The Delta Regional Authority has awarded the City of Pine Bluff $1 million. Of that, $350,000 is for infrastructure improvements to continue work on the long-awaited Streetscape project. Mayor Shirley Washington made the announcement Wednesday morning at a press conference previewing the Pop Up in the Bluff event planned Saturday on West Barraque Street.
Go Forward Pine Bluff, which made the redevelopment of downtown Pine Bluff one of its top priorities, teamed up with the city’s Economic and Community Development Department to write and submit the grant application, which was officially announced Tuesday.
“We feel like this will really help the infrastructure in the downtown area and a huge public investment like this will invite private investment,” Go Forward CEO Ryan Watley said Wednesday. “It’s also going to help the tenants in the Streetscape area.”
The Go Forward Pine Bluff sales tax initiative was approved by city voters earlier this year and collection of the five-eighths cent tax began Oct. 1. The tax is expected to generate $31.5 million over its seven-year lifespan, and the Go Forward Pine Bluff organization said it would raise an additional $19 to $20 million from grants and gifts.
Watley said the DRA grant will count toward reaching that goal. The DRA grant can only be used for water, drainage and electrical needs in Pine Bluff’s Central Business District (downtown).
The area between Barraque Street and Eighth Avenue along Main Street was included in the Streetscape plan that was part of the Penny For Progress tax proposal approved by Pine Bluff voters in 2011. And while other projects associated with the tax proposal, such as renovation of the Joe Thomas Public Safety building, a new fire station and street improvements have been completed, the Streetscape project has not.
Lori Walker, the assistant director of the city’s Economic and Community Development Department, said the city had committed $2 million from the bond issue for the Streetscape project and collected almost a million more from the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department for the project. With the DRA grant, the expected costs of the initial Street Streetscape project should be within sight.
However, the city is continuing to apply for grants from the highway department in hopes of expanding the project to other areas of the downtown area. As it was envisioned, the Streetscape project will involve adding light fixtures, vegetation, benches, drainage and a rain garden, with a total price tag of about $4.3 million.
“We will be going to Little Rock for the formal presentation of the money and then we expect to see things happening,” Washington said.
In 2015, the Arkansas State Highway Commission awarded Pine Bluff $500,000 for infrastructure improvements to the Streetscape area.
“We are thankful that the city worked with us on this and we also want to thank the DRA and our congressional delegation for helping us achieve this milestone grant,”Watley said.
In addition to the grant to Pine Bluff, the DRA announced grants to eight other Arkansas cities, most of them averaging $200,000 to $250,000.
“I am excited to see this investment being made at home to Arkansas,” said U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman. “Without strong infrastructure, we cannot expect our economy to grow. These investments will help Arkansas communities add jobs and opportunity.”