By Ed Brock
Officials say that the future is just around the corner in the cities of Jonesboro and Forest Park as both communities move ahead with the Livable Centers Initiative.
Last week the Jonesboro City Council approved the plan for their LCI, a downtown revitalization program funded by the Atlanta Regional Commission, and also approved an application for a $400,000 grant for the engineering of a parking deck that is a primary part of that plan.
In a special-called meeting last Tuesday the Forest Park City Council approved a resolution to seek implementation funding for Phase II of the $2,500,000 Downtown Pedestrian Streetscape Project, a part of the LCI project. Federal funding will make up $2 million of the project and the city plans to ask the county to use money from the recently approved Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for road improvements to pay the $500,000 local match for the grants.
The "streetscaping" of the cities' Main Streets, the addition of wider sidewalks, streetlights and greenery, is something both plans have in common and that will also be the first real change residents will see.
"I would hope that before the year's out to see major construction on Main Street," Forest Park Mayor Chuck Hall said.
Surveyors will be out on Main Street in Forest Park within a month to begin work on the base map as part of Phase I the streetscape project, said Lee Walton, spokesman for Robert & Associates, the firm that is doing the engineering for the project.
After that they'll put together a steering committee and will hopefully begin accepting bids for the project by mid-fall, Walton said, with a ground breaking occurring this time next year.
Work should begin in July on Jonesboro's streetscape project, Jonesboro City Manager Jon Walker said. Expanding the sidewalks in front of "lawyer row" along that city's Main Street will mean changing the angled parking that now exists in front of the historic buildings there into parallel parking.
That will mean the elimination of seven parking spaces there, but when the parking deck is built behind the Heritage Bank on Main Street. The total cost of the parking deck's construction should be around $3 million, and it will include 400 parking spaces and will be "disguised" by some retail business spaces on the first floor.
"That's the first thing we want to do. It ties in with getting parking downtown for our merchants," Walker said.
Park-and-ride commuters would also use that parking deck, and another planned for the opposite side of the tracks that bisect downtown Jonesboro, if a pivotal aspect of the LCI plan for both cities is approved, that being the Atlanta/Macon commuter rail line.
Putting a commuter rail station downtown would attract more retail businesses back to the downtown area, Jonesboro Mayor Joy Day told members of the Georgia Rail Passenger Authority in a recent meeting.
"At one time, all the lawyers' offices (on Main Street) were full of retailers," Day said.
A plan to construct one leg of the line, extending as far south as Lovejoy, is under consideration in the current session of the Georgia General Assembly.
"I feel like it's looking good (for approval of the plan) right now," said state Rep.?? Mike Barnes, D-??.
The right people are backing the plan, Barnes said, but they're still waiting for Gov. Sonny Perdue's approval.
"I don't think he's against it, he just hasn't put his whole blessing on it," Barnes said.
Other aspects of Jonesboro's LCI plan include a plaza or town green between Main Street, West Mill and Church Streets and Riley way. The Forest Park LCI plan also includes a transportation center, a long park along Main Street and related projects are a planned tram system that would connect the city's downtown and the Atlanta Farmer's Market to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.