What once was could be again, Randy Wilson believes.
Wilson, president of Community Designs Solutions Inc. and director of design services for the Mississippi Main Street Association, said it’s easy to see the scars of Pine Bluff’s Main Street. But, he added, those with “a compelling vision for the city’s future” are quite capable of looking past the blemishes.
“Planning is one of the most critical factors in revitalizing Pine Bluff’s or any other city’s Main Street,” Wilson said at a Main Street Arkansas network training session here Tuesday. “The people and the city need to know where they’re heading 15 to 20 years in advance.”
Main Street Arkansas is a program of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.
Wilson joined Main Street Arkansas Director Cary Tyson, Pine Bluff Downtown Development Director Joy Ramsay Blankenship and other workshop attendees in an abbreviated tour of the city’s Main Street. Wilson said the walk-through prompted him to compare Pine Bluff to Greenville, Miss.
“Both Greenville and Pine Bluff are gateway cities to the Delta,” he said. “One can tell that both cities were once regal places. The cities have fallen into hard times, but neither is beyond a bright future.”
Wilson said there are several downtown “rebuilding” keys here, including Lake Saracen, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and a “nice stock of historic architecture.”
“New employment opportunities are needed, too,” he figures. “That would help to increase the local population.”
An equally important element of revitalization, according to Wilson, is “patience and realization.”
“You need to remember that Pine Bluff’s downtown didn’t get into this overnight, and it won’t get out overnight,” he said. “The same is true for many other downown areas that have declined over time.”
Wilson thinks that networking on downtown revitalization is vital in exchanging helpful information on the subject.
“There’s only a small group doing this kind of work,” said Tyson, noting there are just 12 Arkansas downtown development network communities. “Failures are sometimes the best way to learn, but we also have had a lot of success stories.”
Tyson, who pointed out that his late grandfather was a Pine Bluff resident, said he was “impressed” by several of the downtown structures he saw here.
“They don’t build them like that anymore,” he said.
Tyson said many Southern cities struggle with their images.
“Some are ashamed of their history,” he said. “But there’s a need to educate people on the full history of Southern cities.”
He stressed that the grasp of local history should be inclusive of historical structures.
“They should be preserved so that we can be students of those buildings as well,” he said.
Pine Bluff Inspection and Zoning Department Director Robert Tucker, who supports the Pine Bluff Historic District Commission, participated in Tuesday’s meet along with Commissioner Jack Stradley.
Tucker called the session “educational.” He said he attained experience as a “field lab student” during the tour, picking up some new particulars on “what works and what doesn’t” on renovating structures.
He also gained “lessons on good design” and now has a “new way of looking at downtown buildings after going out and actually studying them.”
Also participating in the training were representatives from DeWitt, Fort Smith, Heber Springs, Monticello, Morrilton and Walnut Ridge.