July 20, 2011 Edition

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Charles Snapp (left), a member of the Lawrence County Tourism Committee, discusses plans for two buildings he and his wife, Jackie, donated to the Downtown Walnut Ridge organization, with Mitch and Kristy Whitmire. The Snapps purchased seven storefronts in the downtown area, five of which they plan to develop into rental property, and the Whitmires will open a restaurant on Main Street this Friday, in addition to a laundry service they opened recently.
TD Photo ~ Gretchen Hunt

Downtown WR is
a happening place

Gretchen Hunt

What might be considered a real estate boom is going on in downtown Walnut Ridge, thanks, at least in part, to excitement created over projects being planned in the area.

Monday, Charles and Jackie Snapp presented a deed for two storefronts on Southwest Second Street to the Downtown Walnut Ridge organization. The property is part of a seven-storefront block the Snapps recently purchased and will be used to create a pocket park to house The Beatles sculpture being planned by the Lawrence County Tourism Committee.

"I bet most people did not know that in the past few months, 13 different storefronts in the downtown Walnut Ridge area have sold," Charles said. "In fact, seven of those 13 have sold twice. Now that's what I call one heck of a good start on the revitalization of downtown Walnut Ridge. Still, it's going to take time, but change is happening right before people's eyes."

One of those changes is a restaurant on West Main Street that Mitch and Kristy Whitmire plan to open on Friday. In addition, Rusty Horton of R& R Sales and Services recently purchased the building where his business is located, as well as the lot between Main Street and Brand's Auto Sales and a lot across the tracks on the north side of Main.

Carlos Aguilar, owner of Adrianna's Mexican Restaurant, has also made an investment in the downtown area. He is purchasing the building where his restaurant is located from J.R. Rogers and also recently purchased two storefronts on Main Street.

The storefronts that house Celebrations and Glam Salon, two fairly new businesses to the downtown area, were recently purchased by a Jonesboro company.

Lorra Whitmire, a member of the Downtown Walnut Ridge organization, said she is happy to see the work going on in the downtown area.

"Just in the last few months we've had people buying downtown property and new businesses opening," she said. "This is the most active the real estate market has been in downtown since we started the Downtown Walnut Ridge organization."

Lorra said the group also had several businesses apply for the mini-grants offered for businesses to spruce up the outside of their buildings.

"We've had some good feedback from people applying for the grant," she said. "People want to spiff up downtown, which is what we've wanted all along."

L.J. Bryant, economic development director for the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce, said there are a multitude of things going on in the downtown area right now, many of which stem from the efforts of the Snapps.

"I think Charles is a perfect example of a private individual playing a part in economic development," Bryant said. "He recognizes that he may be giving away two parcels of land, but the property he owns will be worth more due to the public development of the property he has donated. He sees the bigger picture."

Bryant emphasized that Walnut Ridge has something many downtowns trying to revitalize themselves are lacking - traffic.

"There are people looking in windows," he said. "We just need to give them something in those window to make them want to stop. I think the pocket park and Beatles tribute are going to draw more people and hopefully get them to open their wallets and spend some money to generate some revenue for local businesses."

Dr. Brett Cooper, chair of the Lawrence County Tourism Committee, said Monday's deed transfer advances both their planned tourist attractions and the development of the downtown area.

"This is one more step toward what we believe is a bright new future for downtown Walnut Ridge," he said.

Mayor Don House said he was glad to see the project being completed without using taxpayers' money. He said the city will be contributing some in-kind labor, as crews will be helping with some of the work on the pocket park.

"This is an exciting project for Walnut Ridge, and the city is glad to participate in helping to prepare this particular site," he said. "I think this is the kind of interest that helps a city grow.

Without volunteerism and progressive ideas it is very difficult to move forward."

Charles reminded people not to expect a miraculous transformation overnight.

"The revitalization of Downtown Walnut Ridge reminds me of the old saying, 'Rome wasn't built in a day,'" Charles said. "Look how many years it took the downtown area to get to where it is now. Change is going to take time ... but it's already happening."

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