THE ISSUE: Revitalizing downtown Pine Bluff. THE IMPACT: Several recent events are helping to bolster downtown as a place to visit, shop and enjoy, organizers say.
For decades, downtown Pine Bluff has been in a slump. Businesses have left Main Street, pedestrian traffic has been non-existent, and the general atmosphere has been dowdy at best. But with the passage of Go Forward Pine Bluff's redevelopment tax plan and the success of last weekend's “Pop Up in the Bluff” one-day festival, many believe things are on an upswing.
To continue that momentum, a block party will be held from 5 p.m. until midnight on Friday and Saturday around 200 Main Street in conjunction with the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff's homecoming activities. Late Thursday afternoon, that area of Main was buzzing with activity. Food trucks were setting up, cars with out-of-state license plates were filing by, and a general festive atmosphere was evident.
The wife and husband team of Jan Robinson and Wil Jenkins are planning the party. They own downtown properties through Amazing Restorations LLC, and they are upgrading buildings and intend to open a delicatessen, a blues and jazz venue, a steakhouse and an uptown salon/boutique.
Robinson and Jenkins, neither of whom are originally from the area, are encouraging Pine Bluff residents to support local merchants by spending money in Pine Bluff and by coming to the block party.
“We live here now and want to see positive things happen in Pine Bluff and will support it in any way we can,” Robinson said. “I encourage all property owners to get their buildings up to code and either lease their buildings or get businesses. We do not want further deterioration. It falls back on property-owners. They are the ones to be held responsible for doing what they are supposed to do.”
She hopes for a large turnout.
The party will feature a disc jockey, the Cummins Prison Band, food trucks, local vendors selling clothes, chocolate vendors, alcoholic drinks and soda.
“This is a time for everyone to get together and have a great time,” Robinson said.
Parking will be available in public lots across from the Jefferson County Courthouse. The 200 block of Main Street will be closed to motor vehicles.
This event comes on the heels of the Pine Bluff Downtown Development hosting Pop Up in the Bluff, a festival that featured food, craft beer, vendors, games and camaraderie. The event took place on Saturday, Oct. 7, at Barraque Street between Pine and Walnut streets.
Pine Bluff Downtown Development executive director Joy Blankenship deemed Pop Up in the Bluff a huge success and estimated it attracted 500 to 600 people.
“We ran out of food. It was a great day,” Blankenship said. “We were thrilled with the turnout. It shows our community cares. Most people said they want us to do this event again next year. We thought 150 people would be great. We asked people how they learned about the event. Our vendors were happy because art and books were sold. The vendors made money. The music was wonderful. People made money. People enjoyed music and ate. We are going to have an evaluation meeting to see what we should do for next year.”
On Thursday afternoon, Simon Murphy of Georgia, who graduated from UAPB in the 1990s, was one of the many people in cars who drove by to check out the scene downtown.
“This looks like a happening place,” Murphy said. “Last year, it was pretty dead. This is great to see so many people trying to bring Pine Bluff back. I am ready for a party downtown.”
Go Forward Pine Bluff CEO Ryan Watley welcomes the block party. Go Forward is a public-private revitalization partnership. Pine Bluff voters approved a five-eighths cent sales tax that will begin collections on Oct. 1, and the money will become available to spend on projects on Jan. 1, 2018.
While the upcoming block party is not related to Go Forward Pine Bluff, Watley encourages people to attend and spend money.
“We support Wil Jenkins' work in downtown,” Watley said. “They are showcasing the redevelopment work. They have done a transformation of their building. They installed mums in the planters. We welcome more people to invest in downtown. We think it is a great idea to host guests in downtown. We hope everyone has a safe and memorable homecoming.”
OTHER HOMECOMING EVENTS
UAPB's Homecoming Parade will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday on Main Street. Raye Jean Montague, an alumna of AM&N College (now UAPB) will serve as the parade marshal. Called Arkansas' “Hidden Figure,” Montague is a retired internationally registered professional engineer. The event is free and open to the public.
Saturday, pre-game activities will begin at 12:30 p.m. in Golden Lion Stadium. Kick-off time is 2:30 p.m. where the Golden Lions will play the Marauders of Central State University. Tickets for the game can be purchased by calling the ticket office at 870- 575-8601 or online at www.uapblionsroar.com . Homecoming will conclude with the Battle Royale at 6 p.m. in the HPER Arena, sponsored by the UAPB Marching Band. More information is available by calling 870-575-8919.
Also on Saturday a concert featuring Kelly Price, along with Nicky Parrish and the On Call Band, will be held at the Pine Bluff Convention Center Auditorium as part of homecoming. The doors open at 7 p.m. and the concert begins at 8 p.m. General admission is $20 and front row seating is $40. Tickets are on sale at www.eventbrite.com. For information on the meet and greet, text 404-566-6376 or 901-212-7318. Details: 501-773-9543.
Commercial Managing Editor John Worthen contributed to this report.