The executive director of the St. Francis County Community Development Corp. said the economic climate makes downtown revitalization an especially tough task.
In August of 2007, the Forrest City City Council voted to hire the CDC, headed by André Stephens, to “perform consulting services in the area of downtown economic vitality” for the city.
According to the agreement, the CDC is receiving $20,000 over a two-year period, plus 10 percent of any revitalization grants it manages to procure.
“One of the great challenges to every effort is the economy,” said Stephens. “It has had a devastating effect on any kind of project like this.”
According to Stephens, the city needs the intervention of either “a local taxing entity or a local charitable effort that will draw in other resources. And unless that is done, it is almost impossible to try to do any kind of development in the magnitude that any kind of downtown revitalization will need.”
Stephens said a meeting recently held between representatives of Southern Bancorp and local leaders may give some hope.
“They kind of reiterated what I’m saying,” he said. “But they have done some things with the downtown (in Helena-West Helena). I hope with them coming to Forrest City, we may be able to sit at their feet, and they may be able to give us some guidance on this.”
At that meeting, held last week, Bancorp offered to lend its expertise to try and attract businesses to invest locally. Another meeting will be held on Feb. 17, to see if local leaders want to work with Southern Bancorp.
He also said he felt it is appropriate to work on the development of the Highway 1 Bypass while trying to rejuvenate the downtown area.
“I think the direction the city is taking is a good direction, with the bypass project,” he said. “That is going to capture dollars going by every day on the Interstate. So that would be a good strategic move right now.”
He continued, “It would not be good to lose focus on downtown. At the same time, neglecting the bypass would not be good. I’m still very much hopeful that we can get something done. But it’s going to be a long-term project.”