2nd phase of Erwin's downtown improvement slated for January

Brad Hicks • Nov 29, 2013 at 9:50 AM

ERWIN — Work on downtown Erwin’s new look is set to continue with the new year.

Construction on the second phase of the revitalization project is slated to get under way in mid-January. This phase will cover the block from Gay Street to Union Street.

“We just chose the one block because that way, it will keep the downtown businesses open and easily accessible,” Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley said. “If we do the two blocks from Gay to Love Street, it’s going to block the entrances to the downtown, so we’re just going to do it one block at a time.”

But, as town officials were planning the second phase, they found out that plans did not address flooding problems along Union Street. Heavy rainfall causes water to travel down Union Street and collect on Nolichucky Avenue.

“So we want to address that before we do anything else, and we hope to make that part of Phase II or Phase III, which would directly coincide with Phase II,” Hensley said.

To alleviate flooding along Union Street, town officials plan to route water that comes down Union Street and crosses Elm Avenue underground into a box culvert. This culvert would take excess water down to Nolichucky Avenue, where the town has a drainage system that goes through the nearby railroad property. The drainage system would take the water to the nearby creek.

Hensley said the box culvert would cost between $500,000 and $600,000. She said the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen plans to meet in a not-yet-scheduled work session with engineer Gary Tysinger to discuss the project and funding options, such as taking out a loan or bond. Hensley said how quickly the entire revitalization project goes depends on funding.

“I would like to see the entire town refurbished at once instead of doing it in little sections at a time over a long period of years,” she said.

Erwin officials have stated they hope to have the second phase of the revitalization project completed by summer. Depending on funding, Phase III, which would cover Union Street to Love Street, could begin in October after the Unicoi County Apple Festival, Hensley said.

In July 2011, the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved an agreement with planning firm Kimley-Horn and Associates to develop a master plan for the project, part of the town’s five-year capital improvement plan initiated around three years ago. This plan was approved by the board in February 2012.

Phase I of the project, which covered the area of Main Avenue from Tucker Street to Gay Street, was completed in mid-September. Aside from aesthetic and stormwater system upgrades and improved handicapped accessibility along the affected section, first-phase work also included the installation of underground utilities, new sidewalks, placement of brick crosswalks, installation of new street lights and new paving along Main Avenue.

Hensley also said feedback on the completed first phase has been encouraging.

“Everything has been positive,” she said. “I think everyone has been amazed at the difference it has made in the town, and everyone is very pleased with it. I haven’t had any feedback that hasn’t been positive.”

Additional phases are set to include some of these upgrades, as well as others. Hensley said she has asked the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen to consider the possibility of having an electric car charging station installed in the downtown area. She has also asked that the board consider having WiFi set up in downtown Erwin, which she said would help businesses and encourage patrons. Hensley said WiFi would cost the town around $100 per month. She said the second phase could include additional traffic improvements.

Based on feedback from business owners affected by the revitalization project’s first phase, Hensley said the project has been a success so far. She said business owners who will be affected by future phases are anxious to see work get started.

“I think they’re getting excited about it, too,” she said.

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