A symbolic turning of dirt Wednesday morning by Pine Bluff city officials, members of the Chamber of Commerce Redcoats, architects and engineers kicked off the long awaited Streetscape project at the intersection of Barraque and Main Streets.
Larry Matthews, director of the city Economic and Community Development Department said Streetscape is the last major project from the 2011 Penny for Progress sales tax.
Matthews said the project has seen three different mayors, a number of aldermen and other city officials “but we finally got it together.”
A large crowd turned out for what Mayor Shirley Washington described as an “exciting day for Pine Bluff.”
Washington identified a number of businesses that have located in the downtown area and predicted that when the project is finished, many more will locate in the area.
“When I speak to young people I tell them to dream big, work hard and never give up,” Washington said, adding that despite the delays, city officials never gave up on the concept of Streetscape.
Washington also said that she believes a revitalized downtown will one day “include the reopening of the Pines Hotel.”
“Today we mark the beginning of the first comprehensive streetscape infrastructure project the city of Pine Bluff has ever had,” said Lori Walker, the assistant director of the Economic and Community Development Department.
Walker said that funding came not only from the Penny for Progress sales tax but from the Arkansas Department of Transportation and the Delta Regional Authority.
“However, as with may community development projects, planning for the project began long before there was any funding,” Walker said. “We know full well how it takes an appropriation of faith to begin working on projects without an appropriation of money.”
She also went through some history, saying the project was included in the 2004 Reinventing Downtown Plan approve by the city council. That plan called for “sidewalks made pleasant for pedestrians with lighting, benches, public art and good all signage, all with a historic theme.”
“That’s what we can look forward to seeing in our downtown,” Walker said, adding that the tax receipts, combined with grants has raised enough money to complete streetscape improvements all the way to 8th Avenue and Main Street.
“it is our hope that this project in itself is a seed that one day will bring a harvest of a revitalized downtown,” Walker said.
Adam Osweiller, the project manager and associate with McClelland Consulting Engineers and a Pine Bluff native also spoke, outlining some of the changes which will take place on Main Street, including reducing the number of lanes from four to two with parallel parking, new landscaping including trees, flowers and shrubs and concrete that will feature colors and designs.
Osweller said when he was growing up in Pine Bluff and attending elementary school, his parents always had the same route home, a route that took him down Main Street to see what he called his girlfriend, the Sunbeam Girl .Now, he said he regularly takes the same route to “make sure she’s still swinging.”
“Now lets get going,” he said.
Also speaking was Lamont Davis, the Business and Community Manager for Liberty Utilities which has been working on water lines and infrastructure improvements in the downtown area for a lengthy period of time.