Loudon unveils 'dream plan'

Vicky Newman-News-Herald
A dream long held by some elected Loudon officials became a more realistic vision Monday.

The Community Design Center revealed conceptual designs for a new Loudon City Hall/Utilities facility and redevelopment of a section of the riverfront during a joint meeting of Loudon City Hall and Loudon Utilities Board.

Designers with the not-for-profit center worked with Tennessee Valley Authority, the community and property owners while looking at possibilities for the 11-acre Hutch manufacturing site, which sits between the present city hall property and the Tennessee River.

At the center of the plan is the idea of renovating a Hutch building for a new city hall/utilities facility.
Leslie Fawaz, studio design director with CDC, pointed out features included in the overall plan, from parking and tent space under the present bridge for a farmerís market to a "mixed lining of live-work art spaces" leading to a greenway/community garden area. The area would be ideal for a library, restaurants and community center for art shows, Fawaz said.

A landmark in the design plan is the old Bacon Hosiery Mill water tower, which designers recommended maintaining but refurbishing and updating with a new Loudon logo to greet visitors approaching over the bridge.

"We liked the character of the water tower," Fawaz said. "We'd love to maintain it; it is such an eye catcher for passersby. They would see the new city hall."

The city hall building would occupy the "saw-tooth front" main building of the Hutch property, which would have two fronts, one facing toward the courthouse square and the other toward the river.

Mayor Judy Keller said construction of a new city hall was a priority for council members when they took office. "This (plan) has been a dream of mine since 1994-95," Keller said. "We're dreaming about a new city hall/utilities building."

The building had been a priority identified at a public meeting held Nov. 29. Original plans, however, had utilized another riverfront property. That building, because of the economic downturn, is now available again since owner Rick Dover did not develop it as planned. Because of the economy, the city may not have funds to purchase that property back or the Hutch property.

The Hutch property contains numerous existing buildings, some of which would be demolished and some maintained, depending on their condition and potential for development. At least four of the buildings are recommended to be maintained and four demolished, Fawaz said.

Another public meeting to show residents the plans developed using their ideas is slated for 6:30 p.m. Feb. 26 at the Loudon Fire Hall.

Fawaz said TVA representatives, as well as the current property owners and potential developers, were involved in discussions leading to the design plan. The plan includes about 88 residences with a mix of traditional single-family, apartments and commercial.

The developments are of the type favored by younger families, Keller said. "We want to keep our young people here. We need recreation and a place to raise a family."

Pat Phillips, Loudon County Economic Development Agency president, said the property owners were ready to sell. "We went through our plans with the Oleshanskys and they are on board. They liked the concept," he said.

Complaints come
The presentation by was followed by a Loudon businesswoman who is not happy with what has been accomplished downtown so far.

LaVerne Howard, owner of the Markís Diner building, addressed the board concerning the Courthouse Square branding and signage projects. The government wheels are turning too slowly for businesses, she said.

"I'm here because we have lost another two businesses from downtown - the Riverwalk Grill and The Dwelling Place," Howard said. "I met with the last two businesses in the Carmichael Inn and told them all about the Courthouse Square (Redevelopment) grant. I feel bad about telling them about the signage project because it hasn't been done in time to help them."

Howard said a "giant disconnect" exists between city council, the Loudon Merchants and Property Owners Association and downtown businesses.

"In July 2007, I brought a petition signed by every downtown merchant requesting signage and making of parking lots downtown ... so people would know where to find us. ... I asked again in 2008. In September 2008, the city council awarded contracts for the greenbelt and Streetscape projects, but the way-finding portion of the Courthouse Square project was not included," Howard said.

She said she was told in November 2011 that the signage project would go to bid early 2012.

"In February 2013, we're still waiting on the bids to go out," Howard said.

Howard said 23 downtown businesses, some "very qualified," have failed since 2006. "The rest of us are hanging on by our fingernails," she said. "The city and LMPOA needs to embrace these new businesses to help them succeed. Please ... see where you can help. We love Loudon."

Howard asked for help with way-finding and parking downtown and printed materials about downtown to be distributed at visitor centers. She said LMPOA is mainly an organization to preserve The Lyric Theatre.

"I am disappointed," Howard said. "I have tried to do as much as I can to help businesses downtown ... it is very frustrating. How can we work together?"

Loudon City Council also discussed the possibility of pursuing purchase of the building sold to Rick Dover several years ago. The property was formerly the Don P. Smith Chair Factory, located on Main Street near the river. Lynn Mills, city manager, said council voted in 2006 to sell it to Dover with the understanding he would develop it in three years or the city would be able to buy it back for the purchase price.

"Unfortunately, with the economy, that (development) did not happen," Mills said. He said the deed inadvertently omitted the agreement between Dover and the city, and Dover wants an additional $56,441 for the property.

Mills recommended the price be paid if the building is repurchased. Litigation would drive the cost higher, he said.

Design would revitalize downtown Loudon riverfront

Old, abandoned industrial buildings line a section of the riverfront in Loudon, but a design in the works would turn what most call an eyesore, into a downtown destination.

The owner of the Hutch buildings wants to sell the property, and the East Tennessee Community Design Center went to the drawing board.

"We create the pretty pictures to try to sell the project, and then we show it to the public and let them know that their input was listened to," said Leslie Fawaz, with the Community Design Center.

The plan would demolish four buildings, maintain four others, create a new city hall, and give the signature water tower a facelift.

"We kind of call it the Eiffel Tower of Loudon, so we would like it to be renovated and painted with logos of Loudon," said Fawaz.

The design could also lead to a new library, green space, housing, and a farmers market, among other potential developments on the prime time real estate.

"I just think it's a wonderful property. There's a beautiful view from the bridge when you're driving over it," said Fawaz. "It has so much potential and has views from the river; it's just a beautiful asset. It's been manufacturing, but now it could really help the community."

Business owners told 10News the design would help bring in foot traffic to their storefronts and restaurants.

"This could be a goin' little town," said LaVerne Howard, with Mark's Diner in downtown Loudon. "I think it's really ambitious for the times."

Howard said the plan comes a little too late, after she said she has watched 23 business fail since 2006.

"Mainly they have failed because there's no sign, and no one knows how to get to them," said Howard. "Highway 11 runs straight through, and there aren't any signs to tell you where to turn. So by the time you get through town, you're out of town."

Howard said the needed signage is a work in progress, but she wished the effort to push the marketing was as strong as push for the CDC design has been.

"I think it's smart to pursue it, but I'm really frustrated that we're not pursuing taking care of our own businesses downtown," said Howard.

A public meeting was scheduled for Tuesday, February 26th at the Loudon Fire Hall so residents could check out the plans.

Fawaz said the next step would be the finding a developer to purchase the Hutch buildings from their current owner.

"Getting more people living and working and playing in downtown Loudon. that's really the goal of the project," said Fawaz. "Making it more pedestrian friendly, visitor friendly, it could make a huge difference to the whole town."