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Group unveils new strategic plan for Pine Bluff, lists 27 recommendations to improve city

The group aptly named Go Forward Pine Bluff presented a 27-point strategic plan on Thursday night, to help put the City of Progress back on a path to success. (Photo: KATV)

After 100 Pine Bluff residents researched and planned for more than a year, the group aptly named Go Forward Pine Bluff presented a 27-point strategic plan to help put the City of Progress back on a path to success.

“We want to be known as Prime Bluff – P-R-I-M-E – bluff, because we are prime for opportunity,” said Carla Martin, pillar chairman of Go Forward Pine Bluff, as she reminded residents to stop people in their tracks when they refer to their city as “Crime Bluff.”

Martin laid out the recommendations GFPB came up with at a standing-room only meeting at the Southeast Arkansas Arts and Science Center on Thursday night. The group’s 27 recommendations fell into four pillars – government/infrastructure, education, economic development and quality of life.

The group came up with eight recommendations when it came to government and infrastructure in Pine Bluff:

  • developing a municipal master plan
  • creating a strategy for downtown Pine Bluff
  • creating a land bank to help acquire and manage abandoned and foreclosed properties
  • repurpose the land around the Pines Hotel as a city square
  • build a new multi-purpose center
  • establish a candidates’ institute to train Pine Bluff citizens on the responsibilities of public office
  • create a civil service commission to serve as an independent body to hear complaints about Pine Bluff civil servants and make independent decisions on personnel to protect from undue influence by elected officials
  • implement more effective recruiting that includes competitive salaries for Pine Bluff first responders

GFPB suggested creating an educational alliance when it comes to improving schools in the city’s three school districts, by tapping the area’s higher-learning institutions and other community stakeholders to help make the difference. The group’s education steering committee identified ten “areas of concern” listed in order of priority: leadership, partnerships, consolidation, parents, social services, marketing campaign, academics, financial assistance, workforce education/higher education, as well as the juvenile court system.

The economic development steering committee came up with three major suggestions:

  • developing an Innovation Hub that can help local people and locally educated students foster ideas into business realities
  • make targeted employability training widely available to Pine Bluff residents and employers
  • endorse the renewal of the 3/8 cent economic development sales tax for Jefferson County to ensure the stability of the Jefferson County Alliance and expand its capacity

Quality of life in Pine Bluff was identified as a major issue in research by GFPB, the issues there tied to issues in other categories of recommendations made to improve the city. Suggestions made to improve quality of life include:

  • making downtown Pine Bluff a “point of destination” by establishing a downtown historical district to highlight sites of major cultural and historical significance
  • create an incentive program to attract restaurants and young professionals to set-up in a renovated downtown area
  • establish a permanent food court pavilion downtown to create a permanent house for the city’s existing food truck businesses and create a draw to downtown
  • establish a yearly festival that celebrates Pine Bluff’s heritage likely called the “Celebrate the Delta Festival”
  • create a program to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the greater community
  • establish a coalition of neighbor associations and watch programs
  • build a public park on the new city square near the Pines Hotel, beautify downtown Pine Bluff and make it attractive from a landscape and streetscape perspective for potential commercial and private residents
  • hire a community planning and development coordinator to help implement various project set out by Go Forward Pine Bluff and other economic development organizations
  • develop a marketing plan for Pine Bluff
  • construct a biking/walking trail through the city that will link regional parks to Saracen Landing and the proposed renovated downtown district
  • establish a winter-time invitational basketball tournament to increase tourism and opportunity for area colleges to recruit athletes, raising the city’s profile as a sports town
  • establish a summer-time baseball tournament to restore Pine Bluff’s image as Arkansas’s leading baseball community

Mary Pringos, GFPB’s chairman said her hometown has waited too long to make major improvements and now it will have to take the will of the community to come together and help Pine Bluff make an economic comeback.

“You can’t complain if you’re not willing to be part of helping to make it better,” said Pringos.

Pringos, a retiree and farmer, said she was recruited by the Simmons Bank Foundation to help run the Go Forward Pine Bluff campaign. Having seen several different “plans” in the past be revealed and then shortly after forgotten about, Pringos said she wouldn’t have volunteered to steer the campaign if she didn’t think the plan would actually go somewhere.

“I felt like implementation had to be part of this, and it is,” said Pringos.

While funding for some suggested projects have already been identified, Pringos said there will likely be a capital-campaign to help raise money for other projects. Part of the suggestions to help implement GFPB’s recommendations is to pass an additional 5/8 cent sales tax in Pine Bluff to help create more revenue for funding the group’s goals.

Former Pine Bluff mayor Debe Hollingsworth and newly elected mayor Shirley Washington were both in attendance at Thursday’s strategic plan unveiling. Both have huge confidence in the plan to completed in four phase.

“Pine Bluff, I always tell people, is a diamond in the rough,” said Mayor Washington. “We just need to get busy and do a little polishing.”

Go Forward Pine Bluff will hold another meeting on January 26th, again at 5:30 PM at the Southeast Arkansas Arts and Science Center. The meeting will be a question and answer session to address concerns and hear ideas from community members on the group's strategic plan suggestions.

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