ERWIN — While the responses may have varied, the question posed to those in attendance was the same: “What improvements would you like to see made to downtown Erwin?”
Representatives from Kimley-Horn and Associates, the planning firm selected by the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen to complete a downtown revitalization master plan, were on hand Thursday evening at Erwin Town Hall to provide information to and gather input from the approximately 30 residents, officials and business owners who attended on things that they would like to see improved in the downtown area.
The town of Erwin has budgeted $150,000 and is utilizing a $10,000 grant from the Tennessee Valley Authority for the development of the master plan.
Kimley-Horn representatives arrived in Erwin earlier this week and have already spoken with officials and business owners regarding downtown improvements. So far, these representatives have looked at everything in downtown Erwin from available parking and transportation to the architecture of buildings.
David Coode with Kimley-Horn said the gathering of information is the first step in a multi-step process that also includes the testing of ideas presented and making recommendations that will culminate in the creation of a document that outlines the phasing, costs and plan for downtown revitalization.
“We have come in here collectively to really help facilitate your vision, so your participation tonight and all week long has been key into helping us help you look at where your community’s going,” Coode said to those in attendance.
Greg Tidwell with Smith Gee Studio, which is working with Kimley-Horn as a sub-consulting firm, said a number of things are consistent with good downtowns across the country. These components include a clear organization of streets, well-placed parking, connections to natural places such as rivers and greenways, having street-level activities like outside cafes, downtown living, having access to recreational opportunities and being pedestrian-oriented.
Tidwell lauded Erwin officials for the preservation of the town’s history and heritage, such as its recognition of the importance of the Blue Ridge Pottery and the reuse of a train depot as the Unicoi County Public Library. He also putting a positive spin on the “Murderous Mary” incident, in which a circus elephant was executed in Erwin nearly 90 years ago, could further work to promote the town’s history.
“People, good or bad, know about that,” he said.
Tidwell was also complimentary of the downtown Erwin’s civic, institutional and commercial buildings, adding that architecture is a “great asset” to a downtown district.
“The downtown has really good bones on Main Street,” Tidwell said. “Buildings, for the most part, are still there, the historic buildings.”
Concerns affecting downtown that have been voiced during the course of the week have included the clutter associated with overhead utilities, stormwater issues, the width of sidewalks, a lack of shade for pedestrians and undefined parking areas.
Photos of downtown features from various cities lined the walls of Erwin Town Hall and, prior to the meeting, attendees of Thursday’s meeting were asked to mark the ones they personally liked and disliked.
Later, the attendees were placed into groups and asked to develop lists of potential improvements that could be made to downtown Erwin. These included everything from addressing traffic signals to adding landscaping.
Coode said Kimley-Horn intends to present its initial ideas for revitalization and seek more input in September, followed by presenting the progress of the master plan in October. Coode said the firm intends to present the master plan and design guidelines for downtown revitalization in January.