Phase one of the Delta Rhythm & Bayous Cultural District project aimed at revitalizing downtown Pine Bluff is not too far off on the horizon.
The Pine Bluff Advertising and Promotion Commission, the Delta Rhythm & Bayous Alliance, and the Pine Bluff/Jefferson County National Heritage Trails Task Force plan to revitalize downtown Pine Bluff by transforming a portion of it into the Delta Rhythm & Bayous Cultural District. The Cultural District boundaries established by the Pine Bluff City Council in 2018 extend from points between Second and Fourth Avenue. The district's epicenter will include: the nation's only park honoring the Chitlin' Circuit (the entertainment network for black performers during the years of segregation); a memorial and plaza honoring more blues greats than any other outdoor gallery in the nation; a unique outdoor cinema plaza honoring regional greats in film, television, and theater; and a food truck park designed to bring the best regional cuisine to tourists with mouthwatering tastes. Jimmy Cunningham, executive director of the Delta Rhythm & Bayous Alliance, stated that “the vision is to package a core of activities in a central area where people can spend their leisure time walking and exploring.”
The first portion of this four-phase plan, to be completed over the next two years, features the Blues Memorial & Wellness Plaza which will sit on two vacant properties across the street from the Jefferson County District Court Building. Along with a multi-purpose area for concerts, festivals, and other activities, it will also include a wellness area along with recreational and workout amenities. According to Cunningham, "We have tons of well-known blues/R&B legends who will be represented like Bobby Rush, Tyrone Davis, Johnny Winter, Mary Wilson, Sippie Wallace, Little Milton and many others.”
The Delta Rhythm & Bayous Cultural District will capitalize on the area's culture, arts, creativity, and historical significance to increase tourism. In November 2022, during a standing-room-only Pine Bluff City Planning Committee meeting, plans were presented for the development of the district to a crowd of citizens and public officials. Pine Bluff City Council members ultimately approved the plans with an 8-0 vote. The Council also approved $2 million in funding for the district from an existing five-eighths-cent sales tax designed to help fund the first phase.
The entire project was estimated to cost just over $6 million in Nov. of 2022, though the price tag will increase as the footprint of the district’s focus area has doubled in 2023. Foundation and other grant sources are currently being sought to supplement the project’s development.
The national consulting firm used by the Advertising and Promotion Commission, Tourism Economics, estimated that the district could attract 128,000 visitors, with 88,000 being non-local. Many of these visitors will boost Pine Bluff’s local economy as they shop in nearby stores, eat in restaurants, and stay at hotels. Tourism Economics also projected that the district would garner $180 million over 10 years, create 250 jobs, and collect $1.9 million per year in state and local taxes.
When describing the project's first phase, Cunningham stated, "We wanted to do two or three things. First, we wanted to get a cultural engagement specialist who would help us facilitate programming for the district. We also wanted to have money to start acquiring property in the four-block area of the district’s epicenter. Finally, we wanted to build out one venue, the blues and wellness plaza."
Cunningham presented a summary highlighting the progress that the Delta Rhythm & Bayous project had made since the City Council approved the $2 million for the first portion of the district, the Blues Memorial & Wellness Plaza. Thus far, A&P funds have been spent on the architect's 3D designs, an economic impact study, and revised architectural plans. The city has applied for the Transportation Alternatives Grant of $500,000, which requires a $450,000 match. It is currently applying for a $250,000 match through the Arkansas Outdoor Recreation Grant of $250,000. Thanks to a grant in conjunction with the Winrock Foundation and the Delta Rhythm & Bayous Alliance, four cities (Gould, Dumas, McGehee, and Dermott) on the Delta Rhythm & Bayous Highway are developing cultural placemaking plans related to music and culture. Here’s a link to Explore Pine Bluff’s 3-D animated visual of the Delta Rhythm & Bayous Cultural District so you can learn more about the project.
Written by: Ninfa O. Barnard