Friday, September 11, 2015

EDITORIAL >> Saving Jacksonville

A new group called the Downtown Jacksonville Business Association recently held its first meeting. Members include several Jacksonville business owners and concerned residents who want to improve the appeal of downtown, which has lost several shops and restaurants to areas closer to Hwy. 67/167.

Mayor Gary Fletcher and Alderman Barbara Mashburn organized the new endeavor. The mayor has long hoped to usher in an economic revival for the city. Let’s hope the Downtown Jacksonville Business Association, along with the city’s new school district, will start things off.

The group will meet again at 7 p.m. Monday at The Game Store at 915 W. Main St. in the old Hastings, where members will continue brainstorming about what is needed to attract people back to the city’s old heart. It’s important work that we’re excited to see happening.

This newspaper once suggested the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce join the Arkansas Downtown Network, which awards local businesses grants to improve their storefronts, supports beautification projects and even offers general business advice to help revitalize downtown areas.

Sounds like a perfect match for the Downtown Jacksonville Business Association. The city’s Advertising and Promotions Commission should pay its reasonable membership dues.

The Downtown Jacksonville group should invite a representative from the Arkansas Downtown Network to speak sometime. It will hold a convention to showcase its offerings Monday through Wednesday at the Central Arkansas Library System’s Ron Robinson Theater, 100 River Market Ave. in Little Rock.

Mashburn is known for her efforts to create a historic district along the railroad tracks on North First Street in hopes of saving some of the oldest buildings in town and giving residents a reason to venture out here. She also hopes to build a replica train depot like the original that was removed decades ago.

The area has suffered on both sides of the tracks ever since the city closed the Graham Road railroad crossing, creating a slumlike zone. Businesses closed as traffic declined, and the city awkwardly reroutes drivers for several blocks before they can get to where they’re going.

The city and county should build a less expensive overpass where the Graham Road crossing one was, which will help reopen many of the shuttered businesses. Only then will it make sense to have a historic district there.

Otherwise, visitors to the historic district will look out across the tracks and see abandoned buildings that the city has no plan to help revitalize, and they’ll think Jacksonville is a community that doesn’t care.