What has been a concept brewing in the minds of community leaders in recent years has just been given octane fuel with the passage of a resolution by the Pine Bluff City Council providing $2 million dollars for the development of a portion of the Delta Rhythm & Bayous (DRB) Cultural District in downtown. Excited community members and policy holders have been literally buzzing for a little over three weeks about the powerfully compelling plans which were revealed for this project by the Pine Bluff/Jefferson County National Heritage Trails Task Force.
So what’s all the buzz about? Well, this Lower Arkansas Delta town which has had some tough losses in population and industry over the last few decades, has just developed a cultural heritage plan which could put it on the map as a national destination and bring a boon of tourism revenue. The Pine Bluff/ Jefferson County National Heritage Trails Task Force, in partnership with the Pine Bluff Advertising and Promotion Commission and the Delta Rhythm & Bayous Alliance, developed the concept for the district’s epicenter which includes: 1) the nation’s only park honoring the Chitlin’ Circuit (the entertainment network for black performers during the years of segregation; 2) an outdoor memorial plaza honoring more blues greats than any other in the nation; 3) a unique outdoor cinema park honoring regional greats in film, television, and theater and; 4) a food truck park designed to bring the best regional cuisine to tourists with mouthwatering tastes.
But wait, there’s more! To show that this concept is not only loaded with oodles of creativity and fervent enthusiasm, but also quantifiable data, the Pine Bluff Advertising and Promotion Commission had an economic impact study commissioned by Tourism Economics, a Philadelphia based consulting firm which is a subsidiary of Oxford Economics. They analyzed “current market conditions to estimate potential visitation at the proposed cultural district, as well as the potential fiscal (tax) benefits attributable to new visitation and tourism. Their findings showed that they estimated a total of 128,000 visits to the district annually, with $13.6 million spent annually with a total of $18.2 million in overall economic impact. The total jobs estimated to be generated is 250 and the total annual state and local tax revenues are estimated to be $1.9 million each year.
At the city’s Planning and Development Committee meeting in November of 2022, the public was also wowed by an engaging and dynamic 3-D rendering of the epicenter of the DRB Cultural District (https://www.explorepinebluff.com/delta-rhythm-bayous-cultural-district) showing the stylistic intersections of architecture, art, placemaking, and landscape which made the plan come to life for many. The crowd atmosphere was euphoric as the Planning and Development Committee recommended unanimously to fund $2 million of the estimated $6 million cost over the next two years. With an even larger crowd at the City Council meeting the following week maintaining the same electricity and enthusiasm, members voted 8-0 to accept the recommendation of the Planning Committee and fund the project at a level of $2 million for the first two years.
While the DRB Cultural District model is actually far bigger than the epicenter which the Pine Bluff City Council voted to support, the fact the initiative has funding to begin development is one of the most exciting developments for the city in 2023. Pine Bluff with all of its enormous history and culture is finally doing what other communities have been doing in riding the wave of prosperity which has come from heritage tourism across the country.