2-to-1 matching grant will help Saenger revival

With grant monies shrinking in recent years, it’s especially beneficial when municipalities can obtain matching grants providing larger shares. Pine Bluff’s City Council voted unanimously to take advantage of such an offer Tuesday night, authorizing the mayor to apply for an Arkansas Historic Preservation Commission 2-to-1 matching grant.

In the process, the council also authorized the city’s match share of up to $11,983 so that it can receive up to $23,967 from the commission. The Old Towne Theatre Centre organization has agreed to pay a third of the city’s match for the grant, which is earmarked for continuing improvements to The Saenger Theatre on West Second Avenue.

“Mr. Tucker and our historic preservation commission made the city aware of this grant,” said Mayor Debe Hollingsworth. “The council and city officials are always on the alert for such grants and we take advantage of such offerings whenever possible. These monies will help in the revival of The Saenger, not only enriching our city’s downtown historic district but also boosting our future cultural possibilities. The Saenger is a marvelous landmark and historic structure that deserves to be saved for current and future generations.”

City Inspection and Zoning Director Robert Tucker told the commission last week that the matter would be considered by the council. Tucker said about $9,700 remained in current funding for renovations at The Saenger.

The original Saenger Theatre here was destroyed by fire and the current structure was built in 1923 and ‘24, opening on Nov. 17, 1924. Its construction cost was about $180,000. The facility closed in 1975.

At its Tuesday meeting, the council also approved design guidelines formulated by Tucker for the downtown historic district. The guidelines were recommended by the commission and will govern the rehabilitation of existing historic buildings in the district, as well as additions and new construction.

“The guidelines will serve as the basic for conducting certificate of appropriateness reviews of proposed projects and will foster historic preservation and increase property values within the district,” Hollingsworth said. “This is a big plus for our city. Downtown Pine Bluff was a thriving area for many decades, and I believe it can again become a business, shopping, financial and cultural center for our residents and visitors.”

Alderman Bill Brumett was echoed by Hollingsworth and his fellow council members in praising Tucker for his work on the guidelines.

“This is a blueprint for downtown’s future,” the mayor said.

At the Feb. 15 historic district commission meeting, Tucker announced that remaining “punch list” considerations at the Boone-Murphy House should be satisfied by the end of this week, and an open house celebration at the Civil War-era structure would follow. It had been hoped that the celebration would occur this month. Tucker said plans for the event will be announced “in plenty of time for people to plan to attend.”