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
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.
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.
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
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
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!