Jonesboro architect Joel Aviles explains one of the renovation proposals for Lee Street Park at a public meeting Monday. A renovation planning committee, which includes Aviles, has put together two proposed plans for the park. (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)
JONESBORO — In the end, the battle over Jonesboro’s Lee Street Park may turn out to be over parking.
When the city began gathering input about how to renovate the park earlier this year, it appeared its basketball courts might be shown the door along with its football and baseball fields. That’s because a majority of respondents to the city’s initial survey recommended getting rid of the basketball courts.
But, two proposed renovation plans presented Monday by the city’s park renovation committee show basketball and tennis courts are staying. The question for city leaders now is whether they want a large parking lot in the middle of the park.
“Nothing is set in stone here,” said Councilwoman Pat Sebo, a member of the committee. “There’s a certain amount of tweaking that can be done to these plans.”
After months of debate over what amenities a renovated Lee Street Park would have, Monday’s meeting seemed to lack some of the sizzle of previous public meetings. There was no argument about the committee’s decision to include basketball courts in both proposals. Most of the questions focused on the main difference in the plans — parking.
Under both plans, the tennis and basketball courts would be located on the corner of Lee and Spring streets, although the number of tennis courts would be reduced from four to two. There would also be a walking path, amphitheaters, two open field spaces, a concession stand, restrooms, a water fountain military and public safety memorial, a playground, a gazebo, trees and a farmer’s market stand in both proposals.
“We took the elements you guys had indicated on the forms you had completed that you were most interested in having,” said Sebo. “We took those elements and configured them in two different plans for Lee Street Park. I’m hoping out of those two, one of them will be pleasing to you.
“Not everybody is going to get exactly what they want, not everything is going to be pleasing to everybody, but I think overall — with everything we’ve got included in it — it’s going to be very beautiful,” she continued.
Each plan also calls for the narrowing of Lee Street so parking can be added along the periphery of at least parts of the park. Speed humps will be added on the street to reduce the speed at which people will drive past the park.
“Lee Street is very wide — it’s over-paved really,” said Jonesboro architect Joel Aviles, who sat on the committee and drew up the plans. “With very little amount of paving, We can create a lot of parking spaces and, at the same time, decrease the width of the street. By making it smaller, people will tend to slow down more.”
However, “Proposal 1” includes a parking lot in the middle of the park. “Proposal 2” removed that lot and replaces it by adding more periphery parking on Lee Street, and moves the gazebo and playground while adding a splash pad for children to create more of a town square look which the city lacks.
That change will also let the city install a raised, covered multipurpose stage for large events and a separate, uncovered stage for smaller events.
Aviles said “Proposal 1” would include 96 parking spaces, while “Proposal 2” would include 86 spaces.
But some of the concerns about the parking situation focused on what would be done about teachers from Lee Street Elementary School and students from the Open Campus High School at the Eula Ponds Perry Center for Learning.
The elementary school is across the street from the park, and the learning center is next to it.
Resident Jack Bruce also raised concerns about how parking would be handled for events held at the park.
“So the maximum you could have come is maybe two or three per car,” said Bruce.
Sebo said people could also use parking areas at neighboring facilities since many events held at the park would take place on weekends when schools are not in session and many county offices are closed.
“They can walk,”said Sebo. “They could park at the library. They could park at the Perry Center. That’s what you have now.”
“But the times I’ve been to events at the park, people have parked right there,” said Bruce, referring to a parking lot currently located in the park. “I didn’t see them parking downtown or getting a ride or anything else.”
Jonesboro resident Arlene Charles said she preferred “Proposal 1” because it had more parking, but she added she was happy with both plans. Charles has lived in the city for 10 years and she said she’s ready to see renovation work begin at the park.
“My special thing was that they have the basketball courts because I had heard several people say they probably would not have it anymore,” said Charles.
The next step in the renovation process is to present both plans to the Jonesboro City Council, possibly as early as next month. However, Mayor Joy Day said there may be some planning issues that first need to be addressed, such as what types of stone to use and what types of plants and trees to plant in the park.
The renovations will be paid for using Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds.