Public to see plans for downtown Jonesboro

By Ed Brock

Willis Swint has a lot of thinking to do this week about the future of downtown Jonesboro.

Swint was one of the 16-member "stake holders committee" to get a glimpse of plans to redo downtown Jonesboro presented by representatives from Jordan, Jones & Goulding. The firm presented three plans for what the town center can look like as a result of the Livable Centers Initiative, a project funded by the Atlanta Regional Commission.

"I think it's coming along really well," Swint said, but he declined to pick a favorite from among the three plans. "I still have to do some thinking."

The LCI includes redesigning Jonesboro's downtown area and the city itself to make it a more attractive place to live. That includes functional changes like more sidewalks and proper placement of complimentary facilities along with simple beautification.

Several other cities in the Atlanta area are participating in the project including Forest Park.

In the plans presented by Mack Cain and Abe Abouhamdan of Jordan, Jones & Goulding the basic elements are the same with the difference being primarily questions of location.

They both include a plaza or town green in the area behind the buildings lining Main Street between West Mill and Church streets and Riley Way. Some current buildings, including the city's old fire station on West Mill, would be removed or turned to face the plaza, Jonesboro City Manager Jon Walker said.

"That will be an activity center for people who are walking around town," Walker said. "The idea is people would shop and spend their day there."

Behind the Heritage Bank on Main Street the city would build a parking deck to replace the parking lost to the plaza with some retail shops in front of it.

"The big thing is this parking deck would not be visible from the street," Walker said.

On the green space in front of the old county courthouse on McDonough Road they would put a stage or bandstand near the road for special events. Another, larger parking deck would be built near the old courthouse.

"That would be built when the new commuter rail station comes in," Walker said.

The commuter rail station would be part of the proposed Macon to Atlanta Rail Corridor that would also have stops in Forest Park, Lovejoy and Hampton and is expected to cost around $351 million.

"If the governor would commit the funds they could have it running in three years," Walker said.

Also included in the plans were a new county government annex that would help "frame" the square in front of the courthouse, a relocated "Road to Tara" Museum (the current museum is housed in the old train depot that would become part of the commuter rail station), a cultural arts center and more.

Members of the committee met at the fire station and asked Cain and Abouhamdan about the plans and other things that could be included in the project, such as bike trails.

Cain recommended putting fountains, statues and benches in the project.

"Things people will come to and use," Cain said. "Fountains attract people."

As a result of that attraction businesses near the fountains prosper. Cain cited a case in which a well-known fountain in one town closed for repairs and as a result a nearby sandwich shop suffered a corresponding loss in customers.

Cain and Abouhamdan gave them surveys that must be completed by Thursday, at which time the stakeholders will chose one of the plans.

However, Walker said that all three plans will be available for public viewing at a meeting to be held Monday night from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Jonesboro Volunteer Fire Department headquarters on N. Main Street.