Jonesboro: Getting Serious About Going Downtown (Main Street Preservation | Winner 20,000+)

Jonesboro, like many progressive cities, is serious about downtown revitalization and historic preservation. Those Arkansans whose familiarity with the city begins and ends with Arkansas State University might be surprised to learn that Jonesboro — seat of Craighead County and de facto regional “capital” — has a thriving downtown scene.

Jonesboro is growing all over — with about 68,000 folks, it is Arkansas’ fifth most populous city according to the 2010 census. But its downtown remains the focus. Recent revitalization efforts have included nightlife, new restaurants and shopping, an arts scene and even the development of loft spaces.

While a downtown revitalization program was begun more than a decade ago, a new, comprehensive preservation plan will ensure downtown continues to thrive.

Jonesboro’s efforts to bring its downtown back to life and make sure it stays healthy have earned the city a 2012 Arkansas Business City of Distinction award for Main Street preservation.

“The city of Jonesboro is in the process of finalizing a 20-year comprehensive plan,” said Chrystal Glisson, who manages the office of Mayor Harold Perrin. “This plan will act as a road map for future leaders of Jonesboro. It covers the current and future needs of the city as they pertain to economic development, infrastructure and quality of life. City leaders are working to ensure that the growth and success of downtown Jonesboro is continued for many years.”

The revitalization of downtown was initiated to breathe new economic life into the area and help provide preservation of downtown historic buildings. The preservation of the old “Winter Wonderland” building on Main Street got the ball rolling, and it hasn’t stopped. Several downtown buildings now are listed on the state and national historic registers.

“The goal of that project was to energize the revitalization of downtown in hopes that other projects would follow,” Glisson said. “In the years that followed, many large-scale renovation projects were undertaken by private investors.”

Plus, the city installed three free parking lots and completed a downtown streetscape project with decorative light poles, planter boxes, sidewalk and crosswalk paving stones and other sidewalk enhancements and a decorative pond.

Glisson said the success of these projects is evident by the amount of foot traffic now seen downtown and continued private investments in the area.

“They’ve provided a blueprint,” she said.

Big events have followed the crowds downtown as well, thanks to the efforts of the Downtown Jonesboro Association. Jonesboro hosts the annual Biker Classic that draws riders and others from not just the region but from around the country. Activities include a motorcycle show, music, food and more. The 2012 Biker Classic drew more than 5,000 and raised more than $70,000 for the Jonesboro Police Department’s DARE anti-drug program.

The annual Downtown Jonesboro BBQ Festival, better known as BBQ Fest, is in its fourth year and includes a barbecue contest, free music (the inaugural event featured headliner Night Ranger), food, art, kids’ activities and more.

City officials estimate more than 10,000 attended that first event and were expecting a crowd of 18,000 plus to see a free show from .38 Special at the 2012 BBQ Fest.

Downtown also is home to the Forum, another historically significant building now used as a community theater and funded by the city. It hosts events ranging from plays and musicals to art, music and dance classes sponsored by the Foundation of Arts.

“The downtown community remains one of the major economic hubs of the city,” Glisson said. “Moreover, its revitalization has breathed new life into the artistic and cultural life of the city. As successful as these efforts have been, the future is looking even brighter for Jonesboro’s downtown community.”