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OPINION | EDITORIAL: Year gone, housing project not started

by Byron Tate | December 19, 2020 at 10:10 a.m.

It's good to see a little fire building in the Urban Renewal Agency, and if anyone can get fired up, it's Jimmy Dill, the chairman.

Part of the mission of the agency is to help revitalize the downtown area, and part of that includes getting some housing down there. It all makes perfect sense. What good is it to help someone open a restaurant or a grocery store if no one lives close enough to eat or buy groceries there? Specifically, the agency is looking at a 50- to 70-unit complex that would sit not far off the main drag.

The problem is that the outfit that the agency got with a year ago to develop some of this housing has been a no-show, according to officials. Maurice Taggart, executive director, told the board members that he had made numerous attempts to get in touch with the developer in order for him to eyeball the documents that would show that the outfit had gotten the appropriate financing. But they've never gotten back with him on the subject.

"We're at a point and time where they're not doing a very good job of having a bank commit to loaning them money," Dill said. "I'm in a frustrating stage in the fact that we have not done anything for well over a year. Nothing has happened."

A year seems like a long time for nothing to have happened. Taggart was also unhappy.

"We told the public in early 2021 that that would be our groundbreaking date," he said. The year "2024 is quickly approaching and we know what 2024 is; we potentially have to answer to the citizens of Pine Bluff again."

There was more to the anxiety than just not being where agency officials thought it should be. There was the sting of seeing other projects zipping along.

"I've driven around, and they're not messing around," Dill said, referring to three county buildings that had groundbreaking ceremonies in early October. "They're breaking ground. If you drive by each one of them, they're working. It's visually something you can see being done."

Other board members weighed in.

"We need to get moving and have progress for the citizens," said Travis Martin.

Dill said that when the agency starts looking for another developer, officials need to find one that can get financing and get to work quickly.

"I'm just extremely frustrated that we told the citizens that we've acquired this property downtown to put housing down there to encourage people to come downtown ... and we have not produced because of them, in my opinion," Dill said, referring to the developer.

Not everything is a day late and a dollar short, however. Streetscape is going well, for one. But one of the key ingredients will be the housing component, and that would appear to be a ways off.

Still, it's good to see such enthusiasm to move forward quickly. In the past, there has been a mood of "we'll get to it when we can." Not so with this bunch.

We look forward to seeing the agency snatch up a better outfit and quickly seeing the dirt fly.

Chop chop!

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