By Joel Hall
After seven years of planning, discussion and debate, the City of Jonesboro officially broke ground, Thursday, on its long-awaited downtown Streetscape project.
Current and past city officials ushered in the start of the $6 million downtown renovation project with a groundbreaking ceremony at the corner of Main and College streets.
Jonesboro Mayor Luther Maddox said the first phase of the project will cost approximately $2.7 million and involve burying utility lines along South Main Street, between College and Spring streets. He said the work, which is expected to begin next week, was the result of the collective work of several city administrations.
"This has been seven years in the making," Maddox said Thursday. "Everybody here had a part in this. We're going to have to have a few little bumps [in the roads] for the next 12 months, but after that, I think it will be something that everybody in Jonesboro will be proud of. In 365 days from today, we should be completed with the first phase."
Present at Thursday's ceremony was former, three-term Mayor Joy Day, who envisioned the Streetscape project several years ago. She said Thursday was "an extremely proud day" for her.
"I'm extremely gratified and thankful to our council and mayor that they saw fit to go forward with this project because it has been a lifelong dream," Day said. "I first had this dream in 1971, when I came to Jonesboro, to get the old courthouse uncovered, to bury the utilities and get new sidewalks and so forth. I initiated this project, I'm proud of it, and I am very excited for the citizens of Jonesboro and Clayton County because Jonesboro is a part of Clayton County."
Former City Council Member Linda Wenz said that as a result of inaction on the city's Streetscape project, the city returned a $250,000 grant from the Atlanta Regional Commission during the second half of her term on the council.
"I put it [Streetscape] on the agenda for the last two years of my term and it was delayed," Wenz said. "I couldn't be happier that they finally got around to it. I'm sorry that we had to give $250,000 back to the Atlanta Regional Commission, but I'm just glad we're starting."
While the intent of the Streetscape project is to bring more people and businesses into the downtown area, Day said the benefits of the project will depend on the actions of the current mayor and council.
"The steps that the council and mayor take in following other communities that have done downtown revitalizations and their willingness to follow that lead ... I think that will be the determining factor," Day said. "I think getting in the Better Hometown program or the Main Street program, networking with other cities, having a Downtown Development Authority [could enhance the project]. You can look at places like Fayetteville, Griffin ... even the little City of Zebulon has a Downtown Development Authority. It can be done. People still want to come downtown, walk around, and have a small-town atmosphere."
The Jonesboro City Council voted to dissolve its Downtown Development Authority in November of 2006.
Current City Councilman Roger Grider said the county's decision to move its court operations from the Historic Clayton County Courthouse to the Harold R. Banke Justice Center destroyed much of the city's downtown commerce. He said the Streetscape project will help with the city's "street appeal," but said a new attraction would be needed to bring pedestrian traffic and business back to the downtown area.
"I don't think Streetscape, in itself, is the answer," Grider said. "We lost the Mexican restaurant ... We have 'Gone with the Wind,' but we are going to have to find something more modern to bring people down here. In order to revitalize downtown, we are going to have to get some younger people in, but I think it's a slow and gradual process. I think it can be a vibrant downtown again. What we are going to have to do is find something unique to bring them down here."