Re­pur­posed old man­sions are gems to cities

El Dorado News-Times - - Opinion - Shea Wil­son

When I look around El Do­rado and see the ren­o­vated and re­pur­posed old man­sions, it makes me sad all over again that mem­bers of the Pine Bluff City Coun­cil -- the peo­ple who should be sup­port­ing progress -- are the ones slam­ming the door.

The old Grey­stone on South Cherry Street in Pine Bluff was set to become a bed and break­fast. The in­vestors pro­posed strict rules for oper­a­tions to en­sure re­spect for the neigh­bor­hood, while mak­ing a worth­while and much-needed ac­com­mo­da­tion avail­able.

I'll give props to Al­der­men Bill Brumett and Lloyd Hol­comb Jr. for their re­cent vote of "yes" to re­zon­ing the Grey­stone. They could see the vi­sion of a bed and break­fast -- a nice, ap­pro­pri­ate plan for the old home. The Pine Bluff Plan­ning and De­vel­op­ment Com­mis­sion could see the vi­sion, too. They ap­proved the re­zon­ing re­quest back in June. The ma­jor­ity of the city coun­cil had on blinders and voted no.

Neigh­bors of the Grey­stone have con­cerns about a B&B dis­rupt­ing the neigh­bor­hood. It won't. The Myr­tle House and Gran­ite Club in El Do­rado are both lovely old man­sions that were ren­o­vated and re­pur­posed by Richard and Ver­tis Ma­son. Af­ter giv­ing El Do­rado's down­town a makeover, the de­vel­op­ing duo took on his­toric homes in the com­mu­nity. The houses are now avail­able for spe­cial events. They stay busy -- and just as im­por­tant, the neigh­bor­hood has up­graded prop­er­ties.

The folks in Pine Bluff -- the pro­gres­sive ones -un­der­stand this. Con­sider the state­ment is­sued on Pine Bluff Ris­ing's Face­book page ad­dress­ing some con­cerns about the project:

“In or­der to not have an un­de­sir­able af­fect on the sur­round­ing res­i­den­tial uses, the Inn will have strict op­er­at­ing re­stric­tions,” the state­ment said. “The Inn will en­force quiet hours start­ing at 10 p.m., which is con­sis­tent with the neigh­bor­ing con­do­minium as­so­ci­a­tion.

“The Inn will also abide by all noise or­di­nances . ... Only two events per month with more than 25 guests will be held on the grounds with a max­i­mum ca­pac­ity of 125 guests. All out­door event ac­tiv­ity will cease at 8 p.m. and all in­door events will cease at 10 p.m.

“In sum­mary, we be­lieve that with the pro­posed op­er­at­ing re­stric­tions, along with the sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment in the neigh­bor­hood we will boost prop­erty val­ues and at a min­i­mum, keep them from fall­ing.

“When we ac­quired the prop­erty the side­walk was in dis­re­pair, the house was rapidly de­te­ri­o­rat­ing, the land­scape was over grown. If we ex­e­cute on the plan the prop­erty will be a beau­ti­ful as­set that the com­mu­nity will be proud of and will re­flect well on the rest of the street. We hope you agree and look for­ward to your sup­port in our project.”

Sadly, the city coun­cil did not.

Here's the deal: In­vestors who have the in­ter­est and means to ren­o­vate old man­sions don't show up ev­ery day. Most av­er­age cit­i­zens can't af­ford to ren­o­vate and main­tain those prop­er­ties be­cause they need costly up­grades. That's why Pine Bluff is wrapped up in blight. Aren't there enough sad, but once grand, old houses in town?

I shared the re­cent Pine Bluff Com­mer­cial ar­ti­cle and ed­i­to­rial about the Grey­stone vote on so­cial me­dia and one per­son com­mented: "Pine Bluff is a dump­ster fire." Who wants that for a city brand? Those types of per­cep­tions won't change by turn­ing down in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties.

When a city has com­mit­ted cit­i­zens who want to in­vest and make im­prove­ments, they should be lauded and sup­ported. El Do­rado was at a cross­roads many years ago and its city lead­er­ship chose the right turn. It is my hope Pine Bluff city of­fi­cials will re­con­sider and do the same.

The city has many cham­pi­ons and cheer­lead­ers. Lis­ten to them. And if cer­tain city of­fi­cials turn deaf ears? Don't be dis­cour­aged, Pine Bluff. If city lead­ers don't share your vi­sion, choose new ones. You are only an elec­tion cy­cle away from progress.

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