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destination downtown
Story by Audrey Hanes; photo by Amy Long

Several years ago, a handful of Jonesboro residents began to envision a Downtown Jonesboro that would not only serve as a cultural and business hotspot for the city, but one that would also be certified as one of Arkansas’ official Main Street Communities. The Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Cari White and St. Bernards Regional Medical Center’s Laura Pickens saw the need to reform the board for the Downtown Jonesboro Association (DJA), and Clay Young, along with many other community leaders, put in the time and effort to begin to revitalize the downtown area. The movement’s newest addition, Rick Bray, was recently hired to be the executive director of the board, and he can’t wait to give back to his native city.

“Our board gives all of the credit to a few brave visionaries that revitalized Downtown Jonesboro just a few short years ago,” said Shelli Wood, a jewelry designer and metal smith with Sam Jones IV Studio who serves as president of DJA. “They were the first to invest and to execute a plan that would allow for a thriving downtown.

“Fast forward to present day and the Downtown Jonesboro Association wants to help facilitate the next phase. We need the entire city to support this growth and make Downtown Jonesboro a destination for Arkansas.”

Bray is eager to begin working with a driven downtown board that in addition to Wood, White and Pickens, includes Jared Woodard of the Reddick Moss Firm, Angie Fegtly of Orr, Lamb & Fegtly, Liberty Banks’ Blake Johnson, Lisa A. Lynn of The Jonesboro Sun, Arkansas State University’s Nikki Arnell, Herb Lawrence of the ASU Small Business and Technology Development Center, Audrey Lott Poff of Occasions Publishing Group, former Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce President Henry P. Jones III, Dr. Carl J. Abraham of Infectious Disease Control Consultants and TheArts@311, Sara Howell of the Sara Howell Studio and Gallery and Wixson Huffstetler of the City of Jonesboro, Parks and Recreation.

Bray was born and raised in Jonesboro and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in geography from ASU before earning his master’s degree in city planning from the University of Memphis. He brings many years of retail and city planning experience to his new position and says that being a part of a Downtown Jonesboro that consists of once-empty storefronts filled with new businesses, a range of dining and entertainment experiences, special retail services and residential offerings that fill a niche that is currently lacking in Jonesboro is what he looks forward to most about being a part of the DJA.

“When I walk downtown streets, I am transported to when I was a kid,” he said. “This was our shopping experience. Sidewalks were busy with folks going to and from the multitude of businesses that existed at that time. ... Those memories are now some 50 years old, but no less vivid; that is what I would like to revive.

“I see my office as the first stop for a potential downtown business owner. With the information gathered into our office, whether that be zoning restrictions, sign requirements, future area plans or just who to talk to about developing a business plan, we would serve as a one-stop-shop. Being a Main Street Arkansas Community has its benefits. They have specialists on staff that we could partner a new business with.”

Wood said that because the DJA is 100 percent volunteer and because all of the members have full-time careers, Bray’s role will be to guide and direct the passionate group in its mission to become a Main Street Community and to help the Downtown Jonesboro area achieve economic stability and growth.

“He is bringing in the love of his hometown and (wants) to see it the way he remembered when he was a small boy – but with (the) modern and hip feel that Jonesboro is growing into,” said Wood of Bray. “He is looking forward to meeting the business owners and residents of downtown so that he can work with those individuals in getting all of Jonesboro and (the) towns and cities beyond behind downtown.”

In addition to hiring Bray, DJA is working with Mayor Harold Perrin and other city officials to become a part of city projects such as Jonesboro Vision 2030; it has also collaborated with The Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce, the City of Jonesboro, ASU, the Jonesboro Advertising and Promotions Committee and several other strong businesses and organizations within Jonesboro, all of which have helped the committee complete 70 percent of the first phase of the capital funding campaign it launched last year.

Recently, DJA added a fifth point to the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program’s typical Main Street Four Point Approach called “Destination Downtown Jonesboro.” Members of this committee must be residents and/or business owners in Downtown Jonesboro, allowing those who live, work and play downtown to have more of a voice in the board’s efforts.

“Every successful city needs something unique. ... We feel that the heart of Jonesboro is downtown and it is certainly where the unique exists,” said Wood. “We have individuals that have created such a fantastic world downtown, and there is still so much opportunity that exists. People have gone to great lengths to create one-of-a-kind restaurants, retail stores and galleries that have their own personality. It is only the beginning, and it is there for all of Jonesboro to support and enjoy.”

Bray believes that downtowns are the heart of all cities, and just like a human body, a healthy and functioning heart contributes to the overall health and vitality of a growing city.

“I have been given a great honor and awesome responsibility as the executive director of the DJA,” he said. “Nothing would give me a greater sense of satisfaction than to know that the businesses and residents that thrive into the future will be creating a host of new memories and experiences. I get to give back to the town that gave me life, I can’t think of anything more important as a citizen.”

For more information about DJA, visit downtownjonesboro.com.