'Streetscape' project broken into phases

By Ed Brock

Linda Summerlin imagines a day when Main Street in Jonesboro will thrive again with a brand new look under the planned Downtown Streetscape project.

The widened sidewalks will be paved with brick, street lights and trash cans will be decorative and trees will spread their shade-giving branches over benches and perhaps café style tables.

"You'll be able to sit and drink some coffee and talk with your friends," said Summerlin, executive director of Arts Clayton.

Summerlin's daydream will become a reality, according to city officials. It just might take a little longer to complete.

Originally the Streetscape project, funded to a large degree by the Atlanta Regional Commission, was going to redevelop about 2.9 miles of Main Street and McDonough Street between North Avenue and South Avenue in one large effort. However, an increase in the estimated building costs from about $2.5 million to over $3.5 million and the evaporation of nearly $1 million promised by the county have caused the city to adjust their plans, said City Manager Jon Walker.

"We're asking for half a million dollars more (from the ARC) and we're going to split the project in half," Walker said.

Under the new plan, Walker said, Phase I of the project will include all the same design features on Main Street and McDonough Street but would only extend about .88 miles, according to a letter from Jonesboro Mayor Joy Day to ARC Director of Planning Tom Weyandt, from College Street to Spring Street.

Phase II would include the remaining work.

"We will request money for Phase II later," Walker said.

So far the city has "encumbered" about $476,450, meaning that money has been spent or contracted for to cover planning. The total cost of the project is now expected to be about $4.3 million, with Phase I costing about $2.4 million. The city will pay about $675,215 after all the grants.

The ARC has already provided a $1 million grant for the project. The county had been expected to pay $1 million more from money collected by its Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. However, after paying the first year's installment of $300,000 the county is now refusing to commit any more money for now, Walker said.

On Monday night the city council approved the request for the additional $500,000 from the ARC but Walker said it may be November before they know if the city will get the money.

"If we don't get the extra money then we'll probably make it a three-phase project," Walker said.

That would mean the first phase would only include Main Street.

If that occurs the project may actually start sooner, Walker said, possibly by spring of 2006. If it remains a two-phase project the work will probably begin the following fall, and it could take between four and six months to complete.

During that time there would have to be some street closings and inconvenience, but Walker said the plan is worth the wait and the extra effort.

"It's going to increase accessibility to downtown," Walker said.

Along with the landscaping the project will put utilities like phone and electrical cables underground, would further the city's storm water drainage plan and make the downtown area more accessible to handicapped people.

Previously Jonesboro business owner Jo Lynne McEwen, who operates "Simple Pleasures" next door to Arts Clayton, said she was concerned about the aspect of the plan that would reduce the number of parking spaces along the street. The current diagonal parking along South Main Street in front of buildings there would be changed to parallel parking, but the diagonal parking on the railroad track side of the road would now stay the same.

Also, the Streetscape project is part of the Livable Centers Initiative that is supposed to include a new parking deck. It would also feature a "town plaza" behind the row of joined buildings on Main Street that includes Arts Clayton and McEwen's building.

Summerlin said Arts Clayton moved to its current location in order to be an anchor for the future development of the city's main drag. She also served on the committee that helped plan the LCI.

"I hope I live long enough to see the whole thing implemented," Summerlin said. "The Streetscape project will be the beginning of all the projects coming together."