Downtown Jonesboro Association’s executive director youngest in Arkansas

by George Jared ( 2,214 views 

Lindsey Wingo, executive director of the Downtown Jonesboro Association

Lindsey Wingo had a big decision to make. She grew up in the small town of Rector in Northeast Arkansas, and when it came time to choose a college, she wanted to move away to what she thought would be a more exciting place. Her grandfather, Danny Ford, decided the two needed to talk. He told her she needed to attend college in a community where she wanted to live and raise a family.

She heeded his words and attended Arkansas State University. During her senior year at ASU in September 2017 she was hired as the executive director of the Downtown Jonesboro Association (DJA). She was 21, and officials with Main Street Arkansas told her she was the youngest executive director in the state, and they believe she’s the youngest in the country, Wingo said.

Dealing with business owners, civic leaders and others who are older and more experienced than she is has been a challenge, but Wingo believes her youth will help the city’s downtown move forward in the coming years.

“I’m an old soul,” she said. “I’m sure that some people were definitely skeptical at first, which is completely understandable. Regardless of any stereotype, as a Millennial, I am professionally and personally dedicated to making a difference in this community. I have always loved to challenge myself, so it definitely pushed me to work that much harder to prove my dedication to downtown and this position. It has been a fantastic year, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have a job that I love.”

Wingo applied for the job “on a whim,” she said, with no real expectation she would get it. At ASU, she majored in strategic communications and minored in entrepreneurship.

She did have some experience working at St. Bernards as a marketing intern, and she worked as a campus ambassador for The Coca-Cola Co. prior to her stint with the health system. But, she was sure there were other, more qualified candidates. Her experiences at ASU and living in Jonesboro cemented her belief the city was the place for her, but she didn’t know if she would get the job.

“They [DJA Board of Directors] saw something in me. I want to have a positive impact on the community,” she said.

The first year was challenging and exciting, she said. There were many ongoing and planned projects for the downtown area. About 500 people live in the downtown area, and there are 175 businesses that lure thousands of people to that part of the city each week. About 96% of the business and retail space is occupied in the area, she said.

One of the main obstacles to increasing foot traffic to downtown restaurants and bars is perceived safety at night. Downtown is safe, she said, but people feel safer when areas, such as parking lots and alleys, are well lighted, she said. Wingo said a project to increase the number of lights in the area is underway, and the lights in downtown will make patrons feel safer and create a more aesthetically pleasing area.

Another project she started this year was a joint venture with ASU to host a downtown block party for college students. Hundreds of students “overwhelmed” downtown, spending money at restaurants and enjoying time with their friends. Several restaurants were filled to capacity and a few owners had to go into their kitchens to help prepare food, she said. Wingo hopes to have a student block party downtown each month.

“It was amazing. It was a good problem to have,” she said.

Wingo said one of the most exciting projects involving downtown is the idea of building a corridor that will connect the section of the city with the ASU campus. She is a member of a committee that will make recommendations to move the project forward to the city council in October.

The core proposal and the one most favored by the committee is a proposed bike and pedestrian pathway from ASU to the downtown area, a distance of roughly 2.5 miles. A second recommendation will be to appoint a long-term redevelopment committee. A third recommendation is that the city’s land bank, the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce, and Jonesboro Unlimited, a nonprofit organization that promotes economic development in the area, bring a “catalyst” project to the corridor.

The fourth recommendation will be that the city develop a comprehensive plan to create the corridor and also devise a “realistic and functional” implementation plan. The plan needs to be centered around a comprehensive study, Wingo said, and that study alone could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. A fifth recommendation is for the city to host a seminar to present ideas for the corridor to developers, attorneys and accountants.

Working on the committee has been a good opportunity for Wingo to connect with business leaders, ASU administrators and Jonesboro civic leaders, she said, adding that developing the corridor is vital.

“We want students from ASU regularly coming downtown. A corridor will increase our college student presence,” she said.

Wingo’s job requires her to be involved in the community. She serves on several organizations including the St. Bernards Advocates and the Northeast Arkansas Regional Transportation Commission. She is the professional development chair for the Jonesboro Young Professionals Network. Wingo is active with Chi Omega as an alumna, is a commission member of My Healthy Jonesboro, and serves as a volunteer with United Cerebral Palsy, the Make-a-Wish Foundation, Court Appointed Special Advocates and the United Way.

Her top goal for the DJA?

“Our goal in everything we do is to generate commerce in downtown,” she said.