The following is the 2019 year end report for Go Forward Pine Bluff as submitted to The Commercial by Go Forward CEO Ryan Watley.

Go Forward Pine Bluff continues the mission of increasing revenue for Pine

Bluff, Arkansas. We are proud of the work completed and in-process as a

result of the public-private partnership with the city. Together, we have

effectively bridged public and private resources to provide economic and

community development. 2020 marks the third year of operation and we are

expecting tangible results to get over the revitalization threshold. Before

listing anticipated outcomes for 2020, we would like to provide the 2019 year end report.


GFPB budgeted $5,252,000 for public initiative expenses in 2019.

2019 public revenues totaled $4,387,247. Revenues for 2019 were 8% more than projected in 2019.

The deficiency between expenses and revenues was balanced by $864,764 in carryover (unspent) funds

from 2018.

GFPB budgeted $955,629.00 for private initiatives and organization expenses in 2019. Actual

expenses for 2019 totaled $627,861. Revenue for 2019 totaled $1,075,264. The additional $447,403 in

revenue will be carried over to address 2020 expenditures.

Government Infrastructure

The Re-Live downtown master plan presented in December 2018 to the citizens of Pine Bluff won an

international award. The plan was compared to submissions from China, Canada and New York City.

This proves that upon implementing to the plan, our city can compete on a national level as a great

place to live, work and play.

The process of removing blight was revived following the Arkansas Attorney General ruling that the

Pine Bluff Urban Renewal Agency can legally raze condemned structures. An agreement has been

signed between the city of Pine Bluff and the Pine Bluff Urban Renewal Agency to begin the

operations. As soon as the weather permits, demolition of condemned structures will once again be a

regular occurrence. The Agency also acquired four acres of downtown property that are currently

vacant parcels and dilapidated buildings. Multiple private investors have expressed interest to

transform these properties into retail, restaurants, and residential developments. We anticipate these

will come to light in 2020.

The Plaza hotel was also acquired and now the city has a Convention Center and Hotel Complex. The

Convention Center is actively seeking partners to develop the hotel into a Marriot or Hilton property.

In the interim, the property is under 24 hour surveillance and much of the overgrown brush has been

removed as a security measure.

A major movie theater operator also announced that the company is evaluating Pine Bluff for a new

theater. We continue to work with this company and anticipate an announcement before the end of the

2020 first quarter.

The Aquatic Center and plaza located at 601 S Main was also completed in 2019. Further, the grant

writer hired by the GFPB tax has helped secure over $900,000 to sustain the aquatic center operations.

The grant writer has also secured funding for the Merrill Center renovation and a $139,000 grant for an

open air pavilion in Townsend Park.

In conjunction with grant funding, the GFPB tax, Community Development dollars and private funds

will finance an $850,000 renovation of the Curtis Merrill Center. The center has needed repairs for

over two decades and will now offer improved programming to address the social and economic

challenges in the area. The ground breaking ceremony is February 20, 2020 and construction is

expected to last 14 months.

Quality of Life

2019 was the second year of the Delta Celebration Series of Festival and Events. To make Pine Bluff a

point of destination, the partnership hosted Forward Fest, a UAPB Homecoming concert, Pop-Up in

the Bluff, Mistletoe Magic, and the King Cotton Basketball tournament. In support of these events, the

business community provided over $170,000 in private funding. We appreciate the sponsorship as the

tax fund allocation alone is not sufficient to host these events.

Highlights of the festival series include the transformation of Hestand Stadium due to the flood, the

Ferris wheel and ice-skating rink at Mistletoe Magic and the superior talent during the King Cotton

Classic. We will continue to adjust these events and provide a better experience.

Economic Development

The Generator, an innovation hub powered by Go Forward Pine Bluff continues to build momentum

through partnerships and programming. As part of the mission to spur entrepreneurship and support

small business, Go Forward Pine Bluff received a donation of the building at 5th and Main from

Simmons Bank. The space is currently undergoing a $400,000 renovation that is being paid through

private funds. The Generator will open in April of 2020.

