HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. (AP) – Helena-West Helena city officials and a community-driven Delta Bridge Project are in their fifth year of economic development work in the pre-Civil War town, the seat of one of the poorest counties in the country.
The Delta Bridge Project initiative has leveraged more than $60 million to revitalize Phillips County. Also, a voter-approved 2-cent city sales tax has generated more than $1.1 million for city services since July 2007.
Other projects include:
-$2.3 million for public schools to improve school test scores. The Learning, Excelling, Achieving in the Delta program, or LEAD, produced significant gains after only one year. Math proficiency among Marvell third-graders jumped 52 percentage points, to 95 percent.
-The KIPP Delta College Preparatory School, a charter school, opened a middle school with almost $3 million in grants and loans from Southern Bancorp in 2002-03. Construction of a $2.7 gym is under way, as is a $25 million campaign to build a high school.
-Voters on Sept. 16 will consider whether to raise property taxes and build a new $21 million Helena-West Helena High School. The state in April returned the district to local control after briefly running it because of financial problems.
-The Boys & Girls Club of Phillips County, opened in 2006, serves 250 children but will be able to accommodate 750 shortly after Labor Day after renovation of a building.
-The $20 million Delta American Fuel biodiesel plant, capable of producing 40 million gallons of fuel a year, is to open this year, creating 20 jobs.
-The $2 million Arkansas Delta Yams storage and distribution center, which allows local sweet potato farmers to store their crops while waiting for the best prices.
-The Delta Area Health Education Center, a $4.5 million health and fitness facility that opened in 2006. The 30,000-square-foot building was the largest construction project in Phillips County in decades.
-Court Square Park. Workers removed old service station tanks and cleared the grounds for a park within a stone’s throw of the municipal, county and federal court buildings. The beautification project is expected to cost about $500,000. Plans call for a 10-foot-wide walkway to accommodate a farmers market and a 40-foot-tall clock tower at the center of a “cultural history plaza” to recognize the different nationalities that populated the river port.
-The $1.5 million Southern Place Apartments, which has 20 units. About 90 people applied for an apartment in the first month.
-The American Land Conservancy purchased the 1,500-acre Buck Island in the Mississippi River for $1.2 million as part of its preservation mission. The nonprofit agency is hoping to sell the island to a public agency for use as a unique camping, hiking, fishing, recreation and bird-watching spot.
-Quapaw Canoe Company opened this summer, offering guided tours of the Lower Mississippi River, or canoe or kayak rentals for self-guided tours. Owner John Ruskey’s “eco-adventures” include trips to Buck Island for a day hike or overnight camp out.
-Other new businesses: Bistro Bar and Grill, Granny Dees, Habitat for Humanity cafe, Delta Gypsy Caravan gift shop, and Little Biscuit Recording Studio. An Arkansas Revenue Office has moved into the downstairs of a renovated downtown building, while work to turn the upstairs into loft apartments is nearly complete.
-Centennial Baptist Church. The 1905 national landmark, built by a black architect and headed by the first president of the National Baptist Convention, was stabilized with $450,000 in private and state funds.
-Twenty downtown buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places were re-roofed with grants totaling $500,000. Fourteen abandoned business properties have been examined for possible contamination left by former occupants. The so-called brownfield program is nearing completion under a $400,000 grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
-Biscoe Street. A $165,000 cleanup cleared the main entrance into town of its burned out buildings and abandoned strip malls.