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Main Street director seeks unity

By Ed Brock

Kathryn Lookofsky says she's here to work for the Jonesboro community, and to get her job done she needs the community to work for her, too.

As of April 5, Lookofsky has been on the job as the city's first Main Street director with the goal of getting Jonesboro certified as a participant in the Georgia Main Street Program. That program takes a four-point approach to downtown commercial district revitalization, an approach that is espoused by the national Main Street Program based in Washington, D.C.

The points are design, organization, promotion and economic restructuring.

Design involves enhancing the physical appearance of the district through rehabilitating historic structures and encouraging appropriate new construction. Organization involves building consensus and cooperation among the people and groups involved in the revitalization process. Promotion means marketing the district to potential customers and investors and economic restructuring means strengthening the district's existing economic base while finding new opportunities.

Basically, Lookofsky said, it means looking at economic development from all sides.

"That cohesion of the different angles helps spur economic development in the city," Lookofsky said.

Lookofsky, 30, was the director of the Main Street Program in Hillsborough, N.H. Her success there was one reason why the city hired her for the $40,000 Main Street Director position, Jonesboro City Manager Jon Walker said.

"Her ability to generate private capital was what caught our attention," Walker said.

If Jonesboro is certified by the Main Street Program the city will have an edge in applying for state and federal grants as well as becoming more attractive to private investors, Walker said. The Georgia Department of Community Affairs' Office of Downtown and Community Services sponsors the Georgia Main Street Program.

Originally from Kentucky, Lookofsky lives in Decatur. She received her bachelor's degree from Agnes Scott College in Decatur and her master's degree in public administration with a focus on urban economic development from Georgia State University.

Since starting her new job, Lookofsky has been researching grant opportunities for another city project, the Liveable Centers Initiative, and building an inventory of buildings in the city that will be used to provide information to potential businesses. For example, Lookofsky said, if an investor comes to the city in search of a location for a new coffee shop the inventory would provide information on each building's square footage and existing facilities.

And Lookofsky has been meeting with local citizens, getting together the organization stressed in the Main Street approach.

"It's not just my baby, it belongs to the community and it's going to take all of us to accomplish it," Lookofsky said.

So far Lookofsky has impressed Clayton County Convention & Visitors Bureau President/CEO Stacey Dickson, who said she applauds the city for pursuing the Main Street Program.

"I understand (Lookofsky) did quite a lot of good where she came from," said Dickson, whose office is in the old train depot on Main Street. "Kathryn has inherited a real diamond in the rough."

Main Street merchant Jo Lynne McEwen is hoping that Lookofsky and the Main Street Program will help her flagging business at her two novelty shops.

"She seems like she's learning about the city and trying to determine what's what," McEwen said about Lookofsky.

WillPrint, Inc. owner Don Williams, who has done business in downtown Jonesboro for 11 years, said he hasn't met Lookofsky but he "knows she's out there." Williams said he wonders what the program will actually do for the city.

"Anything that would improve the city is good, but how's it going to improve the city?" Williams said. "I think we need a lot of help. Businesses are dying down here."

McDonough is in the Main Street Program and Hampton is part of the parallel Georgia Better Hometown Program that is aimed at cities with populations under 5,000. Walker said previously that Jonesboro's position as the county seat should qualify it for the Main Street Program even though the city's population is around 4,000.

Walker said the applications for the Main Street Program are due in February and after the application is received it may take several months before a Main Street Program team comes to town to judge Jonesboro's eligibility. Walker and Lookofsky said there is no timetable for earning the Main Street certification.

"It doesn't happen overnight," Lookofsky said. "The speed of this depends on how supportive we can get the community to be."

Lookofsky said she is looking for people to join the 7-member Downtown Development Authority, a legal entity composed primarily of professionals, as well as members of the less formal Main Street Board. The board should be diverse and comprised of young and old, male and female and from all economic classes and ethnic backgrounds.

"We want people from all aspects of the community," Lookofsky said.

Lookofsky is also open to feedback from the community, both good and bad. She can be reached at (770) 478-3800 or at MainStreet@JonesboroGa.com.