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Jonesboro seeks ?Main Street' status

By Ed Brock

The sign on Jo Lynne McEwen's "Trifles and Treasures" store on Jonesboro's Main Street reads "Gone out for business."

It means exactly what it says. McEwen can only run Trifles and Treasures on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, spending the rest of her time at her "Simple Pleasures" store down the road because business at the stores is so slow.

That's why she hopes the city will succeed it its efforts to become part of the Georgia Main Street Program.

"You want it to be a good thing," McEwen said. "I think it will be a good thing."

The Georgia Department of Community Affairs' Office of Downtown and Community Services sponsors the Main Street Program and a parallel program called Georgia Better Hometown.

"Basically it has a 4-point approach," Jonesboro City Manager Jon Walker said.

The points are organization, promotion, design and economic restructuring. The first point involves getting merchants like McEwen organized and working with other downtown Jonesboro property owners and groups like Historic Jonesboro, Stately Oaks and Arts Clayton.

McEwen seemed to have the same idea, particularly when it comes to the second point of promoting events and activities in the downtown area.

"The biggest thing they ought to do is coordinate the things that are already here. Somebody needs to coordinate that with a trolley tour or something like that," McEwen said. "If they could coordinate all that it would actually be something people could come see and spend some time with."

That somebody would be the Main Street Program Manager, a position the city is currently seeking to fill.

"This person can help get grants for the city by doing these things," Walker said. "We pay for the position and the grants will pay for the projects like putting new facades on buildings."

The new facades would be part of the third point along with other physical improvements. Some of those improvements, including widening the sidewalks in front of "lawyer row" on Main Street and planting trees, are also part of the city's Livable Centers Initiative that is funded by the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Walker said that the need for the Main Street Project was confirmed by discussions between city leaders and residents on the LCI.

The economic restructuring aspect would involve analyzing current market forces, recruiting new businesses and making the existing merchants more competitive.

"It's a good thing for us to do because it brings us attention," Walker said. "When you get recognition as a Main Street city it brings attention for grants and people wanting to come here."

McDonough, Hampton, College Park and Hapeville are already Main Street cities.

Strictly speaking, Jonesboro, with a population of around 4,000, qualifies for the Better Hometown Project that is aimed at cities with populations of less than 5,000, but Walker said that Jonesboro's role as the county seat should qualify it for the Main Street Program.

The city had received 18 applications as of last week, mostly from Georgia residents but some from other states like New Hampshire and North Carolina. The application acceptance period for the job, expected to pay between $35,000 to $45,000, ends today and Walker said he hopes to have somebody in place by mid-March.

"We anticipate that it will take a year to get the recognition," Walker said, adding that at that point the program manager's role would be to keep the city ready to pass annual audits by the GDCA.

"It's not something you can do once and then you're always a Main Street city," Walker said.