization. McCorvey has been on the job for six weeks and said he is learning new things each day while working toward a better future.
With 20 years of destination marketing, sales, convention business bureaus, convention centers and hotel experience, McCorvey came to Pine Bluff from Akron, Ohio, where he attended the University of Akron.
He became involved with the Convention Business Bureau while in Akron and was chosen to become the sales executive. He stayed in this position for seven years and was challenged with bringing new conferences to the city without having a convention center. He utilized an available meeting space and was able to accomplish the mission.
McCorvey's experience has afforded him the opportunity to travel and work for many cities and companies before coming to Pine Bluff. He has worked for businesses in Memphis, Atlanta, Indiana, Baltimore, Alabama, Pennsylvania and Illinois.
With the Pine Bluff Convention Center being almost 50 years old, McCorvey said he wants to see it renovated and would like to use the auditorium for concerts and other events.
“This convention center is a focal point of the city of Pine Bluff,” McCorvey said. “It's where everything happens. Everybody comes here for various events. Other cities have newer facilities or have updated and put in newer amenities that people are expecting to have when they have conferences or events.”
Next door to the convention center, the Plaza Hotel has been an Achilles heel for the facility over the past several years.
The hotel needs a complete renovation, and it's changed ownership without the much-needed improvements being made. It sat closed for more than a year before re-opening in March 2017.
The five-story hotel was built in 1980 as Wilson World and remained one of the top hotels in the city for more than a decade. It eventually became a Ramada Inn, but the brand was revoked after the property failed to meet Ramada's quality standards, officials with Ramada said at the time.
“I would like to see (the hotel) come back … we have to address this hotel issue,” McCorvey said.
“We need to get a new owner in there, or somebody that really cares about this community and will invest in the hotel.”
McCorvey said he believes that fixing the hotel will contribute to the center's success.
Sam Smithy, a Pine Bluff resident who has thought about holding a convention related to his hobby, stamp collecting, said hundreds of people would likely be interested in the event if the hotel were up to par.
"I have shopped around at other cities, and they have convention center hotels," Smithy said. "That's what people want. They want a one-stop place to go to their conventions and be able to enjoy a nice hotel at the end of the day. Have a nice meal, things like that."
Steve Arrison, CEO of the Hot Springs Convention Center and a former Director at the Pine Bluff Convention Center, said that cities love having successful hotels connected with their convention centers. Hot Springs has two hotels with its convention center, Fort Smith has two hotels with its convention center and Little Rock has a hotel connection.
“It is a definite advantage for the city and a demand generator for all sorts of revenue,” Arrison said. “It is another selling point, so do what you can to bring that property up to the standards that Pine Bluff deserves. It is time for the hotel to have a positive impact on the city again.”
Back in Pine Bluff, McCorvey said that he “can't make that happen by myself. This is a 'we' not 'me' situation. It has to be a team effort where city leaders, business leaders, banking institutions, and those that love Pine Bluff and want to give back to the city can come together to make the convention center successful again.”
McCorvey said that he is here because he wants to be a part of the revitalization of the convention center. He said that he will give it 1,000 percent as long as he has people willing to work with him to give the citizens what they want.
McCorvey has so far gained the support of Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington, Simmons Bank, Go Forward Pine Bluff and The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. He said he looks forward to meeting and working with the citizens of Pine Bluff while being persistent and optimistic about the future of the convention center.
“I am here to help, and there are people that are very passionate about this facility and want to see this venue be successful,” McCorvey said. “And it can be, but we have to work together.”