Plans Old And New
Presented As Part
Of Action Group's
BY LAUREN HENRY
Citizens interested in the future of Downtown Greeneville were given a voice Monday afternoon during an "action group" meeting as part of the Town initiative, Greeneville's 20/20 Vision.
The Downtown Revitalization action group is one of five such groups on different strategies that will be formed in connection with the 20/20 Vision project.
Overall, the 20/20 Vision project is designed to develop ways to maximize the Town's resources of all kinds as it moves into the future.
Monday's action group meeting grew from the introductory 20/20 Vision public workshop in November. That workshop, in turn, came from ideas presented at the Board of Mayor and Aldermen's Strategic Planning retreat in September.
VIGOROUS DOWNTOWN REMEMBERED
The Downtown Revitalization Action Group met late Monday afternoon in the boardroom in Town Hall and brainstormed ideas to reinvigorate the once- bustling downtown area.
At one time the hub of Greeneville life, the downtown has deteriorated in a commercial sense to a handful of businesses, restaurants, and tourism-related attractions.
"When you drive through Saturday and Sunday, it is just dead," Andy Daniels, group facilitator said.
Members of the action group were volunteers who expressed interest in downtown revitalization at the Nov. 7 workshop of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen at the General Morgan Inn to introduce the 20/20 Vision initiative.
The boardroom was full Monday with additional community members interested in how to infuse life into the downtown. A number of those present live in the downtown area.
Artist Joe Kilday said he grew up during a time when, he said, "it was hopping downtown."
"During that time Greeneville was a magnet that drew people. [The] state highway went through, and people stopped. Now, they pass on through. It's a shame," he said.
Kilday is working with Daniels and Main Street: Greeneville on a murals project designed to increase the aesthetic appeal of the downtown.
Daniels explained to those present the program to recapture scenes from Greeneville's past on its downtown buildings. The mural project is called "Windows to the Past."
The first proposed design is an old poster advertising a local showing of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show that would be painted on the side of the building known as the old opera house at the corner of Depot and Irish streets.
The famed Buffalo Bill show, which toured the country and some European countries, was presented at the building in the 1890s and/or the early years of the 20th century.
The project to spruce up Greeneville's downtown image spurred discussion about a need to address some of the unsightly, unused buildings and façades that in some cases are in a state of disrepair.
City Administrator Todd Smith said that the Town of Greeneville has recently sent out letters to owners of 11 properties downtown, stating that they violate a downtown ordinance for appearance.
Ten have responded with plans to clean up their properties, Smith said.
"And then once we get the properties to base line and we have base level expectations for properties for visuals, I think we take the next step, to say -- how do we create some enhancements to vacant properties and public areas.
"This is a great idea to do that," Smith said, pointing to the proposed mural design.
Some ideas presented to improve the look of the downtown included:
* window displays in vacant buildings;
* enforce property visual ordinance;
* discuss relaxing some of the Historic District ordinances to allow more improvements to the Historic District;
* even more of the proposed "Windows to the Past" murals; and
* a façade program to provide monetary incentive and help to make aesthetic improvements.
The action group agreed that small businesses will be the lifeblood of a new and thriving downtown.
"Nothing is going to happen until people make personal financial commitments," said Mayor W.T. Daniels.
He said that governemt can only take the town so far. It is up to individuals making the decision to become small business-owners in the downtown -- and for the community to support them.
"I can tell you why we don't have better restaurants in Greeneville. People didn't support them," he said.
TAX INCREMENT FINANCING
Attendees described a dream to see the downtown full of business that would attract locals, but tourists as well.
To do so, some wondered how government could help attract entrepreneurs to the area.
Bob Cantler, vice president and general manager of Morgan Square Development Group, introduced the idea of a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) program, similar to the approach used about 12 years ago for initial funding of certain aspects of the Morgan Square downtown redevelopment project.
Under Tax Increment Financing, a governmental body issues bonds or in some other way provides financial assistance to an appropriate redevelopment project, and the debt is paid off over a period of years by applying directly to the debt the additional real estate taxes generated by the redeveloped property as a result of the project.
Once the debt is paid off, of course, the governmental body begins receiving all of the real estate taxes that come from the properties that are part of the redevelopment project.
Smith said such a program is a good option for attracting businesses downtown.
Cantler was a key player during the 2007 "Rediscover Greeneville" campaign, proposed by local business leader and philanthropist Scott M. Niswonger.
Those in attendance questioned what happened to the plans.
The "Rediscover Greeneville" plans for downtown revitalization remain in place, but actual work stalled when the nation went into a serious recession, according to Cantler.
The project, unveiled in September 2007, is led by Niswonger and is being managed by Morgan Square Development Group, which Niswonger heads.
Rediscover Greeneville is designed to bring several hundred new jobs into downtown, create a variety of new food and entertainment venues primarily in the Main Street and Depot Street areas, and provide a variety of new downtown residential opportunities.
At the September 2007 unveiling, Niswonger projected that development of the properties he owns could be completed within the next five years.
He had planned a total $35 million investment for downtown renovations and new buildings.
Cantler said the project and plans were created during good economic times, but the recession changed the atmosphere of development.
The project remains on hold while economic recovery continues, Cantler said.
He also said conditions are improving significantly and that "Rediscover Greeneville" may be brought back.
Cantler spoke about a "10-10-10" rule that calls for:
* 10 things that are unique and will cause motorists to drive from out-of-town and past larger stores to visit downtown;
* 10 food and beverage outlets, ranging from "fudge to fine dining"; and
* 10 things you can do after 5 p.m.
The timing of the discussion drew immediate connections to the Walters State Community College expansion project.
The downtown area where Tusculum Boulevard meets College Street and Main Street will soon undergo a dramatic transformation with the consruction of an 84,000-square-foot-building that will be a key part of the Walters State expansion.
The growth of the community college means changes to the downtown.
The action group discussed the need to attract those students to the downtown with businesses as well as to deal effectively with the parking and traffic challenges the influx of people will produce.
Parking is being addressed, according to Drucilla Miller, dean of Walters State, but she said plans are not yet finalized.
Community member Robert Clark said he would like to see the downtown transform into a pedestrien environment, at least in some parts.
Others discussed ideas for more downtown events and closing off portions of streets during the events.
Many recognized the numerous artists and craftsmen that Greeneville has and searched for ideas for a place for them in the downtown.
One idea was for a sort of artisan co-op, which would house multiple artists under the same roof and create a destination site for tourists.
However, the room full of interested community members of middle-age and above recognized they are not planning for their own future, but rather for the future of younger people.
They indicated that they recognize that the success of the downtown lies in attracting a younger demographic to the area.
"Right now there is nothing downtown for young people," said Ginger Isom, pastor of Christ United Methodist Church.
Kilday wondered about a publicly posted survey of the town to get ideas and suggestions from different age demographics.
County resident John Brown cited a need for a coordinated effort to capitalize on the Walters State expansion.
"Somebody has to get on the campaign to get young investors to come in," he said.
Brown's suggestion was to use the expansion as a small deadline for a few goals for visible improvements for the downtown and use the excitement Walters State will naturally create to bring attention to the downtown.
Andy Daniels said she would gather the ideas presented and use that for continued discussion at the next action group meeting, in January. No date has yet been set.
She said she hopes to hold the meeting later in the day to allow downtown merchants a better opportunity to provide input.