By Joel Hall
After nearly five years of delays and setbacks, the city of Jonesboro is finally making significant progress on its long-awaited Streetscape project.
Mayor Luther Maddox, who appears to be making good on his pre-election promise to move the project forward, said the city is nearly finished purchasing rights-of-way needed to begin its downtown revitalization effort, and upon final approval from the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), will seek construction companies to begin Phase 1 of the project.
"The whole concept started in 2003, so when I came into office in 2008, we were doing a lot of talking and nothing else," said Maddox, in reference to the project. "This week should be the end of any acquisitions of the rights-of-way," he said on Friday.
"Once the final review on the rights-of-way plans are approved by the Georgia DOT, we will issue our bid package," Maddox continued. "Once the bid package is approved and issued, then the contractors will bid on the job."
Maddox said Phase 1 of Streetscape is expected to begin "in the first quarter of 2009" and "according to DOT personnel ... should take approximately 18 months, from start to finish."
Phase 1 involves burying utility lines on both sides of the railroad tracks in downtown Jonesboro. The construction will take place on State Route 54 in Jonesboro, from North Main Street to College Street, and on North McDonough Street, from Watterson Street to College Street.
Two subsequent phases of the project, which include greenery, curb, and sidewalk improvements, will take place after the first phase is completed. Maddox said a "rough estimate" of the final cost of the project is $3 million.
While Maddox is uncertain that Streetscape will be a driving economic engine for the city of Jonesboro, he believes it will give people and businesses "a reason to come downtown." He said the city lost much of its pedestrian traffic with the creation of the Harold R. Banke Justice Center.
"We lost a big impetus for downtown Jonesboro when the courthouse was approved to be put over on Tara Boulevard," said Maddox. "All I can do is the best with what I have inherited." He said that he would like to see a "good mixture" of "money-making businesses" enter the downtown area.
The last seven months of Maddox's time as mayor have been a time of relative calm for the Jonesboro City Council. In the previous administration, under former mayor, Joy Day, many efforts to move Streetscape forward were halted due to infighting and an inability of the city council to agree on many issues.
Maddox believes increased cooperation between the mayor and council have contributed to the progress of Streetscape. "If everybody is doing what they think is best for the city, if they don't have any personal agendas, that's the way that things will operate on the council," said Maddox.
Other members of the council are pleased with the progress of the project, which they believe is long overdue. "This has been stalled for a long time," said Councilman Clarence Mann. "I'm ready for it to move forward." Mann attributed much of the delay to bureaucracy and GDOT "paperwork."
While unsure about "how effective [Streetscape] will be in bringing businesses" to downtown Jonesboro, Mann is "optimistic" the improvements will bring more tourists to the downtown area.
Councilman Roger Grider said that before January of this year, the city did not have access to certain grants and money from the 2008 Special Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST), which they are now using to fund the project. With the funds in place, he said the city is "doing everything we can to make it move forward."
"We're hoping to reap some economic benefits out of it, but I wouldn't want to make any projections with the economy being as slow as it is," said Grider. However, he said the project will include new signage that will "bring attention" to Stately Oaks Plantation and the Road to Tara Museum.
Maddox said that plans to integrate the proposed Macon-to-Lovejoy commuter rail line into Jonesboro's Streetscape "have not come into the conversation" at this time.
"I think it will add something ... but nobody knows where that is going, yet," said Maddox. "We're not going to hang our hat on it."