Pine Bluff Gets a Sprucing Up


The first phase of Pine Bluff’s downtown streetscape project is expected to be completed in  October. The $5 million phase covers renovations on Main Street from Barraque Street to Fourth Avenue, including extended sidewalks for outdoor dining.
The first phase of Pine Bluff’s downtown streetscape project is expected to be completed in October. The $5 million phase covers renovations on Main Street from Barraque Street to Fourth Avenue, including extended sidewalks for outdoor dining. (Mark Friedman)

Jimmy Dill has been a businessman on Main Street in Pine Bluff for more than four decades, but he’s “never been as excited about Pine Bluff’s future than I am right now.”

The president of Pine Bluff Title Co. made that declaration last week as he listed several projects underway in the city.

Led by the Saracen Casino Resort, which has a construction value of $215 million, Pine Bluff is seeing growth across the city unlike any in recent years. The Saracen Casino Resort said it will create about 800 jobs in the next few weeks as it prepares to open in early October. Last fall, the Quapaw Nation opened its Saracen Annex and Q-Store, on the east side of Pine Bluff just off of U.S. Highway 65-B.

And more major projects are coming. CARTI announced last month that it is building a comprehensive cancer center in the city of about 43,000 residents.

The two-story center, which will be between 25,000 and 30,000 SF, will be CARTI’s largest cancer center outside of Little Rock. The total project will cost about $18 million.

The cancer center will be near Interstate 530 on 7 acres close to Trotter Ford Lincoln.

The project will be built in two phases. The first includes a modular building while the permanent structure is under construction. The modular building is expected to be completed by the end of this year, about the same time that construction is expected to begin on the permanent building, which has a target completion date of January 2022.

Pine Bluff’s Industrial Park also has activity. Highland Pellets, a $229 million wood pellet manufacturing plant that opened on about 180 acres in late 2016, is planning for additional expansion in Jefferson County, said CEO Jeff Vanderpool. The expansion announcement will come later this year or early next year, he said, declining to give additional details. Late last year, Highland began upgrading its facility in an approximately $63 million project. The project is expected to be completed in April.

And in downtown, several projects are underway, including a library and streetscape project that will alter the look of Main Street. “It’s all a part of the revitalization efforts to move our city forward to improve the quality of life for the citizens here in Pine Bluff,” Mayor Shirley M. Washington said.

Downtown has attracted some new businesses. In 2017, Jan Robinson opened Uptown Salon & Boutique at 204 S. Main St., and has seen “a lot of progress.”

“It’s nice to have new businesses come in down here,” she said. “It’s even better not to trip over concrete that’s broken.”

Robinson also said she’s noticed an increase in business because of the streetscape project. “People want to come down and see what’s going on,” she said. And she expects more customers when the casino is fully opened.

Downtown is starkly different from just a few years ago, when an economic developer suggested that some buildings downtown could be scenes for “The Walking Dead,” AMC’s zombie series. That image is changing with the makeover.

“It’s about the commitment to the resurgence of the downtown and making it a walkable, livable, really nice downtown quality of life,” said Allison J.H. Thompson, CEO of the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County. “Of course, when you talk about tourism and bringing in new revenue and getting people to town, the casino is going to be fantastic at that as well as being a quality employer. … So all good things are happening right now.”

Here is a sampling of the various projects in the city:

Pine Bluff Main Library

A glassy new library is also in the works, accompanying a new aquatic center and an art center expansion.

The 32,000-SF library at Sixth and Main Street is scheduled to open in October, said Bobbie Morgan, director of the Pine Bluff Jefferson County Library System. The building, financed through a 2016 millage increase, will feature a teaching kitchen, recording studios, a rare books section and map collections. It will also have multipurpose meeting rooms, a boardroom, study rooms and a public computer lab. The building will have glass walls, making the structure energy efficient. The glass also will allow people passing by on Main Street to see the activity inside the library, Morgan said. The project, at 600 S. Main St., costs about $12.5 million.

Reese Rowland of Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects of Little Rock is the architect and East Harding Construction of Little Rock is the contractor.

“The new Pine Bluff Main Library will be a modern, transparent building that will display what the future of Pine Bluff can be,” Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects said on its website.

The Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas

A glassy new library is also in the works, accompanying a new aquatic center and an art center expansion.

The Arts & Science Center is expanding its Main Street campus in a $2.5 million project funded by a grant from the Windgate Foundation of Little Rock. The Artspace on Main at 623 S. Main St. is scheduled to open this fall, and Artworks on Main, at 627 S. Main St., will open early next year. The expansion includes space for community events, studios, artist apartments and a gallery.

“Our current facility only has one studio/classroom space; the limited space causes programming constraints,” ASC Executive Director Rachel Miller said on ASC’s website. “Staff perform a skilled juggling act when they are hosting several programs at once in our current facility.” AMR Architects of Little Rock was the architect and East Harding Construction is the contractor.

Downtown Streetscape Project

The first phase of Pine Bluff’s downtown streetscape project is expected to be completed in the middle of October. The first phase costs about $5 million and covers renovations on Main Street from Barraque Street to Fourth Avenue. The project will also cover Walnut Street to State Street along Barraque Street. The project will turn the four-lane Main Street into two lanes, extend the sidewalks and add landscaping.

The extended sidewalks will allow restaurants to offer outdoor seating and will be helpful when Pine Bluff has its entertainment district, said Joy Blankenship, executive director of Pine Bluff Downtown Development. In addition, the utility lines were moved underground. “Good things are happening,” Blankenship said. “We needed that shot in the arm.”

The second phase of the project will renovate Main Street from Fourth Avenue to Eighth Avenue.

McClelland Consulting Engineers Inc. of Little Rock designed the project and Shields & Associates of Little Rock are the contractors.

Pine Bluff Aquatic Center

A glassy new library is also in the works, accompanying a new aquatic center and an art center expansion.

The center, funded by a “Penny for Progress” sales tax passed in 2011, opened in June 2019. The center, with a construction value of $11.2 million, has an indoor eight-lane competitive pool, an area for children and a leisure pool. The center also has party rooms and offers swimming lessons.

Washington said the aquatic center is the city’s first public pool in nearly 30 years. “We feel like we do have a very beautiful state-of-the-art facility that our citizens are taking advantage of,” she said. CDI Contractors LLC of Little Rock was the contractor on the project. Crafton Tull of Rogers designed the center and worked with the Nelson Architectural Group Inc. of Pine Bluff on the project. 

The Generator

Go Forward Pine Bluff’s innovation hub, the Generator, is expected to open this fall, said Mildred Franco, executive director of the Generator. Simmons Bank of Pine Bluff donated the building at 435 S. Main St. to the Generator and it cost about $350,000 to renovate the 14,000-SF, three-story building, Franco said.

Initially, the Generator will use about 8,000 SF of the space to focus on entrepreneurship and digital learning. The Generator is part of Go Forward Pine Bluff, a nonprofit. The hub is not a separate entity, but it has its own advisory board, Franco said.

The architect on the project is Fred Reed of the Reed Architectural Firm of Pine Bluff, and East Harding Construction of Little Rock is the general contractor.