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County Wants City to Close Part of Chickasawba Street


Mississippi County Judge John Alan Nelson is asking the city of Blytheville to close about a block of Chickasawba as the county expands the courthouse.

Nelson updated the Rotary Club of Blytheville on the progress of the $14 million renovations during the civic club's weekly meeting on Thursday.

The Blytheville City Council would have to approve the closing of the street. The city has been offered $100,000 to close the Chickaswaba railroad crossing that is on that block and affects the one west of it by BNSF, which also proposed another $300,000 to close the crossing at Cherry Street.

Nelson noted the move would allow the county to make additions to the courthouse that it wishes to do.

The current building is 17,000 square feet, and the addition will add another 17,000 square feet to the courthouse.

Nelson also plans an elaborate landscaping project that is expected to cost about $250,000 more than originally thought, after he challenged architect Aaron Ruby to wow those visiting the courthouse.

Nelson said he wanted Ruby to design something "over the top" because a courthouse project hasn't been done in 100 years and likely won't be again for another 100 years.

"I looked Aaron in the eye and said, 'if they don't say wow, it's your fault and I'll always remember it,'" Nelson said. "Every time I see him, I go through the same thing and he's really sick of hearing it. We've built some things in that are really, really nice. About two months ago, he brought in a set of drawings and he said, 'here's your wow.' He unrolls it and it's this spectacular landscaping plan. He said there is not another courthouse in the state of Arkansas that is even close to this. There's your wow."

Nelson pointed out four firms bid on the courthouse project, which he anticipated would cost around $12 million. The winning bid was $11,098,000. The county has built in a contingency in case it exceeds that cost. "The courthouse is going well," he said.

Also, Nelson reported that a bicycle trail might be coming to Mississippi County.

He has been working with the Mississippi Levee Board, the St. Francis Levee District, on the bike trail.

"There is a bicycle trail from Elaine, Ark. that now has come up to Marion," Nelson said. "I called a lady, I saw her name when I was thumbing through the internet. This was months and months ago. She called me back and she was really excited that I had called her. She has been here to Mississippi County; I've talked to her numerous times. I've got a dozen emails; without her help, I don't think we could have done it."

He noted the woman is a consultant paid for by a Memphis businessman who made it possible to get across the bridge on the bike trail and established several trails outside of Memphis.

"If you have ever been on the levee, it's the most beautiful country you've ever seen," Nelson said. "You don't think you're in Mississippi County. You see turkeys and deer. I've been out there working on those roads since spring, and it is absolutely pristine. Where else, if you were a bicycle enthusiast, could you ride a bicycle and not worry about traffic or seeing people for even 150 miles. She assures me that when this thing is actually hooked on from St. Louis to New Orleans, we would have people from all over Europe here. It's a big, big deal. I think it will revitalize Osceola downtown. I think it will be a tremendous boost to Wilson because they are right there on the levees. I think that there is an opportunity to have a big impact on Blytheville. I think the long-range goal should include the levee that goes around Big Lake and the roadways there. That's some beautiful area that has the bald eagles and all. I could go on and on."