Flames may have wiped away city leaders’ hopes of an interactive museum in downtown Jonesboro. A fire Saturday afternoon destroyed the roundhouse, an iconic building on Church Street the city had hoped to turn into a museum, Mayor Harold Perrin told Talk Business & Politics.
The Jonesboro Police and Fire departments have been actively investigating the case, and at least three people have been questioned in connection to the fire, but no arrests have been made, Jonesboro Fire Marshall Jason Willis told KAIT8. The building may be gone, but the city still has plans for that space, Perrin said.
“It appears to me the building is a total loss, and we will continue to pursue a dialogue with Union Pacific in securing the property for a museum, a restaurant and other amenities for that area. I’m sure the fire has set us back in trying to acquire the property,” he said. “As fire and police investigations continue into the origin of the fire and UP determines how to proceed, the city will leave it at that for the time being.”
The roundhouse is owned by Union Pacific and there have been negotiations between the city and UP, Jonesboro Community Development Director Tiffny Calloway previously told Talk Business & Politics. Calloway was hopeful the company would donate the 23,000-square-foot building.
Roundhouses were used primarily to maintain steam locomotives, according to American-Rails.com 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 be incorporated into an interactive museum.
City officials have been drafting plans to build an interactive museum, similar to the Museum of Discovery attraction in Little Rock.
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. How losing the building could impact those costs is unknown at this time.
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 choose 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.
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.