Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series on introducing the Delta Rhythm & Bayous Cultural District.
Dozens of people packed the Catherine M. Bellamy Theater on a stormy Thursday night at the Arts & Science Center in Southeast Arkansas for the highly anticipated Delta Rhythm & Bayous Cultural District presentation.
The presentation began with Sheri Storie, director of the Pine Bluff Publicity and Promotion committee, who premiered the music video for Bobby Rush’s “America the Beautiful”, which will be released on July 4th.
The lights dimmed as the soothing soulful sound of Rush playing his harmonica filled the theater and a shot of downtown Pine Bluff filled the screen as one of his first images in his music video. Gorgeous drone photos of the Jefferson County Courthouse overlooking the lake and the newly landscaped downtown area also caught public attention as they turned to Rush’s blues interpretation of “America the Beautiful.” .
“They did a great job portraying Pine Bluff in the video,” Storie said, adding that while editing, the video staff wanted to come and visit Pine Bluff. “Seeing Pine Bluff in a national video featuring cities like New York, Seattle, San Francisco and Memphis gave me a great sense of pride. I’m so proud of our city.”
The video was an interlude to arrive at the presentation of the Delta Rhythm and Bayou District which was nominated by the town of Pine Bluff.
Jimmy Cunningham, Executive Director of the Delta Rhythm & Bayous Alliance, was the host for the evening and one of the visionaries for the concept which would have four phases, with three years in each. Phases one and two were presented on Thursday.
The first phase includes the Delta Mural Gallery; Delta Rhythm & Bayous Blues & Fitness Park; Bobby Rush Roundabout / Art Space; Delta Music Walk, Civil Rights Trail / Murals; and a feasibility study on Delta’s public market.
The second phase includes the Delta Civil Rights Museum, the Civil Rights Garden, the Third Street Black Business District signs; Third Street and Main Street Stage & Food Truck Park; Ellis CeDell Davis House / Shotgun Row, Old Miller Theater, Catfish Pavilion and the Jefferson County Peace & Justice Memorial.
Before Cunningham went into the details of each attraction, he presented a case of heritage tourism in the Delta Rhythm & Bayous district.
After extensive research, he said, heritage tourism is considered to be one of the fastest growing segments of the industry and equates to annual spending of $ 171 billion. Historic places and museum parks top the list of activities as a destination, with cultural events and festivals taking second place, he revealed.
“Studies have shown that there are three key elements of heritage travel,” Cunningham said. “They spend more, stay longer and travel more frequently.”
Cunningham said that once Pine Bluff establishes an experience for tourists, inclusion in some of the national, regional and national trails will be possible, attracting tourism to Pine Bluff.
Jefferson County ranks 11th for Arkansas population, but 14th for tourism statewide, averaging $ 122 million per year.
According to Trip Advisor’s “Things to Do” reviews, Pine Bluff had only 126 reviews, with the Arkansas Railroad Museum and the Delta Rivers Nature Center top of the seven top attractions listed.
If Jefferson County doubled its tourism rate in proportion to its demographic rank, Cunningham said it would maintain a level of around $ 300 million per year in overall tourism.
According to him, the Delta Rhythm & Bayous Cultural District will attract tourism and attribute to the development already underway at Pine Bluff. The neighborhood will be centered around the part of Third Street also known as Bobby Rush Way.
“To honor Mr. Rush’s accomplishments and connect Mr. Rush to this area, we are proposing a roundabout on Bobby Rush Way,” Cunningham said.
He added that a statue of Rush would stand in the middle of the roundabout. A treat during the presentation was a video response from Rush, who was humiliated by a street renamed after him.
“Of all the places I have been, I am so blessed when I come back to my hometown,” he said. “I think coming home like a place like Pine Bluff is as good as winning a Grammy. Coming back here for Pine Bluff to give my name to a street – are you kidding me, man? Thank God for the love i get from people in this city.
Saturday: Part 2 will dive into the architect’s design and thoughts on the project, the community’s response, and how this project complements other development plans already established at Pine Bluff.
Artist’s interpretation of the Bobby Rush roundabout. (Commercial Special)