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Residents splintered over Lee Street Park

Jonesboro resident Carl Helton offers his input on what the city should do to renovate Lee Street Park during a public comment meeting.

Jonesboro resident Carl Helton offers his input on what the city should do to renovate Lee Street Park during a public comment meeting.

— Jonesboro residents have seemingly a million different ideas for what Lee Street Park should become.

Some say the 6.5-acre park should be a place where adults can come to relax without having to deal with children. Others think it should be a place where families can spend a day having fun.

One city councilman wants it transformed into a military monument and “Gone With the Wind”-themed wedding destination where much of the greenspace would be replaced with concrete.

About the only thing residents can agree on is that it should be what it basically already is — a place that can be used by the city’s residents.

“With the big park close by, behind the county police department, I don’t think we need any more ballfields since they’re already there [at that other park],” said resident Carl Helton. “This should be something just for the people of, basically, Jonesboro.”

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Curt Yeomans

Jonesboro City Councilman Bobby Wiggins outlines his "Gone With The Wind"-themed vision for what Lee Street Park could become during a public input meeting Monday.

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Curt Yeomans

Jonesboro Mayor Joy Day solicits public comment to see what residents want done with Lee Street Park during an input meeting Monday.

This week marked the beginning of the city’s efforts to collect public input on what should be done with the park. A year and a half ago, Jonesboro officials weren’t planning on taking over Lee Street Park. However, that’s what they got when county officials unexpectedly dumped it in their laps last year amidst a service delivery agreement and Local Option Sales Tax dispute.

Mayor Joy Day hosted a public comment meeting Monday where residents could offer their thoughts on the park’s future and fill out a survey. The city is asking residents to continue offering comments by filling out a survey at city hall at 124 North Avenue.

“It’s hard for me to pick and choose so that’s why we want public input and our council helping us to do this because I think with a good mix of people, I think we’ll get some good ideas,” said Day.

The surveys ask residents whether the existing football and baseball fields and tennis and basketball courts should be refurbished or eliminated. They are also asked if they like the idea of adding an amphitheater, farmers market, recreation area, a man-made lake, fountain, walking track, picnic area park benches or more trees and revamped parking to the park.

Day said the city can pay for improvements with Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds, but it would have to find other funds to pay for park operations.

One of the features some residents and city council members suggested was an amphitheater where the city could hold its Jazz Under the Stars concert and its summer concert series. Some residents said it could be used for other events throughout the year.

“With an amphitheater, that’d give us the stage we need for the stuff during the summertime, but you can put a screen that could come from the top of the theater down and people could sit in the grass and watch the movies in the fall,” said Helton.

Some people said the park could host festivals as well.

“At the holidays, the parade could end there,” said Beverly Lester.

Day said she’s heard from residents who want a park that is more adult-friendly and devoid of attractions for kids.

“I got an email from a citizen who asked if we could please not put playground equipment down there because we have two other parks with playground equipment,” she said.

City council members also chimed in with their own input about the park’s future.

The biggest point of contention was whether the park’s basketball courts should stay or be removed. Every afternoon, the courts are packed with people who come to play hoops until the sun sets.

Council members Pat Sebo and Wallace Norrington said they felt it was the only one of the park’s athletic facilities that should remain.

“They’re there all of the time,” Sebo said. “That’s something that those men, women and children — they love those basketball courts and they are there all of the time.”

However, Councilman Randy Segner was critical of the people who used the courts and recommended they go with everything else.

“While I agree that the basketball courts are heavily used, they — let me try and say this in the right way — I want to have things in the park that will draw other people into the park and I think some folks are intimidated by a lot of the people playing basketball in the park in the daytime, with the language and no shirts on,” Segner said. “It’s just a rough-looking crowd.”

In one of the more entertaining moments, Councilman Bobby Wiggins stood up and suggested putting in an event center, amphitheater and a monument to fallen military service members and public safety officers from the county. He pointed to a map of the park to illustrate his vision.

He then pulled a tape player out of his pocket and began playing the theme to “Gone With The Wind” while pitching his main idea to turn the center of park into an outdoor, Tara-themed wedding destination.

“People come to Jonesboro looking for Tara and I think we need to give it to them,” said Wiggins. “People could rent this and get married under the stars at Tara house, and from this parking lot, to this parking lot, we could have a little drive-way coming around and a horse-drawn carriage could come up to take them off.”

“And Bobby will never go hungry again,” said Sebo in a response rich with a thick southern accent.