Visions for enhanced downtown expressed at streetscape meeting

Several downtown Pine Bluff property owners attending a Thursday night meeting on a proposed streetscape project not only heard the conceptual visions of several professionals contributing to the plan, but also offered a few ideas of their own at the Donald W. Reynolds Community Center event.

The effort — with an initial 12-block scope from Eighth Avenue and Main Street to the Jefferson County Courthouse and Lake Saracen, along with some bordering streets — is in its infancy after being born with the public’s 2011 approval of a “Penny for Progress” five-eighths cent sales tax and resulting bond issue.

There’s no firm time frame for the proposed enhancements. Neither is there a rigid financial budget, as Inspection and Zoning Director Robert Tucker made plain in relating the city’s intentions to explore state and federal grants as well as private gifts and investments in taking the project to its fullest. Tucker counsels the city’s historic district commission.

Project advisers Tim Brockway of McClelland Consulting Engineers in Little Rock and J. Richie Smith of Memphis’ Richie Smith Associates landscape planning group teamed on a slide presentation and also utilized other visuals highlighting their conceptions of a future, redesigned and revitalized downtown sector. The pair stressed that the project could be physically implemented on a scale ranging from a half-block upward, and with a flexible fiscal approach.

With a focus on downtown’s historic character and architecture, Brockway and Smith addressed various potentials, including creating pedestrian plazas with seating areas, restoring alleys for activity uses, expanding and revising sidewalks, installing bicycle lanes, decorating walkways with suitable trees and flowers, and placing era-styled and energy-efficient lighting sources with directional abilities. The two also spoke of possible medians along a widened Main Street, creating new parking areas, and easing some drainage problems with rain gardens.

Noting that such advancements would almost certainly serve as a stimulus in heightening business development and cultural tourism within the area, the notion of a revived Hotel Pines was mentioned with the the century-old, five-story landmark seen as generating downtown occupancy should it be restored.

The proposed renovations will be a primary topic at a Monday, Oct. 28, town town hall meeting at the convention center.