Jonesboro city leaders hope to build an interactive museum downtown

by George Jared ( 587 views 

Downtown Jonesboro.

For generations, a railroad roundhouse lured locomotives to downtown Jonesboro, and now city officials hope the same building might become a keystone attraction in the area.

City officials are drafting plans to build an interactive museum, similar to the Museum of Discovery in Little Rock, city of Jonesboro Community Development Director Tiffny Calloway told Talk Business & Politics. A rendering of what the building could be turned into is under development, she said.

“It would facilitate greater foot traffic in the downtown area,” she said. “We need a central attraction downtown … all vibrant and successful downtowns have a primary attraction.”

Cost estimates haven’t been developed, but city officials recently visited the interactive museum in Greenville, N.C. It cost about $8 million, Calloway said, adding that any museum in downtown would have to be a public-private partnership.

The first step is to acquire the building. The roundhouse is owned by Union Pacific and there have been negotiations between the city and UP, she said. Calloway is hopeful the company will donate the 23,000-square-foot building, but the city might consider paying for it, she said. No financial terms have been discussed, she added.

Roundhouses were used primarily to maintain steam locomotives, according to The facilities became obsolete by the 1980s when almost all trains were diesel powered, according to American Rails. Calloway believes the region’s rich railroad and agriculture history could incorporated into the museum.

The traditional museum model wouldn’t attract nearly as many people as an interactive museum, Calloway said. Millennials and younger generations like interactive activities and experiences, she said. It might have a science/technology theme or art or something else depending on the private partner’s desires.

A downtown museum could be a tool in the overall economic development of the city, Calloway said, noting that one of the first stops any company makes when it visits a city is the downtown. Quality of life is one of the key factors in luring higher paying jobs and companies.

Millennials are unique among generations in that many of them chose a place to live and then find a job, Calloway said. To keep and recruit the talent, Jonesboro will need to develop art, culture, science, and other offerings, she added.

The museum will likely take years to complete, she said. City officials are hopeful the building will be secured by the end of the year. If the building can be acquired, the next step will be to find a partner or partners.

Revitalization efforts in the heart of Northeast Arkansas’ hub city have been ongoing for several years, according to the Jonesboro Downtown Association. The downtown core area includes Main, Church and Union streets. About 5,000 vehicles pass through this corridor each day. There are at least 125 businesses, and up to 200 people are employed in the core area.

Several festivals and special events drive pedestrian traffic in the core. About 45,000 people attend art shows, sponsored by The Foundation of Arts, held in the core each year, and the city’s annual barbeque festival can lure up to 20,000 people depending upon the main musical act, according to JDA.

“The heart of a community beats downtown,” Calloway said.