- Associated Press - Monday, June 23, 2014

PARAGOULD, Ark. (AP) - Gina Jarrett, executive director of Main Street Paragould, is excited and optimistic about the growth of Paragould’s historic downtown.

“Over six million dollars have been invested in downtown since 2006 and we’re ready for the next step,” Jarrett told the Paragould Daily Press (https://bit.ly/1rgac3R). The next step in downtown Paragould’s progression is already happening.

At 301 N. Pruett St., a two-story building that anchors downtown’s north end dates from at least 1924, but Jarrett feels it may have been built slightly earlier.

“A lot of history there with that building. The building has burned a number of times and has been vacant for some time now,” she said. Extensive renovations are underway at the site.

“That building was just one city council meeting away from being condemned, but luckily a buyer came forward who wanted to invest in it and in downtown,” said Jarrett. “For a long time it has been north end versus south end in downtown. Even way back when you look at old photographs people had a tendency to favor the south end of Pruett Street. I think this investment will change that.”

Initial plans for the building call for first floor retail space and second floor residential space, though nothing beyond that is certain.

Nonetheless, Jarrett feels that this addition to the economic landscape of downtown Paragould justifies not only tourism dollars, but local investments as well.

“Over the years we’ve lost buildings to fire and decay and as we see investment continuing, we’ll see the downtown area continue to prosper,” said Jarrett. “Private investors have really made this area what it is today and we want to look vibrant, colorful and successful to reflect that commitment to downtown Paragould.”

Jarrett cites continued “momentum” as a contributing factor to downtown’s steady growth over the years.

“Skinny J’s has helped a lot, and of course we have so many fine businesses down here that draw people from all over, like The Collins Theatre, Kiss the Cook and Something Sweet. I think we are becoming a destination for people, but we can be more, too,” said Jarrett.

Still, she admits there is room for improvement. While acknowledging that Paragould and Greene County sits in the center of a tourist mecca, Jarrett wants to establish Paragould’s own identity when attracting tourism dollars.

“We have the Clinton Library to our south, the Johnny Cash Home in Dyess, Graceland in Memphis and the Hemingway-Pfeiffer House in Piggott. The tourists are here, we just need to get them to Paragould,” said Jarrett.

According to Arkansas.com, the official tourism site for the state, nearly $6 billion dollars were spent by tourists in 2012 in Arkansas. Additionally, Greene County reported 90,477 visitors spending almost $4 million in tourism dollars and supporting 248 jobs in 2012.

Paragould Mayor Mike Gaskill also acknowledges the importance of a strong and energetic downtown, “Downtown revitalization is important to all communities because people look to downtowns as the base of their community. People go there to eat, shop and have fun and we in Paragould recognize that. We still want it to move forward,” said Gaskill.

Though no estimate is available on when renovations will be complete on 301 N. Pruett, Jarrett remains spirited when talking about the outlook of downtown Paragould.

“We’re a place that matters,” said Jarrett. “And we’re making great strides here.”

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