Jonesboro Rotary Club Marks 100 Years with Downtown Plaza

Jonesboro Rotary Club Marks 100 Years with Downtown Plaza
Rotary Club of Jonesboro members mark the start of construction on Centennial Plaza, a $750,000 downtown project that will mark the club's 100th anniversary. (Rotary Club of Jonesboro)

It wasn't a run-of-the-mill Tuesday meeting for the Rotary Club of Jonesboro.

A groundbreaking ceremony kicked off the building phase for the Rotary Club of Jonesboro Centennial Plaza, which is timed for completion when the club celebrates its 100th anniversary in August 2019.

The plaza, not to be confused with a Centennial Park that already exists in Jonesboro, is a Rotary project in partnership with the city. It will be situated directly in front of The Forum Civic Center & Theater, which is on Monroe Street in the downtown district.

Centennial Plaza is designed to be a multi-purpose venue for festivals, markets, outdoor theater and musical acts and is seen as a continuation of the city's downtown revival. 

"We basically instigated the project," said former club president and Centennial Committee Chair Beverly Parker. "In terms of Rotary history, our information, it is kind of traditional within Rotary International that once your club hits a centennial mark they do a project for the community. We're one of the larger clubs in Arkansas so we definitely wanted to work with our community to provide a lasting gift that would be sustainable."

The plaza will have multi-use, permanent awnings and space for food trucks and interactive musical sculptures. The adjacent Noble Building will feature a historical tribute to the Rotary Club, a nod the building's role as Rotary's meeting place from 1919 through the 1950s. 

Parker said the hoped-for completion date will be in the "first half" of 2019, so that the plaza will be ready in time for the club's anniversary.

The price tag for the project, an enhancement of Forum Park, is about $750,000. The club is early in its fundraising stage, Parker said, and has a "long way" to go as it pursues grants and donations.

Bailey Contractors of Jonesboro is making an in-kind donation of its services while the city is donating $250,000 worth of infrastructure improvements in partnership with utility company City Water and Light. The enhancements include improved drainage, removal of overhead electrical wiring in favor of ground wires and a partial street closure that provides more space for the plaza and alleviates street crossing safety issues.

Without the city's commitment the plaza project couldn't have moved forward, Parker said. 

"I have to say that Mayor [Harold] Perrin has been extremely supportive," Parker said. "And there were some things that had to come together with the city to make it happen."

A rendering of the project on the Rotary Club of Jonesboro website depicts an open, circular plaza with the rotary seal inlaid in the center, steps and seating arranged in an amphitheater configuration, performance space and permanent awnings on one side. 

"We did kind of an analysis of what needed to be done in our community," Parker said, "and looking at some of the Downtown Jonesboro Association information as well as what the chamber of commerce had collected, there was a need for a focus on downtown, redevelopment. So we evaluated what type project we might be able to accomplish to assist in downtown redevelopment."

Parker said the downtown location and design of the plaza should be conducive to a range of events, from movies in the park to a downtown farmer's market to go with the farmer's market already held at Arkansas State University. Parker said the vision is one of an inclusive facility that will allow residents to enjoy experiences they previously couldn't.

"We feel very good about where it's located, its ability to help downtown," she said. "Its location will provide a space for the entire community."

Perrin and Rotary District 6150 Governor Nancy Leonhardt were among the guests at Tuesday's groundbreaking.