Jonesboro designates its downtown as arts and entertainment district

Jonesboro is stepping up its economic development efforts by launching its first arts and entertainment district.

The Clayton County city of around 4,800 people plans to designate its downtown Main Street community as its  central hub of restaurant and recreation activities as well as the humanities and live shows, said Jonesboro City Manager Ricky Clark.  

The designation will enable the city to expand permitting for businesses or organizations seeking to move into the area, restrict construction of incompatible operations such as gas stations or auto repair shops, and establish a zone for food trucks at Lee Street Park to attract downtown diners.

“As we continue to strive to create a destination downtown, most cities have some kind of arts and entertainment embedded within that area,” Clark said. “We wanted to make sure we had different offerings to add to our destination palette.”

Creation of the new district comes as Jonesboro, like many cities across the metro area, is reviving its downtown to attract newcomers as well as longtime residents who want walkable communities with park paths, mom-and-pop retail and entertainment that doesn’t require big arenas or music halls.

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The city, in writing the ordinance, acknowledged the downward spiral of its downtown over the past 40 years, saying it has suffered from a lack of investment that has characterized much of the area south metro Atlanta. 

The launch of an arts and entertainment district in Jonesboro is part of the Clayton County city's "Blueprint Jonesboro" economic development initiative. (Alyssa Pointer)

“This effectively eliminated Jonesboro as a recipient of a very significant consumer market generated by East Coast travelers and local commuters,” the city wrote in commentary about the need for the ordinance.

Attracting food trucks that operate more frequently than the occasional festival will be key to getting the entertainment district off the ground, Clark said. Having food trucks parked at Lee Street Park — Clark said he has a list of more than 60 such mobile eateries that have participated in festivals over the years — could make the area a dining focal point and signal to restaurateurs a demand for sit-down establishments.

“Our citizens, tourists and people coming into the city for work can go to that food truck park, instead of having to drive elsewhere to get food for lunchtime,” Clark said. 

In addition, the city will reach out to the arts community to lure galleries and public art to complement murals the city has installed on walls throughout downtown, Clark said. 

If the plan is to succeed, Clark said he needs to duplicate the actions being taken by the owners of two downtown law firms that recently vacated their Main Street offices.

“The owner of one of the buildings wants to put a Mexican restaurant in their space while the other is looking at a bakery,” Clark said. “So you’re starting to see the transition.”

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