Repair on the Square
By Clint Confehr
Senior Staff Writer
A Tennessee Department of Transportation contractor ground up the surface of pavement around Lewisburg's public square nearly three days before students in a college course on design arrived for the second year of Studio on the Square in buildings around the Marshall County Courthouse.
Streetscapes are typically a part of downtown renovations. Downtown lampposts, their banners, protected parking spaces, shrubs and trees were a step in that direction here several years ago. This week it's the college students' examination of buildings and resulting reports on Friday that will take center stage as Lewisburg's public square continues to evolve toward revitalization.
O'More College of Design in Franklin has a special summer course for students who go to towns where they provide their ideas and suggestions at no charge to businessmen and women.
"The O'More Studio-on-the-Square class began ... Sunday," Lewisburg Downtown Alliance Chairman Leland Carden reported.
Seven buildings and one piece of real estate are assigned to the college students.
"All projects this year are new, with the exception of the remaining portion of the Chinese restaurant building," Carden said.
Rick Tillis' jewelry store has moved from the north side of the square and is now on the corner of Commerce Street and Second Avenue - part of what was the Chinese restaurant that's been renovated.
Tillis, one of the leaders in the downtown alliance, had O'More College students provide suggestions on what could be done to improve the image of his store when it was on the north side of the square.
Upstairs from the jewelry store - previously the Chinese restaurant's dining room - is a space that had been apartments and the college students presented designs last August on what could be done to improve the living quarters.
Chickee's owner Jennifer Crow will move her restaurant from West Commerce Street to the west side of the square. She also says that as a student she studied design and will receive O'More students' suggestions before she opens her new location in the fall.
David Koellein, chairman of O'More College's Interior Design Department, and O'More Assistant Professor Rebecca Andrews "and eight students are working out of the First Presbyterian Church again this year," Carden said.
Meanwhile, some property owners and businessmen are proceeding on their own. One is Jim Bingham, proprietor of his own engineering firm on the west side of the square where he's renovating the space next to his office.
Tuesday he was to meet with painters on cost and when they can start with colors he selected after consulting with Vicky Ezell of Lewisburg Paint Store.
"I've fixed the structural problems inside so I can react in a reasonable time if someone wants to rent the place," Bingham said of the nearly 1,400-square-foot store that will face a new front door to the Marshall County Courthouse when it's renovated next year.
In a departure from providing designs for buildings' renovation, two O'More students are examining a spring on the east bank of Rock Creek upstream from the park. Realtor Grover Collins owns the property that includes what's seen as the original source of water for this community. It's been seen as a natural asset to become an historic wayside exhibit near the city's greenway pedestrian trail and bike path.
Another downtown redevelopment property without a building is the empty lot next to Parsons Pharmacy. Former Mayor Bob Phillips and his wife, Faris, had Truette Construction develop plans that abide by ideas presented last year when two O'More College students suggested that a "ghost building" - complete with a green grass carpet - be developed around the space that would become a park.
"It's to be a passive park where people can sit," Bob Phillips said, knowing that the building next door has been seen as a prospective space for a restaurant.
The ideas are not unique. A lot on Shelbyville's public square had been seen as a potential outdoor dining room between Pope's Café and the Norton Law Firm.
Here, the park "will have a metal front that's in a grid pattern to give the appearance of a ghost building," Phillips said.
With a door in the middle, the former mayor anticipates someday shrubs planted to the left and right of the door so that's the only way into the ghost building.
As area residents became aware of the plan, they've asked if the walls would be made smooth as if they were plastered.
"No," Phillips said, "because other people own them."
The next step is with "structural engineers to know how deep we have to go for the pillars" to hold the steel beams, he said. "And Johnny Chunn, the owner of Truette Construction, is consulting with a landscape architect to know about drainage and grass.
"It's taken more thought than I imagined...
"I'd like it to be a gathering place for small musical performances," he said. "I want to have lights and water so I can water the grass and light it up at night."
Just west on Commerce Street, Jennifer Crow met with O'More students on Sunday because they're working on her new space.
"They told me 'It's great blank canvas,'" she Crow said of what used to be a Chinese restaurant.
"The two students assigned to my space told me they're excited because they're interested in restaurant design," Crow said, calling what they'll be doing for her "an alive project," meaning, "Some of the other projects are mock ups, while my project will come to fruition. I will create the new space based on their design.
"My background is in interior design, so I gave them some good direction and we've decided on a floor plan together. I'm open to their suggestions," she said. "I'm confident in the design of these students... but being the business owner, I do have the final say in the matter.
"That gives them an opportunity to interact with a client, which is another aspect of their education process," said Crow, who wants to be open in her new location by Thanksgiving with more seats and offering breakfast, lunch and supper at various times and days.
Directly across the square in what's been known as The Emporium - now named Primitive Blessings Christian Bookstore and Coffee House - Karen Ellis has a new partner. She's Kathy Costello, who recently moved to Lewisburg after living in Florida and Maryland.
"We're two Christian women who've come together," Ellis said, to make a place for people, spirituality and commerce. They've reopened a luncheon counter and added paninis, an Italian word for sandwiches.
The businesses in the big green building on the southeast corner of the square are being developed by the proprietors.
As for the O'More College design assignments, the students are working and are to present their ideas to property owners and businessmen and women on Friday.