When Regina Burkett was appointed in April as the director for community development for the city of Jonesboro, she brought a vast amount of experience with her. She’d worked in marketing and community development for years and had written many grants for a wide variety of programs and communities throughout the region.
Burkett told Talk Business & Politics her transition into Northeast Arkansas’ hub city has been a relatively smooth one. This year alone, her department has received about $9.3 million in grant funds and several projects, including the Veteran’s Village, have made significant progress.
“The mayor, chamber of commerce and community leaders are working on redevelopment, economic development and quality of life. Therefore, it will give me great joy to be involved in this forthcoming growth. Jonesboro already has a fantastic downtown, but it will be such a treasure as redevelopment continues with sidewalks being built, new housing construction, the growth of our parks plus the development of new parks, the growth of new business, and redevelopment of neighborhoods,” she said.
“This can only happen with building private-public partnerships and I do believe from the love I see in this community. The biggest surprise is the love I see from the residents for the city of Jonesboro. I have been overwhelmed by the number of citizens I see giving up their time and dollars to better this community. Jonesboro is a very giving city. I am amazed at the generosity,” Burkett said.
The Community Development and Grants Department has many programs for the community. The department writes grants for the community along with grants for the police department, fire department, parks, recycling, transportation, and infrastructure (sidewalks, streets) and many others as needed.
Current projects include the Veterans Village Transitional Homes for Homeless Veterans, CRSIS grant (rail expansion), Homeless Shelter and the Jonesboro Shooting Sports Complex. Lakyn Williams, Brenda Hall, Hillary Starnes, Angy Abaunza, and Sarah (Ashley) Sandlin comprise Burkett’s team within the department.
One project that was underway before Burkett arrived, the Veterans Village, should be completed in the coming months. Earlier this year, the city received a $1 million grant from the Arkansas Development Finance Authority to create the Veterans Village. At least nine transitional homes for qualifying area veterans will be built and the goal is to provide basic necessities for those who have sacrificed for their country, Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin said.
“This has been a dream of mine for a long time,” Perrin said. “It’s an important part of our goal of eliminating homelessness, but it’s personal to me because I served in the military and was the son of a soldier. We should never let them down.”
The grant covers the cost of construction for the nine homes. The city has selected a 1.2-acre site for its Veterans Village, which will be operated by the Beck PRIDE Center for America’s Wounded Veterans. The grant requires that the project be completed within 18 months.
Key partners include Arkansas Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Mark Berry, ADFA President Cheryl Schluterman, Arkansas State University Chancellor Kelly Damphousse, College of Nursing Dean Susan Hanrahan, and Beck PRIDE Center Director Lynda Nash.
The Village is located in a low-to-moderate income area in the north part of Jonesboro. In 2012, this area received Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Area (NRSA) designation, according to the grant. The lot sits on the block of Aggie Road, Allis Street, Chalky Road and Patrick Street.
Accessibility to services is convenient for veterans. The city will install a JET bus stop area and implement the route into its daily routine. The area is located near Jonesboro Public Schools, Arkansas State University, multiple grocery stores, public parks, day cares and libraries. St. Bernards Hospital is located one mile from the site and NEA Baptist Hospital is located just a few miles east on Highway 49.
Arkansas has about 229,261 veterans and about 5,436 reside in Craighead County. It’s estimated that at least 200 of those in the county live at or below the poverty line, according to the grant.
Burkett said she’s pleased to be part of a unique project like the Village, but there are other areas of need in the city as well. She hopes that more businesses will locate downtown. She would also like to continue to expand railroad service inside the industrial park.
Playing a key role in developing a robust city in the Arkansas Delta is very rewarding, she added.
“I like being a part of this,” she said.