There’s a famous quote often attributed to Mahatma Gandhi: "If the people lead, the leaders will follow."

There’s a famous quote often attributed to Mahatma Gandhi: "If the people lead, the leaders will follow."

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan reprised the sentiment recently when he stated: "When the leaders fail to lead, people take charge and the leaders then have to follow."

We saw strong evidence to support these ideas as Professor Carl Matthews, head of the Fay Jones School of Architecture’s Department of Interior Design at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, led 16 of his students through the ruins of the Hotel Pines on Main Street.

The students were there as part of a design charrette — a collaborative activity in which students devise design solutions to address an issue. In this case, the issue is that we have an exquisite example from the grand age of hotels and our city leaders are content to let it crumble and be covered in pigeon droppings.

If one attended any of the city council meetings during the past few years where the Pines was discussed, it was clear that many members of that body just don’t get it. They are happy to stand idle while this magnificent edifice falls back to earth. In fact, some have looked downright gleeful at the prospect.

While we recognize that institutions like the Pines were not exemplars of inclusion during their heyday, this is now; and this is our opportunity to conquer old hate and division through our own collective enterprise.

A predictable cadre of council members like to bemoan the fact that young people "don’t have anywhere to go" for social activities in town. They use this as an excuse to support their night club-owning cronies.

Not only would a renaissance for the Pines offer many more opportunities for social engagement, it would also provide a couple hundred steady jobs. These facts shouldn’t be ignored.

We have a wonderful opportunity to create something attractive, useful and of value. We need this to happen and we need to make it happen ourselves — just in case Prince Charming doesn’t come to rescue us; or if he does, he’ll have a great place to stay.

In short, there’s no downside to this idea. Yes, it will cost millions of dollars. As above: it will also create hundreds of jobs; require freight trains full of building supplies; demand the services of myriad design specialists; promote tourism; encourage historic preservation; spur downtown development; and most importantly — signal that we had the foresight not to squander a huge opportunity.

Otherwise, it’ll just sit there until something breaks off and falls on some passerby’s head — at which point the city leaders will demand it be demolished. Sadly, most of our collective history suggests that this is the more likely path.

We would love to be wrong about that. In fact, we implore the citizenry to show us that we are wrong. We want the people of Pine Bluff to take this important decision out of the hands of the myopic and self-interested. We want the people of Pine Bluff to exert vision and hope, pride and potential.

We need the people to lead. We need the people to demand better and to reclaim something important about this community.

Most places don’t have a Pines Hotel to restore. What a shame it will be if we fail to do so.

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To take a visual tour of The Hotel Pines and to hear more about the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville student project to re-imagine its future, watch the video "Inside The Hotel Pines" at or on our YouTube channel at