Historic district panel looks at downtown nuance


A short agenda allowed a long discussion on an unscheduled topic at Friday’s meeting of the Pine Bluff Historic District Commission.

Commissioners heard local artist Jean Painton’s thoughts on possibly utilizing a historic, two-story home she owns as a combination Civil War museum and writers or artists colony. She said the museum could be on the ground floor while apartments would be upstairs. Painton said the resident artists could be encouraged to open shops downtown to help revitalize the area.

“We could grow our our own artists,” Painton said.

The notion perked the interest of Commissioners Marlene Davis-Lilly, Darnell Hawkins, Dee Herring, Dave Sadler, Jack Stradley and Harold Terry as well as consultant Robert Tucker, director of the city’s inspection and zoning department.

Ideas started rolling as a round-table conversation swelled.

Hawkins proposed that artists be recruited to help bring about establishment of a downtown art borough. Herring expanded on the thought, saying a combination arts and entertainment area might constitute a better arrangement, especially if done in keeping with a anticipated street scope project. The street scope focus is on the intersection of Barraque and Main streets, but commissioners agreed that such a development would likely set a tone for all of downtown.

Tucker said any augmentation would require capital. He noted the present scarcity of available funding from government or outside sources.

“We’ve got to raise money ourselves,” he said, adding that other preservation groups elsewhere have been successful in such efforts and the commission is equally capable. Hawkins said he thinks Mayor Debe Hollingsworth “will talk it up,” too.

Hawkins and Stradley agreed that nightclubs might boost downtown activity. Hawkins said he would hope that “fear of a black underclass” wouldn’t be a factor against such developments. Success of black nightclubs in other cities has shown that such establishments can blend in well with a variety of other businesses in similar settings, Hawkins said.

Terry spoke of the success of several “Music on Main” affairs he’s overseen with the Downtown Special Events Organization, noting that there have been no security issues. Sadler, a performing blues musician, echoed Terry on the gatherings’ quality atmosphere. Nevertheless, Stradley stressed that the downtown sector is in need of additional lighting.

Terry said he’s gaining support for the events with sponsorships from Jefferson Regional Medical Center, Relyance Bank and Simmons First National Bank, among other leading interests. Meanwhile, he’s working closely with the University of Arkansas’ Monticello and Pine Bluff campuses on additional development issues, he said.

Commissioners addressed three agenda items — updates on the Boone-Murphy House, The Saenger Theatre and historic district sign toppers.

Tucker said some $900 in grant money is going toward replacing cracked sidewalks outside the Boone-Murphy House on West Fourth Avenue. The Civil War landmark is now the official headquarters of the commission.

Davis-Lilly announced that she has a period table and several chairs she’s willing to donate for use at the facility.

Tucker said a roofing project at The Saenger is currently in a funding phase. He also gave commissioners a look at one of the new historic district signs recently delivered from the manufacturer.

Tucker said a meeting for downtown property owners is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17, at the Donald W. Reynolds Community Center. An update on the street scope project is slated. Additional details on the meeting will be publicized at a later date.