Clarksdale Downtown Streetscape
Clarksdale, birthplace of the blues, the heart of the Delta, and home to the infamous "Crossroads," the intersection of highways 61 and 49, is a unique city steeped in history and culture. Current attractions include the Ground Zero Blues Club, the Madidi Restaurant, the Delta Blues Museum, and numerous other significant blues sites and local businesses. The history and culture of Clarksdale are attracting visitors from across the globe. While on our First Impressions visit, we ran into a couple from New Zealand who were on a 6-week vacation to the United States. The places on their list included Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, San Francisco, Nashville, Memphis, New York, and Clarksdale, Mississippi. They conducted research on the Internet and were attracted to the musical history that Clarksdale has to offer. This is just one of the many stories of numerous international visitors that you may find wandering the downtown streets of Clarksdale.
Since the establishment of actor Morgan Freeman, local attorney Bill Luckett, and entertainment executive Howard Stovall's Ground Zero Blues Club, and Freeman and Luckett's Madidi Restaurant, many celebrities now frequently visit Clarksdale. Visit Ground Zero, and you could see anyone from movie stars and television personalities to athletes and musicians. Recent guests include Willie Nelson and Gene Simmons.
As Clarksdale embraces the transition from an agriculture-based economy to a tourism-based economy, the city is attempting to form an overall vision for the future of Clarksdale. This vision will serve as a common goal that residents and business owners will strive to accomplish over the coming years.
MSCAT was invited by the newly-formed Clarksdale Revitalization Inc. organization to conduct a typical First Impressions visit as well as provide streetscape design ideas for the downtown area, specifically the 200 block of Yazoo Avenue. These design ideas will be used to demonstrate the overall potential of downtown Clarksdale as well as address standard beautification issues.
The main observation of Yazoo Avenue was that the street appeared very dated. Metal awnings and facades have hidden the original historic architecture that makes the buildings unique; unmaintained street trees and sidewalks have created an unappealing experience for residents and visitors. The conceptual design recommendations were guided by historic photographs of Yazoo Avenue that showed the buildings in their prime, prior to the addition of the temporary facades. The design recommendations included short-term, medium, and long-term objectives, all of which could be phased in over time.
Short-term projects included decorative street signs to designate the historic districts, as well as the addition of benches, trash receptacles, potted plants, and decorative banners. Medium and long-term goals included the addition of street trees, permanent landscape planters, decorative traffic signals and street lights, brick crosswalks, corner enhancements, updated awnings, downtown festivals, and eventually historic renovations of the existing buildings. MSCAT also recommended that Clarksdale identify the needs of residents and tourists, inventory the existing businesses, and recruit new businesses to fill in the "missing pieces." Clarksdale is in a very unique position because the city is already attracting tourists from all over the world, so it needs to build on this tourism and enhance the experience for the visitors.