Small Towns, Big Impact: Clarksville, AR

Clarksville’s Levee Park Beautification Project, supported by T-Mobile funding and Smart Growth America technical assistance, activated underutilized space in the rural community’s downtown, attracting new development and creating a gathering space for locals and visitors alike.

Launched in 2021, T-Mobile’s Hometown Grant program is investing in the power of community-driven initiatives to ensure small towns can connect, innovate, and grow together, dedicating $25 million through 2026 to support community development projects in towns nationwide. We partnered with T-Mobile to deliver technical assistance to six of these communities. To learn more, visit

As the sun sets, Clarksville's Levee Park comes alive as people gather in front of a stage for an evening event.

Project background

Clarksville, Arkansas, a town of about 9,500, is located at the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, abutting the Arkansas River. It boasts enviable scenery and is known for its abundance of opportunities for outdoor recreation. As the seat of Johnson County, Clarksville is important to both locals and residents throughout the region. To capitalize on these existing assets and to build a more resilient economy, Clarksville has embarked on a journey to activate underutilized space downtown with the Levee Park Beautification Project. The site used to be a laundromat that burned down and was a vacant lot right in the middle of downtown Clarksville for years. With visionary leadership from Jessica Gunn and the Clarksville County Chamber of Commerce, the Levee Park project was born. Gunn wondered if the site could be turned into a space for community events, like the popular First Fridays events—a city-sponsored concert series that takes place on the first Friday of every month. From the beginning, the chamber’s goal was to increase quality of life throughout Clarksville.

“We understand that if downtown isn’t thriving, it hurts the overall success of our community.” —Abby Acensio, Vice President, Johnson County Chamber of Commerce

Construction workers get to work converting the vacant lot into a park

Construction and partnerships

In 2018, the City of Clarksville began the Levee Park project by clearing the old laundromat site and removing debris, leaving only the shell of the building. In June of 2019, the chamber put together a committee of downtown business and property owners, a pastor of a minority church located downtown, the University of the Ozarks located just north of downtown, the Johnson County Historical Society, two locals well-versed in sound and equipment, and a minority local restaurant owner. The committee pushed the vision for the site forward and gathered local donations and funding. The chamber worked with Main Street Arkansas to present a rendering of what this space could look like to the community and local officials. In late 2019, the community decided that the site could be better used if the building was demolished. An amphitheater stage was built as space for local musicians and performers, and the site was opened for public use with funding from the T-Mobile Hometown Grant.  


Community impacts

Throughout the planning and construction phases of the Levee Park project, the city and the Chamber of Commerce worked very closely. The project needed updated zoning and parcel information from the city as well as funding and programming support from the chamber. Locals and visitors consistently showed up to support the project, advertising events and providing input on potential project designs when requested. A variety of programming was needed—events like movie nights, outdoor game events, concerts, and food trucks—to demonstrate that the space was open and available for use. This coordination fell on the city and chamber, unless they were approached by a community group who already had a vision for an event at the Levee.

Goals and outcomes

One of the unintended outcomes of the Levee Park project was the attraction of several new mixed-use developments to downtown Clarksville. These businesses saw the success of the park and the extra foot traffic it attracted, and decided to capitalize on the benefits and buy property downtown. A new restaurant, rooftop bar, and mercantile store will also increase local property values. The park’s location in the heart of downtown Clarksville means it’s well-connected to the existing pedestrian network, nearby multi-use trails, and homes and businesses downtown.

The Levee Park project included the construction of a flood wall, added after the initial design phase of the project to protect the property and neighboring businesses from the Arkansas River which floods regularly. The wall provided protection as well as tax relief, as businesses no longer needed to pay flood abatement taxes for the properties adjacent to the park. The flood walls will be made more visually appealing by the addition of six moveable panels featuring artwork representing local history and culture.

Since the creation of the stage and lifting of COVID restrictions, several organizations are stepping up to the plate to organize events at Levee Park, something that was lacking in the community. The county library also started programming and is interested in working with the chamber, City Parks and Recreation, and nonprofits to create a culture of art and memories made with families. The future of Levee Park is bright, supported by continued use and funding, a thriving downtown entertainment district, a full-time downtown director employed by the chamber, and tons of future enhancements for the design of the Park.

We built upon our history working with rural communities by providing technical assistance to a select group of T-Mobile’s Hometown grant recipients. Read about all six communities by clicking the links below.

Land Use and Development Technical assistance Uncategorized