Editor's Note: In past years, we have published a top 10 list of stories we felt were the 10 most important of the year. This year, we have condensed that list to five. This is the story we feel is the fifth most important, in terms of news value, for 2018.
Passed by voters in 2017, the Go Forward Pine Bluff sales tax made its first major splash in 2018. The Forward Fest in June was the first major event sponsored by Go Forward. Go Forward's Steering Committee anticipated 10,000 attendees but were pleasantly surprised to see that they had surpassed that number with attendance reaching 9,230 visitors alone during the headline performers, according to Ryan Watley, CEO of Go Forward Pine Bluff.
Onlookers traveled from central and south Arkansas, as well as neighboring states, to partake in the new celebration hitting the city's downtown area behind the Jefferson County Courthouse.
This month, GFPB sponsored Mistletoe Magic, which included ice skating at Saracen Landing and a revamped Christmas Parade. Weather was a factor, with rain and cold temperatures putting a slight damper on the festival, causing it to close one day.
And last week, GFPB rolled out its major downtown redevelopment plan, which includes new and redeveloped housing downtown as a top priority. There was no precise cost associated with the plan, which is long term and will be partially funded by the Go Forward Pine Bluff sales tax.
It features everything from the simple to the complex — from developing a downtown housing stock to constructing a giant Ferris wheel at Saracen Landing.
All of it, according to city officials, is designed to make Pine Bluff a premier location in which to live, work and play. The plan was designed and presented by Steve Luoni, director of the University of Arkansas Community Design Center, and Steven L. Anderson, chair in architecture and urban studies.
The plan is the result of the public-private partnership between The City of Pine Bluff and GFPB. Luoni outlined the plan, entitled Re-Live Downtown Pine Bluff, by acknowledging what residents of Pine Bluff said they want, where the city has been and, finally, its current state.
Another major event sponsored by GFPB takes place this week. After a nearly 20-year hiatus, the King Cotton Holiday Classic is returning to the Pine Bluff Convention Center from Dec. 27-29.
Once recognized as the nation's most prestigious high school boys' basketball tournament, the eight-team event will feature state championship contenders from Arkansas, California, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York and Texas.
This year, local leaders will also unveiled arena improvements, including a new video scoreboard, marquee, message boards, exterior enhancements, concession stands, restrooms and locker rooms. Participating teams are:
Pine Bluff High School (HOST TEAM); Columbus High School of Columbus, Mississippi; Houston Math, Science and Technology Center of Houston, Texas; Landry Walker High School of New Orleans, Louisiana; Gulliver Preparatory School of Pinecrest, Florida; The Park School of Buffalo of Snyder, New York; Long Beach Polytechnic High School of Long Beach, California; and Jacksonville High School of Jacksonville, Arkansas.