The city of Jonesboro is taking a page out of the downtown revival playbooks of Duluth, Suwanee and Lawrenceville.
The Clayton County seat is investing hundreds of thousands of dollars to renovate downtown buildings, build parks and create a more pedestrian-friendly center city to drive resident, business and tourist foot traffic.
“The key to any successful downtown is making it walkable,” Jonesboro City Manager Ricky Clark said recently during a tour of the new Lee Street Park, which has become a centerpiece in the town’s revival.
Jonesboro, a tiny city of about 4,800 residents with a downtown less than a mile wide, is making the changes as south metro leaders try to offer more reasons why residents and businesses should move south of I-20. They are offering incentives at business parks, reworking congested corridors and visiting cities such as Suwanne and Duluth to get a template to energize their downtowns.
“The only place for people to come that is still affordable is the southside of the region. You don’t deal with the traffic. And as a bonus, you’re only 15 miles away from anywhere you want to go in the world,” Clark said, referring to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, which is in Clayton County.
Bonnie Shekarabi, project manager for the soon-to-open Fig Tree Cafe on Main Street, said a thriving downtown is critical to making a community attractive.
“We’re putting together a nice mix of options here so that when someone parks, they can get out and do a couple of things, like get a cup of coffee, go shopping and hit a museum,” she said.
Jonesboro started its revitalization in 2015 with the construction of Lee Street Park, murals painted on brick walls along Main Street and the demolition of blighted buildings along its historic Broad Street, once the home to bawdy saloons in the late 1800s.
Last month the city started the second round of development, includes constructing trails, a second park to offer more downtown greenspace and a new government building to house the Jonesboro Police Department and City Hall.
Jared Lombard, a senior principal planner for the Atlanta Regional Commission, said revitalizing the town square is not only good for cities, it’s smart governance.
ARC provides about $1 million of the grants to metro Atlanta cities annually, including $154,000 it has given Jonesboro in two grants, Lombard said. Municipalities match the grants at 20 percent.
“We are seeing the revitalization of downtowns throughout the region,” he said. “People are seeking that community identity.”
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