ERWIN — The downtown revitalization master plan for the town of Erwin has been completed. But before the revitalization process gets under way, a group of local officials recently decided to pay a visit to another town that recently completed its own revitalization project to get an idea of how Erwin’s could be carried out.
On April 11-12, a group of Erwin officials — Town Recorder Randy Trivette, Vice Mayor Glenn Tilson, Public Works Director Mark Lafever, Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Amanda Delp, City Attorney Thomas Seeley III and Erwin Utilities Manager Lee Brown — visited Gallatin, located about 30 minutes from Nashville.
Trivette said representatives from the planning firm Kimley-Horn and Associates, which was selected by the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen to complete Erwin’s downtown revitalization master plan, were also on hand for the trip. Kimley-Horn also was responsible for the completing Gallatin’s revitalization master plan, as well as completing engineering and overseeing construction on the project. Gallatin’s revitalization undertaking was completed around a year ago.
“One of the biggest reasons that we did go was that Gallatin just recently undertook a downtown revitalization in the middle of their downtown with their courthouse and businesses there,” Trivette said.
Trivette said Erwin officials spent the day on April 11 meeting with Gallatin officials to get advice and input on Erwin’s plan. On April 12, local officials spent part of the day meeting with engineers and architects to discuss what they had learned and the next steps necessary to begin the engineering and design phase of the Erwin project.
“So what we did is we met with their key personnel who had a big part of that project and discussed situations and issues with them of what they might have changed or what they may have done better or what worked for them so we could garner that information for our use before we started our plan,” Trivette said.
Trivette said officials obtained information on how to address issues such as public rights-of-way versus private property, providing handicapped accessibility to buildings, placement of awnings and signage, and received information on the design guidelines for Gallatin’s downtown project.
“One of the biggest components that came out of it is they did the same thing we’re wanting to do, which is to make sure the downtown businesses are able to stay open and that people can get in and out of those stores,” Trivette said. “So they took steps in notifying the downtown business owners and property owners of the progress that was going on.”
These steps included developing “block captains” who met with business owners weekly to provide updates. It also included setting up a website that was updated daily and provided the public with information such as where construction was taking place, what type of work was being performed and timelines for completion. These steps also included multiple meetings to keep the public informed. Trivette said Erwin officials also plan on being proactive in keeping the public in the loop on its project.
Erwin officials already have an idea of how they’d like to see the project conducted and when they’d like to see it begin, Trivette said. He said construction would be narrowed down into phases and one block would be worked on at a time, which would allow for continued pedestrian access. The majority of the work will take place along Main Avenue between Tucker and Main streets.
Surveyors have been around Erwin to identify the project’s various components. While he said “everything is contingent on funding,” Trivette and other officials are hopeful work on the first phase of the project can get under way next spring.
“We’re hoping to start actually breaking ground and doing some construction work March of 2013,” Trivette said. “And the way we’ve got it done is to break it up into phases, and we hope to finish one phase and move into the next phase so that it’s not spread out over a long period of time.”
The Erwin plan also recommends the construction of a skate park/playground area and the possible construction of an archives/welcome center building. But many of the items outlined in the plan, such as addressing stormwater runoff and other maintenance, will not be visible to the public. Still, once the project is completed, those who frequent downtown Erwin won’t have to worry about such maintenance issues for “another 20 years,” Trivette said.
“(Gallatin is) a little larger city than us, but they had the same issues we had in that over a period of time, maintenance crept up on you,” Trivette said. “And that’s what’s the biggest deal with our downtown is. We’re going to have to do something with maintenance. We’re going to have to fix roads and fix sidewalks.
“So while we’re undertaking those maintenance issues, we felt it would be better to go ahead and do it correctly, deal with our handicapped accessibility issues, make it a part of a beautification project, but also at the same time replace our damaged and worn sidewalks, replace our damaged and worn streets, and then add some aesthetically pleasing features with landscaping and street lights, those types of things, and take a lot of clutter away.”