A new frame for an old painting

A new frame for an old painting
A new frame for an old painting | Tennessee Downtowns, Martin Historic Business District; Martin, Tennessee

Local business people stroll the streets of downtown Martin admiring the various window displays.
Like a new frame around an old master painting, modern improvements are highlighting historic downtown in a way that has started to be noticeable. It’s been a gradual make-over but the cumulative effects of new fixtures around town are large enough now for there to be cause for celebration.
For sure there have been inconveniences as the infrastructure of the downtown area has literally been ripped up and put back together but about six years and five and a half million dollars later, the outlines of a newly refurbished old Martin are beginning to be apparent.
But there is still much to be done to attract new businesses and visitors to the downtown core of the city.
Federal and state monies mixed with building preservation efforts by individual business owners provided the initial face-lift and now still other citizens will build on these foundations. In spring of 2010, Martin community organizers made sure Martin was selected along with nine other towns around the state to receive a $15,000 grant under the Tennessee Downtowns program to ensure that downtown remains the heart of the city.
Tennessee Downtowns under the State’s Economic and Community Development Department is modeled after the Main Street program and allows communities who are close to, but lack all of the necessary criteria to be classified as a Main Street community to gather the background skills they need to push their downtown forward.
This weekend, Martin will hold its first Tennessee Downtowns “Family Fun Day “ at Festival Park.  Martin natives Chad Clifton and Justin Harrell of the Green Bay Packers will be on hand to sign autographs at Festival Park downtown on May 7.
Tennessee Downtowns is also designing and commissioning new signs for the downtown area including a brick entry sign and one for the Farmer’s Market where local farmers have been holding court the past couple of summers behind the C.E. Weldon library downtown. A new walking tour of downtown is also in the works.
But six years ago many of the improvements Martin needed involved expensive but fairly boring work like burying cables and wires and changing out sidewalks and traffic lights. For these kinds of infrastructural upgrades, the city of Martin applied for at least three major grants from the state and federal government.
Mayor Randy Brundige explains that the original vision formulated by architects and engineers to spruce up the downtown streets was coordinated out of the Martin Economic Development Corporation in the city. The City Board approved each stage of the Downtown Revitalization Program.
The infrastructure facelift started with  $650,000 from the Tennessee Department of Transportation to redo sidewalks and lighting downtown almost around Festival Park. But they ran out of money around the Reed Center. Then, Brundige explains, a grant was applied for and awarded to complete another portion of the downtown perimeter going down University Street. He said everyone expected the city to have to contribute 20% of the $1.4 million awarded but because federal stimulus money came into play, 100% of the costs of the project were covered.
“They (federal government) were saying that they were looking for projects that were shovel ready, and we were shovel ready,” recalls Brundige. As a result, Martin got more streetscape enhancement completed.
The biggest part of the cost, the mayor says, was in taking down utility poles and burying electric wires and cables underground. The Weakley Country Municipal Electric System did most of that work. New sidewalks went on top. Some hydrants also had to be moved and new fireplugs installed.
The lampposts that dotted the now line-free streets were designed to conform to the design of the few lampposts that had been erected already in the historic district.
He says that the earlier downtown work was the most “tedious” as workers had to take out sidewalks in front of existing businesses, jack up awnings and other structures for stability and install new water and electric lines under the concrete. That particular phase lasted from late fall through the next summer.
TDOT kicked in some new traffic lights at a cost of $125,000 and paved University Street all the way to Highway 22 using $2.3 million of federal stimulus money.
“They saw our project and the way things were,” says Brundige and they offered to help.
The Brian Brown Memorial Greenway also become part of the plan when the city won a Transportation Enhancement grant from the state for $700,000 and UT Martin contributed land. A 1.25 mile paved patch of trail running behind UTM’s recycling and agricultural facilities has become a popular magnet for walkers and bike riders alike. There are plans to extend the Greenway to complete a loop back to UTM, but Brundige says these have been stalled by negotiations with the railroad.
There is still another $1.2 million grant waiting in the wings for phase three of the beautification project explains the mayor who says the streetscape improvements will extend further down University Street all the way to Lovelace St.
That part of the project is still in the design stage TLM Associates of Jackson is working on mechanical engineering plans and Richey Smith who worked on river projects in Memphis is working on the landscape engineering. The mayor is hopeful that ground might be broken on this phase by the fall.
wcp 5/5/11


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