Downtown group, merchants enhance L'burg public square

Friday, July 23, 2010
Painters, hired by Jeff and Karen Ellis, are repainting their building on Lewisburg's public square. Paint is recognized by advocates for historic preservation as a practical way to enhance appearances as well as preserve buildings.

The Lewisburg Downtown Alliance is getting help from a native son and daughter to achieve its vision to develop, preserve and promote the historic downtown area and the volunteers have explained how their methods will help.

Lewisburg "is a wonderful place to live and grow up," Dan Brewer of BrewerIngramFuller Architects in Knoxville told the LDA last week as he recalled fields on the Duck River where he grew corn and soybean crops that paid his tuition toward a career and restoration of American towns.

With experience in other cities, Brewer said, "They don't have anything that you don't have here."

Also offering help is Brianne Huitt, another Lewisburg native who's now the regional historic preservation planner for the South Central Tennessee Development District.

She explained the "how-to of revitalization" after Brewer presented many digital pictures projected on a screen in Lewisburg City Hall on Thursday night last week. She spoke of investment tax credits, 60-40 matching grants for historic preservation and even 80-20 grants from the state transportation department - both offering the larger percentage of funding when local leaders pledge a sum that's the lower percentage in a matching grant agreement.

As Huitt mentioned grants and loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development program, local leaders, including LDA President Leland Carden, noted that the city has a revolving loan program that makes modest sums available at very low interest rates.

A recent example of the locally administered loan is the development of the '50s & Fiddles restaurant and music venue next to the old Dixie theater that's now the Marshall County Community Theatre.

The Bijou Theatre in Knoxville, a bed and breakfast inn made from an old school, the Century Building in Knoxville, and buildings in Morristown, Fayetteville, Waynesboro and elsewhere were discussed as were the Bank of America here, the origins of what's now the County Courthouse Annex, and how the bicycle and pedestrian path along Rock Creek could be an avenue for access to the square.

Lewisburg's bypass, Ellington Parkway, was discussed in contrast to the bypass at Fayetteville, and Carden recalled decisions by the churches in Lewisburg to remain downtown. Instead of building larger churches elsewhere, the congregations bought adjoining and nearby properties.

"Parking is not such a problem now," Brewer said, contrasting Lewisburg's square and spaces to "like it is in other places."

Construction codes were also seen as a topic for the LDA's attention with its volunteers. Brewer said, "In Knoxville we've got an alternative building code."

Fire escapes and stairwells "are the kinds of things we'll have to deal with," said Carden, who's also a member of the Lewisburg Planning and Zoning Commission.

Huitt mentioned the prospect of developing an "historic overlay" for the city. The "overlay" is an additional set of codes that may include exceptions for buildings that were constructed before fire safety codes were written.

Cardin was a resident of Clinton, Tenn., where a group similar to the LDA worked for years and transformed that town's appearance, he said. It won't happen overnight, but the meeting in City Hall was a step toward revitalization of Lewisburg's public square and the eight roads away from the city's hub.

Jamie Stitt, Marshall County's immediate past executive director for the Joint Economic and Community Development Board before she accepted a job with state's economic and community development office, concluded, "We've got to put a plan together with some of the most basic things on what we'll do."

She issued an open call for comments from the city council and the general public, and the group reached a general consensus that members should be open to suggestions from the public and City Hall.