City OKs funds for downtown improvements
Jeremy Nash
With a unanimous approval Monday evening, Lenoir City Council moved ahead with more downtown storefront improvements.
Assistant City Administrator Amber Scott said the $40,000 approved Monday night should be the amount needed for the city’s Downtown Visual Improvements Program projects for the 2015-16 fiscal year.
The grant is a 60-40 grant, meaning 60 percent is funded by the city and 40 percent is paid by business owners. Scott said the maximum one business owner can get per storefront is $7,500.
The Backdoor Galley recently took advantage of the program, completing work on the exterior of the building in late August or early September, Scott said.
“Well it’s one of those things that you like to have the storefronts redone and it just makes — as the Backdoor Gallery shows what can be done when they put their mind to it and they do some work on the fronts,” City Administrator Jim Wilburn said. “It looks good, and so it just as it says (it’s a) Visual Improvement Program and that’s exactly what it is. It’s a great program.”
Scott said Waller Building owner Diane Powell currently has an application in the works, and Powell should receive more than $7,500 because she has four storefront addresses.
Wilburn True Value Hardware is working on an application, but Scott said she has not received it.
“There’s going to be some painting, things of that nature,” Scott said of the Waller Building improvements. “Painting, flooring I believe, probably pretty soon. We’ll be approving her money in short order and she stands to get about $18,000 simply because she has four addresses, so she’s really maxing out on the grant.”
Scott said business owners don’t have to be located in downtown to be eligible, noting they just have to be located within the downtown business district. The grant has been awarded to business owners since about 2003, she said.
“The goal is to further the objective of beautifying downtown, restoring it back to its original state in the ‘50s and ‘60s,” Scott said. “Brick exteriors, nice lighting, nice signage, that’s sort of the over-arching goals of the grant.”
Scott said the city gets reimbursed through a Tennessee Valley Authority program for economic development that promotes downtown areas.

Status of improvements

Plans to spruce up downtown are inching closer. Scott said a pre-bid meeting was held Oct. 19, and the city will open bids for phase one of the improvements project at 9:30 a.m. Nov. 5.
Once bids have been approved, Scott said the plans will need to be given the go-ahead by Tennessee Department of Transportation. Council will then subsequently need to award the contract.
“We’ll have a huge pre-construction meeting where we’ll have all the downtown business owners there to talk about phasing and things like that,” Scott said. “We hope to get started just after the Christmas parade. At first it’ll be very small things that they do, but it’ll be very crucial as far as timing goes, so we’ll be very careful there. Probably about a 90- to 120-day construction period.”
Scott said the city plans to cut the sidewalk back similar to that in front of the post office along Broadway Street, which should allow better parking for vehicles. In addition, overhead electrical wires will be placed underground, some landscaping will be done, bump-outs and either brick or stamped asphalt will be placed at the intersection.
“This phase one that we’re doing, that they’re bidding on, is simply between Kingston Street and A Street and then the intersection of A Street and Broadway,” Scott said. “So it’s one city block, but it’s one intersection. This is sort of the tester.”
Subsequent phases will be from Grand Street to C Street with the exception of Kingston Street to A Street, Scott said.
“We’re wanting to get it going as soon as we can get that out and back in and award the bids,” Wilburn said. “We’d like to get all that going before the first of the year if we can and just get going. It’s a project that’s been needed and we’re just trying to get it finalized. ... I think people are really going to like the way it looks and the parking’s going to be an improvement downtown.”