By Gary Nelson
Senior staff writer
City of Crossville officials met with Cumberland County's building and grounds committee in hopes of getting a commitment from the county to support its Downtown Improvement Project and to cover ongoing maintenance costs of two water fountains, once constructed, that are in the plans to be in front of the county's courthouse.
However, the discussion culminated into a non-binding, "straw pole vote" by commissioners, revealing the majority had no interest in moving forward with the project until they had more cost information for the county.
"I can't vote for this without being able to tell the people I represent how much it'll cost. I'd like to know how much," said Carmin Lynch, 9th District commissioner.
Attending the meeting were Crossville Mayor J.H. Graham III, Sally Ogelsby, city clerk; and city councilmen Danny Wyatt and Jessie Kerley. E.G.&G., Inc. Principal Engineer Paul Roszak also attended the meeting to present tentative plans and answer questions county commissioners might have.
Joe Koester, 5th District commissioner, asked, "Are we going to lose any parking spaces?"
Roszak said there were 13 spaces and "We shouldn't lose any. There are certain setbacks and guidelines we have to follow on the project."
Lynch asked, "Who's going to maintain all of this? It looks like it's going to be high maintenance."
Graham said, "That's why we're here. To ask about the landscape fountain and electric and water and what (the county) is willing and able to pay for."
Graham said the city would take care of the cost and operation of all the electric, control boxes, lighting and everything else, but would like the county to cover the expense of the maintenance and operation of the two water fountains that are in the plans to be located directly in front of the Cumberland County Courthouse, creating a plaza.
"Basically, you're looking at the water, chemicals and electric to run the fountains," Roszak said.
"And cleaning," Dave Hassler, 3rd District commissioner said. Hassler is not on the committee, but attended the meeting, as well as several other county commissioners.
Several concerns were raised by commissioners regarding the plans, which include a grass median in front of the courthouse.
"Is the roadway going to be the same width? And the parking the same size? If you're northbound on Main St., making a left turn into the Milo Lemert Building (parking area) is going to be hard," Mike Harvel, 7th District commissioner said.
Sonya Rimmer, 8th District commissioner and building and grounds committee chairman asked, "Has TDOT (Tennessee Department of Transportation) approved the plans?"
Roszak said the plans had all been approved by TDOT for a while.
"This is a $10.4 million project and the biggest project the city has undertaken. We'd like the full support of the county court (commission). We're ready to go to bid on this and are on a short leash (for time)," Graham said.
Nancy Hyder, 2nd District commissioner, asked, "How long will the project take frome start to finish?"
"Eighteen to 24 months, but with weather delays that's subject to change, but that's a best guess," Graham said.
Ogelsby, said that one lane of traffic would remain open at all times during the construction project and the project would take place in one block increments at a time and not the entire project length at once. The project runs along Main St. from Neecham St. to Lantana Rd.
"Have you checked with any of the little towns like Pikeville to see how it affects them?" Harvel asked. "From what I know, downtown Pikeville is dead now."
Graham said there were pro-formas that show up to 240 jobs could be created and that the project wasn't only an enhancement.
"That's an apple and oranges comparison with Pikeville. It's not the same. I think it's one of the greatest things to happen in Crossville ... If we never did anything we'd still have a gravel road," Koester said.
"I just wonder where the growth is at?" Harvel asked.
Frances Carson of Downtown Crossville, Inc. (DCI) said DCI had been in touch with all of the business and property owners in the downtown area and many of the buildings have two stories, or basements where business could either be expanded or new ventures could come in.
"This is a traffic calming pattern designed to slow traffic. The street will be the same size, but be more family friendly, encouraging people to walk and cross the streets safely," Carson said.
"With this growth, where's everybody going to park?" Harvel asked.
"I hope we have that problem, and if we do we'll deal with it in the future," Carson said.
"I think it's beautiful. My concern is if we slow down traffic too much, then people will want to avoid coming to downtown," Harvel said.
Carson said that DCI will continue to advertise and promote many community events, encouraging more people to come to the downtown area.
Graham said the city would work with the county in any way possible to address parking issues.
Johnny Presley, 3rd District commissioner, said, "What about the trucks? You can't make them stop coming down Main St. It's a state highway."
Graham said the city had letters from TDOT allowing them to designate a truck route around the downtown area, but the city hasn't done so yet.
Roy Turner, 7th District commissioner, said his main concern was the median in front of the courthouse blocking emergency traffic that comes down Main St. multiple times a day.
"As long as that median's in there, I will not support the project," Turner said.
Fire Chief and EMS Director Jeff Dodson said he felt there would have to be a "viable alternative route."
Rimmer said she had the same issue with the emergency traffic.
"Our downtown is not all that ugly ... I don't see the tax dollars coming back to the county or the city ... I don't think it's a value to the taxpayer," Rimmer said.
Oglesby estimated the annual maintenance of the fountain to cost somewhere around $600, basing the cost estimate on the fountain in front of the old city hall, which was $300 per year.
"I can get with Steve (Lewis, county building maintenance supervisor) and give him the figures," Oglesby said.
Larry Allen, 6th District commissioner, also said he would like more information on the project, as well.
"If it's only going to be $600 a year, why not take it off the table and say 'we'll take care of it?,'" Lynch asked.
"That's not under my authority," Oglesby said.
At one point, discussions became heated between some of the commissioners.
Koester, who supports the project, said, "If no progress was ever made we'd still have a gravel road on Main St. and be concerned over the traffic of cattle coming through town ... I guess that's how some would like it ..."
"Why did you even move here Joe, if everything we've ever done is wrong?" Harvel asked.
"We had a paved road (on Main St.) built before you came. We didn't need you for that," Hassler said.
"Oh, okay, so it's out there. Let's get the damn yankees out of town? Is that what you'd like?" Koester said.
"Well, no. Not all of them," Seiber said.
"Maybe if the county didn't have to pay anything and took the median out and just agreed to the project and was the poor step-sister and go on," Koester said.
He then suggested taking a non-binding, straw pole vote of the committee regarding the project.
Harry Sabine, 1st District commissioner, and Koester were the only two yes votes.
Commissioners Caroline Knight, 2nd District; Presley, Seiber, Allen and Turner, voted no, stating they would all like more information. Lynch passed on the vote, saying he needed more information.
It was not an official vote, though.
Rimmer asked how soon they needed to know before sending the project out for bids.
Roszak said approximately a week and a half.
Oglesby said she would get back with the county with some more specific cost estimates regarding the maintenance of the fountains.