The Generator will build on its existing regional innovation cluster of educational institutions, capital

providers, small business associations, manufacturing leaders and government entities in Arkansas

united under the leadership of GFPB to provide entrepreneurial support, increase digital skills, and

increase innovation. Workshops, networking events, and entrepreneurial development classes will be

hosted at The Generator’s facility on Main Street. The facility, which will house a maker-space and

co-working space, will serve as an anchor to ongoing downtown redevelopment. Digital knowledge

will be increased by a partnership with the EAST Initiative, Grow with Google and coding classes

utilizing digital studios containing the latest in video, recording and other technology. Mentorships,

internships, and access to capital providers will be provided, as well as ancillary services at the UAPB

business incubator. Skills developed at The Generator will lead to the creation of new businesses,

products, and jobs.

The Generator partnered with the Jefferson County Alliance to initiate an internship initiative. The

goal of the initiative is to retain talent in Pine Bluff by successfully training students where they can

easily transition into the local workforce. UAPB, SEARK and the Jefferson Area Technical Career

Center (JATCC) are responsible for supplying interns. The initiative is designed with two training

options (1) Cooperative Education and (2) Summer Internship. Local corporations engaged in summer

employment of 15 UAPB students. This summer paid employment was a first for Pine Bluff. Some of

the interns were retained with full-time employment. As a result of the success, The Generator is

working to expand the number of corporations and interns in the summer of 2020.


The GFPB Education Alliance continues to implement the Leadership, Education Curriculum,

Accountability, and Teacher Pipeline (L.E.A.P.) initiative.

The Superintendents demonstrated their leadership by partnering with The Arkansas River Education

Service Cooperative to create the Academies. The Academies consolidates resources to provide better

services for students who aren’t able to progress in the traditional classroom setting. Further each

Superintendent presented an annual report to the community as an accountability measure.

The Arkansas River Education Services Cooperative also received a grant from the Arkansas

Department of Education to hire a teacher excellence coordinator whose primary role is to recruit

teachers to the districts within the city of Pine Bluff. Go Forward established the Pine Bluff TEACH

Pine Bluff fellowship in 2019. The TEACH Pine Bluff fellowship offers up to $20,000 for teachers to

obtain a master’s degree providing they agree to teach in Pine Bluff for three years post receiving the

master’s degree. We were able to offer nine fellowships, three in each district, for 2019 and will offer

nine more in 2020.

Go Forward Pine Bluff also engaged community stake holders, Fletcher Consultants, LLC and the

University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff to evaluate the feasibility of a consolidated school district. The

study is expected to last 8 to 12 months with a recommendation to the Arkansas Department of


Moving Forward

While much was accomplished in 2019, we are excited about the 2020 work. We are expecting

tangible outcomes through the revitalization of downtown buildings, substantial blight removal,

renovation of the Merrill Center, groundbreakings on entertainment venues, quality affordable houses,

the opening of The Generator, an innovation hub and the 2020 Delta Celebration Series of Festivals

and Events.

It is important to remember that Go Forward Pine Bluff is not responsible for every challenge the city

faces. The four pillars which are defined by the 26 initiatives are the focus areas. The negative

commentary from certain council members continue to blemish grant applications and limit our ability

to retain and attract new business. Specifically, council members Mays and Whitfield have used their

elected positions to vote against and fight everything Go Forward Pine Bluff proposes. In fact, they

collaboratively worked in a failed attempt to defund the entire GFPB plan. Further, playing the race

card with false accusations in a predominantly Black city is inflammatory, pointless and again

unsubstantiated. Enough is enough! The challenges that they would like to see addressed are

opportunities for them to strategically plan efficiency’s in city government, write grants, identify

savings in the general fund and organize human capital to make a difference. While GFPB, Inc. is a

corporation, the concept of Go Forward Pine Bluff embodies every citizen investing something to

improve this community. Investments are not all financial and can take the unique shape of

mentorship, community service, sacrifice and civic responsibility all in the context of prosperity. The

return on these positive investments guarantee an increase in the value of our city.

We thank Mayor Washington, remaining council members and business sector for their positive

contributions to Pine Bluff. Let us all Go Forward!