Jonesboro Architect Leads Downtown Renewal

George Krennerich’s love of building and buildings began as a child.

His grandfather and father were both carpenters, which for Krennerich meant summer months working construction jobs in the hot New Orleans sun.

He still recalls nailing 4-by-8-foot sheets of plywood to the roofs of a seemingly endless new residential subdivision. It was hard work. But the line of new homes stretching out before him gave Krennerich a good feeling, a sense of security.

“I just like to see buildings being built,” said the 55-year-old architect, a hint of his south Louisiana roots coloring his speech.

Since moving to Jonesboro 30 years ago, Krennerich has put together a career as one of the area’s most successful architects. His firm — Brackett-Krennerich and Associates — has done work all over the area, including many of Jonesboro’s biggest projects.

Krennerich also has established himself as a community leader, working on committees to develop the city’s land-use plans and codes. He is currently spearheading a project to rejuvenate the downtown area.

Krennerich can’t fathom retirement. His passion for his job, for new projects and for creating change won’t let him.

“In architecture, your best job is always your next job,” he said.

Louisiana Transplant

Krennerich is a big man, neatly dressed, his silver-hair combed straight back. His office is busy, filled with family photos, framed credentials on the wall, and paperwork on his desk. He’s quick to point to the picture of himself dressed in a purple Bacchus parade robe, riding in the annual Mardi Gras parade last year.

He grew up in New Orleans. After graduating in 1970 from the University of Southern Louisiana in Lafayette and a brief stint working on a shrimp boat in the Gulf of Mexico, Krennerich moved to Jonesboro to take a job with the local firm of Stuck Associates Architects.

At the time, he viewed it as a temporary stop. But he liked the area and enjoyed the changing seasons, as opposed to New Orleans’ perpetual summer. He met his future wife, and they married not long after in January 1971.

In 1975, he started his own practice, and he and Jerry Brackett formed Brackett-Krennerich in 1977, which today has an eight-person staff. He stresses the importance of his partnership with Brackett, pointing out that he often isn’t the lead architect and that he never does a job alone.

Today, Krennerich is known well about town, with a reputation as someone who can get things done.

“He commands — not demands, but commands — attention,” said Mayor Hubert Brodell, who last year appointed Krennerich to the Jonesboro Metropolitan Area Planning Commission. “He has a way of getting people to do things.”

In recent years, Krennerich served on a committee that developed the city’s first land use plan. He’s currently a board member of the Jonesboro Central Planning Association.

For the past two years, Krennerich has chaired a committee to update the city’s land development codes and ordinances. Past efforts to update the codes have failed, Brodell said. The latest version — which will soon come before the city council — will probably pass, he said.

For Krennerich, maintaining high standards for the city’s land will pay off in the long run.

“There’s value based in those codes,” he said. “What you get is a much better city, one that’s cleaner, nicer, prettier.”

Environmental Influence

That’s what drives Krennerich: the joy of changing the landscape for the better, trying to improve his surroundings. Architecture, he believes, can be both functional and a “spirit-lifter.”

“It shows us how civilized we are, or how civilized we aren’t,” he said.

His major influences come not from other architects, he said, but rather from his environment.

“Buildings should reflect their surroundings and be in context,” Krennerich said. For an example, he points to the brick design on the former Franklin Hardware store that’s now a law office and tells how he developed that pattern from the brick design of some of the older buildings up and down Main Street.

Krennerich enjoys being involved in every aspect of a job, from drawing to visiting the construction site to working with consultants and learning new ways to do things.

“You’re not sitting in the office, typing one form and then typing another form,” he said.

Recent Projects

One of his most recent projects is taking the lead in a Main Street renovation in an effort to attract more people to the downtown area. Brackett-Krennerich, Stuck Associates, Little & Maddox and Albert Frankenberger have teamed up to draw up the plans for the improvements.

“Downtown, this is our history,” Krennerich said. “This is where Jones-boro grew up.”

