Community meeting draws a crowd at Rec Center
By Karen Hall
More than 50 residents of Lewisburg showed up at the Rec Center Tuesday night to hear about plans for the future of their town, and reports on the progress already made.
"This is a wonderful turnout," exclaimed Mayor Jim Bingham. "I'm a cheerleader, and I always will be for Lewisburg, Tennessee. There's no place like this. I believe we have a great future.
"I would be remiss if I did not thank Barbara (Woods) and the previous council who had the vision and foresight to take on this project (the Vision Plan)," he continued.
The present council officially endorsed the Vision Plan earlier this year.
The Vision Plan is for Lewisburg but it extends beyond the city boundaries to affect the whole county.
"We have a wonderful relationship with the county," Bingham said, noting how big a part Mike Wiles, executive director of the Joint Economic and Community Development Board, has played, and continues to play.
"We're all working toward a better Lewisburg," he said.
There are large, expensive projects like the new swimming pool, and smaller projects that involve mainly manpower. One of these will start soon on West Commerce Street to improve the appearance of one of the entrances to downtown, straightening leaning signs, painting rusty poles, pulling weeds and so on.
"It's in the best interest of this city to present ourselves in a prideful way," Bingham said.
He turned the meeting over to City Manager Randall Dunn, who took attendees through the Vision Plan.
The Vision Plan ends with an "implementation matrix," a list of things to do in the future. There are 48 items on the list for the next two or three years, and Dunn was pleased to say the city is working on 32 of them.
"That's not bad for the first 10 months," he said. "We've been pretty successful in applying for grants."
One of Lewisburg's big assets is parks and recreation, and this has recently become even better, Dunn said, with improvements at Jones Park, and the acceptance of the gift of a piece of land on Liggett Street, which will become a neighborhood park.
"We've had a lot of stuff going on in the last eight or nine months since we adopted the Vision Plan," Dunn said. "I appreciate all your support and input."
Next up was Leland Carden, president of the Lewisburg Downtown Alliance.
Carden told how he came here in 2001 as minister of the First United Methodist Church, and found that Lewisburg reminded him of his home town in East Tennessee. It was that year former mayor Bob Phillips hosted the first meeting of what would become the LDA, so Carden has been involved from the very start.
He reminded the audience of all the changes which have taken place on the square in recent years.
"It's been a difficult task, but we've stayed with it," Carden said. "We have a beautiful town, with a lot of assets. I'm impressed that the churches have stayed downtown, and added to their facilities. That's a good sign."
In conclusion he urged people to attend the meeting at City Hall at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 17, when Nancy Williams of the Tennessee Main Street program will be talking about how to become a Main Street community.
The meeting was then thrown open to questions and comments from the audience and there was a lively exchange of ideas.
One big problem, mentioned by several people, was the fact that people go out of town to shop.
"We don't do a good job of supporting our local businesses," admitted Greg Lowe, Lewisburg's director of economic development. "That habit went away, and I don't have an answer for that. The Chamber (of Commerce) has a Shop Local campaign that they work at all the time."
As the gathering drew to a close, Bingham asked, "Is the Vision Plan going in the right direction?"
He was answered by Jerry Freeman, who said, "It's always a good plan to have a beautiful city, but you have to balance that with taking care of your citizens. It sounds good.
"If we get these new industries, will we have the workforce?" he asked.
"Workforce development is an issue we are addressing," said Bingham, and Lowe agreed, taking the opportunity to talk about the plans and programs he is working on, which will hopefully result in a better-trained workforce of all ages, from high-school graduates on up.