Friday, January 20, 2017

TOP STORY >> Mayor: City potential being realized

Leader staff writer

In giving his annual state- of-the-city report, Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher reflected, “Upon reading the department directors’ end-of-the-year re-ports, I was amazed at all the activities and accomplishments in each of the city departments. The workload for many was massive.”

He told the council Thursday night that for years he has said that no city in the state had the potential that Jacksonville had.

“We are now starting to see the potential turn into reality, making these exciting times for our city,” Fletcher said.

The mayor told the city council that when he’s with the base commander welcoming new service members to Little Rock Air Force Base, the commander tells the new arrivals that the air base is “no sleepy hollow, and neither is the city of Jacksonville.”

The mayor said the most obvious sign of progress is the highway expansion everyone sees on a daily basis.

“When completed the six lanes will bring us a much safer highway segment that has in the past been one of the most dangerous spots in our highway system,” the mayor said, adding, “No doubt this construction has brought inconvenience to people, but the long- term benefits it will provide to our community in the end will be worth it all.”

Fletcher took time to praise the council for passing funds for capital improvements. Part of those funds, $2.1 million, were used to purchase two new pumper trucks and a ladder truck for the city’s fire department, replacing vehicles that where being used “well beyond their usefulness.”

“If I may say so without being prejudiced,” the mayor exclaimed, “They are the most beautiful fire trucks in the state, possibly the nation.”

Fletcher said plans are in the works for a new baseball and softball complex. He said something needed to be done as Jacksonville’s reputation for being a great place to have a tournament was faltering because of “cancellations of many tournaments in recent years due to flooding from Bayou Meto into Dupree Park and the economic impact it has had on the city. It is necessary to look to and plan for the future.”

The mayor cited hockey legend Wayne Gretzky whose advice to young players was “to skate where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.”

Fletcher said the city is looking at ways to revitalize downtown. “According to experts,” the mayor told the council and those attending the meeting, “If downtown redevelopment is done right, it will have an economic impact on home values within an easy six block radius of Main Street.”

Fletcher said the city is growing and new businesses are coming in.

SIG Sauer announced it was building an ammunition plant off General Samuels that will employ 50 people. That number has already increased to 125. “We are excited and proud that SIG Sauer has already made plans for expansion and are optimistic about their future in Jacksonville,” the mayor said.

Add to that a Hardees’s, A Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, Pho and More restaurant and CM Smoke barbeque restaurant and Hibbett’s Sports, all opening last year.

Plus, the mayor said, one of Jacksonville’s older shopping centers that contained the city’s original Walmart location and later became Knight’s Super Foods, was sold to Steve Edwards in 2016 who gutted the 42,000 square foot store and renovated it into one of the “nicest and finest grocery stores and fuel stations in Jacksonville.”

And then there’s the new school district.

“Not having a new school built in over 30 years under Pulaski County Special School District, the new Jacksonville district has this past year cleared the grounds, developed the plans and will break ground this summer on a new $60 million high school complex and a $16.5 million elementary.”