By Billy Corriher
Mayor Joy Day told the Georgia Rail Passenger Authority Wednesday that locating a commuter rail station downtown would act like a magnet, drawing more retailers back to the downtown area.
"At one time, all the lawyers' offices were full of retailers," she said.
Other cities that have implemented similar plans around a rail station have seen their downtown areas rejuvenated, said Doug Alexander, rail manager for the Georgia Rail Passenger Authority.
"(Transportation and economic development) go hand in hand," he said. "It helps bring focus and consolidate some energy for redevelopment."
To attract more retailers, the city will soon implement its master plan for downtown development, part of the Livable Centers Initiative, which aims to improve the overall quality of life in Jonesboro.
The city is finalizing the plan to pump new life into downtown with new retailers, sidewalks and green space n all centered around the proposed commuter rail station to be housed in the old depot.
Planning for the rail line, which would run from Atlanta to Macon and through Clayton County, is complete and now the rail authority is waiting for state funding to update the area rail system.
The city initially told the Atlanta Regional Commission, which is funding much of the LCI improvements, that it wanted the rail station located outside of the downtown area because of traffic and access concerns.
But at a meeting with the rail authority on Wednesday, Mayor Joy Day said Jonesboro will spur more development by locating the station downtown.
The city held public hearings throughout the planning process, and Day said many residents expressed a desire for more businesses and activity around the depot.
Local resident Mildred Williams has followed the plan and said it will be good for Jonesboro.
"We need something to revitalize downtown," Williams said.
Day said that, as Jonesboro has grown, most retail stores have moved away from the downtown area, and that getting more pedestrians downtown will bring them back.
The commuter rail would also give commuters another option to get to Atlanta and will reduce traffic on Interstate 75, Alexander said.
City Manager Jon Walker said he does not think the rail station will increase congestion in downtown Jonesboro, which already sees 12,000 cars per day.
"We decided, instead of having one parking deck that might be difficult to get to, to split the parking (for the rail station)," Walker said.
One deck will be located behind the Heritage Bank on Mill Street, and the other will be located behind the Clayton County Courthouse. The city would pay 20 percent of the $4.8 million to construct the Mill Street deck in 2004. The remainder might be paid by an LCI grant the city will soon apply for, Walker said.
Rail commuters would be able to walk from the decks to the depot, which would have a new extended platform.
The city also wants to develop more retail space downtown and a town plaza behind the Main Street storefronts between Church and Smith streets.
In addition to the new town plaza, the city also envisions adding a stage area to the courthouse green for special events. The city will begin streetscape and sidewalk improvements next year.
The plan, if approved by the City Council later this month, would also provide more sidewalks in Jonesboro and a 12-foot wide walking trail down McDonough Street from Stately Oaks to the Historic Confederate Cemetery.