As in many Southern towns, Main Street runs through the heart of downtown Jonesboro, winding gently among some of the city’s oldest buildings, many of which are in disrepair.

Krennerich and his partner sparked a mini-renovation in 1984 when they bought and restored an old building on the corner of Huntington Avenue and Main Street.

After completing that job in 1984, Brackett-Krennerich revamped the old Franklin Hardware building across the street for use as a law office. Then the firm renovated the two-story Mercantile Bank building just down the block at Church and Huntington, adding two floors and a brick facade to the white building.

Wallace Fowler, the former owner of the Mercantile Bank building, said the building was a “dog” before the makeover.

“It certainly didn’t have a lot of eye appeal,” Fowler said. “But it really took shape and was nice when they got through with it. Now, it’s a beautiful building.”

Other architectural firms also have done a few downtown projects, but until recently there was never a concerted effort to fix up the entire downtown area.

“There’s been a lot of false starts,” Krennerich said. “There’s been a lot invested, but there’s never been a cohesive hook to drag everybody in.”

The new $875,000 plan — which will be funded with both federal grant money and general city revenue — will focus primarily on improving the downtown streets, making the area more pedestrian friendly. The plan calls for new landscaping, adding brick strips to the sidewalks, installing new lighting, and benches.

As part of the renovation, the city also will change Main Street from a one-way to a two-way street, with Church and Union Streets on either side of it remaining one-way and creating a loop around the Main Street area.

After that, the rest of the improvements are up to the property owners, whom the city and architects hope will be encouraged to spruce up their buildings. Krennerich, however, takes a little more firm approach.

“I want to be a benevolent dictator and make them clean them up,” he said.

Varied Practice

Brackett-Krennerich does a wide variety of work, ranging from banks to libraries, churches and even the occasional home.

It’s always a team effort at the firm, Krennerich said, with every member of his staff contributing. No one person can handle an entire project alone, and he and Brackett often split taking the lead on one project or the other.

“One person may take the lead,” he said. “But that just means that we can bicker and nitpick the hell out of them.”

The running joke in his office is that no design is complete until at least two 50-yard rolls of the drawing paper have been used.

In all, the firm has worked on 44 banks, including four current projects ranging from $300,000 to $4 million.

The firm renovated the former Mercantile Bank building in downtown, and many of its branches, as well as designing the Regions Bank building off Caraway Road and the Heritage Bank building off Highland Drive.

“George has a keen eye for identity,” Fowler said. “He’s good at keeping the identity of the buildings, but they all look somewhat similar.”

The firm also has designed a number of projects on the Arkansas State University campus, including a renovation and addition to the campus library that merged the old library and ASU museum into one building. That project included an eight-story clock tower, the tallest structure on campus, turning the library into the campus centerpiece.

Across campus, Brackett-Krennerich designed the new $14 million Fowler Center, which is currently under construction. The building will hold a concert hall, two theaters, a 5,000-SF domed lobby, as well as classrooms, dressing rooms, and set-construction area. Krennerich said the project required consulting with an acoustics expert, as well as a technical lighting expert.

Besides these large projects, the firm has designed a local fire station and the Jonesboro Chamber of Commerce building. Brackett-Krennerich and other area firms worked as representatives of the Arkansas East section of the American Institute of Architects on the memorial at Westside Middle School, where in March 1998 two of the school’s students shot and killed four of their classmates and a teacher.

The design and construction work for the $75,000 project was done at no cost to the school. “It’s pretty neat for the community to come together like that,” Krennerich said.

After all the multi-million dollar projects he’s worked on, Krennerich still seems excited about even the smallest and simplest projects.

Recently, he said, he went to look over the planned site for the city’s new Joe Mack Campbell baseball park, where he’s been hired to design the park’s new gates. But for Krennerich, it’s more than that; it’s a chance to change the “raw land” by putting up working gates that will also be something nice to look at.

“It’s fun because you can change it,” he said.

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