City preps for downtown project

Jeremy Nash

Work on Lenoir City’s downtown streetscapes project is set to get underway soon, as local officials held a pre-construction meeting with business owners Wednesday to talk about phase one of the project, which will extend from Kingston Street to A Street.

Construction is set to begin May 2.

Mike Waller, with consulting firm Cannon & Cannon Inc., said the project could run through the end of August. He said most of the work will be done by July.

Southern Constructors Inc. project manager Mike McGaugh said phase one will be conducted in three different steps, with each phase lasting about 45 days. Southern Constructors was awarded a bid to complete phase one of the project during a Lenoir City Council meeting last month.
Work will start on the southern end of downtown near the Waller Building. According to a document provided during the pre-construction meeting, the first step will be to close parking and outside lanes on the southern side of East Broadway. Work will also include utilities, concrete work and paving. The final step will be to stripe the lanes.
“We’ll take up the parking lane and one drive lane in each direction,” he said. “... One side will have two lanes and the other direction will have one lane.”
Lenoir City Administrator Amber Scott said there will be “minimal disturbance” for businesses during the process.
“It will affect them some just because we will be removing the sidewalks in front of the businesses,” McGaugh said. “There will be barricades and things up. Perception-wise, the public looks at that and thinks, ‘Well, I shouldn’t go that way.’ But we try to do as much as we can to provide access — safe access to them but still be able to get our work done, and that may mean that we have to do work at night (when) businesses are closed.”
“That’s what you always strive for given a project like this in a downtown commercial area,” Scott added. “... They will try to be as minimal impact as possible.”
During the meeting, members discussed the possibility of placing signs around downtown encouraging drivers to park behind Roane State Community College.
“We are going to try to get signage in place to direct people to that location for parking,” Scott said in a follow-up interview.
Scott said the plan behind phase one is to place electrical utilities underground, put bump-outs at the intersection, cut back the sidewalks to allow for easier parking, locate safer parking along Broadway Street and have stamped concrete in the intersections. The project is expected to cost about $535,000.
“We’ve chosen like a brick — it’s a brick color to make it stand out as you’re approaching the intersection (and) also to mentally encourage people to slow down,” Scott said. “You’re in a downtown pedestrian area.”
Scott said no information could be given at the time on phase two of the streetscapes project. City officials eventually plan to extend the project from Grand Street to C Street.
Updated information on construction will provided during a meeting at 2 p.m. May 10 at Lenoir City Hall.

Project ‘great for downtown’

While construction may pose an inconvenience for businesses, owners in downtown share a belief that the end result will be a positive for the city in the long run.
Mary Bright, co-owner of the Sparkly Pig, said she wasn’t concerned about work on the sidewalks that may impact business, noting store officials “will just be creative in finding ways to get our customers to come in and see us.” Bright is also owner of The Back Door Gallery, which is also located in downtown.
“I think that they’re approaching it very methodically, which will help tremendously,” Bright said about city officials. “What I gathered yesterday at the meeting is that the plan has ... been planned well and thought through. I think that we’re going to have a summer where we’re going to have a block that’s going to be torn up, but I think the end result is going to be awesome. I think everybody will really appreciate when it’s done.”
Dandelion Hill owner Sharon Crouch, who has been in business in downtown since September, said the reimagined Broadway Street corridor will be “great for downtown.”
“There’s going to be some inconvenience while they’re working, but honestly I think that is going to pique the curiosity of people around here because this has been coming for a long time and people have been waiting to see this happen, so I think it’s going to bring some excitement,” Crouch said. “It might be messy while we’re in the middle of it, but the end result’s what matters.”