Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth said Friday that an absence of Christmas lighting along Main Street during the recent yule season can be attributed to economics and timing.
Hollingsworth said Pine Bluff Downtown Development no longer maintains a stock of Christmas lights that were displayed for a number of years, but a group of citizens had purchased light strands that they intended to install around trees along the street. When they tested the lights, they discovered that most power plugs along the street were not working.
Pine Bluff Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Greg Gustek said the expense of correcting the problems would be “extremely high.” Street lights typically operate on larger voltage than the seasonal displays, and much of the underground wiring has been damaged by tree roots and water over the years.
“The downtown lights actually haven’t been up in quite some time,” Gustek said. “The city’s street department can survey the situation, but the fact is that the same poles have been there for decades and much of the underground wiring has deteriorated. In my opinion, I think it would be cost-prohibitive to correct the situation at this time.”
Meanwhile, a notion of plugging in the lights with stores along the street proved ineffective because of so many empty buildings dotting the area.
Hollingsworth — who took office on Jan. 1, 2013 — said other considerations include a still-developing streetscape project for downtown, and the presence of the city’s annual Enchanted Land of Lights and Legends Christmas lighting display in Regional Park.
“If we could have, we would have had Main Street lit up with Christmas decorations this past year,” she said. “But with the streetscape project calling for so many renovations to the downtown area, spending money for a short-lived fix probably wouldn’t be wise without knowing how quickly the project’s improvements will be in coming. We would probably be spending on top of spending.”
Lori Walker, assistant director of Pine Bluff Economic and Community Development, said the streetscape undertaking — to be financed by bond and grant funding — is nearing completion of its conceptual phase. There’s no timeline on the varied work to be included in the project.
Walker wouldn’t make an estimate on when the physical effort would actually commence, but said it’s possible that it could be initiated within a year or so.
Gustek and Hollingsworth said they envision an active Main Street that will attract visitors and revitalize the area.
“It would increase downtown businesess,” Gustek said of the proposed improvements. “Mayor Hollingsworth and I agree that Christmas and other holiday lighting in the area would help in bringing in local residents as well of out-of-town tourists.”
“People like Christmas lights,” Hollingsworth said. “It doesn’t matter what age they might be — people like lights. The best example of that is the Enchanted Land of Lights and Legends.”
Gustek said the local display is an “attention grabber.”
“We had some weather problems this past season and had to be closed three entire nights and for several hours otherwise, and we still drew 90,000 visitors,” Gustek said. “I understand that’s below the record figure of 110,000 visitors in 2012, but I think it’s still a great number.
“We did experience growth in 2013, though,” Gustek said. “We had our largest number of sponsors with 95. Most Arkansas cities have downtown Christmas lighting, but Pine Bluff is the only city in the state with a lighting display like the Enchanted Land of Lights and Legends. It’s one of the largest such attractions in the entire South.”
“It’s something we can really be proud of,” the mayor said. “And I truly believe that within a few years, downtown Pine Bluff will be shining, too.”