By Jim Young
The Crossville City Council heard from downtown property and business owners, as well as others, with updates and information on the long-proposed downtown Crossville infrastructure improvement during a recent work session.
The meeting reviewed the latest design and information on the project along with news of an increase in the total costs as well as when some of the grants already in place need to be used or they could be lost.
“The clock is ticking,” said Evan Sanders with Community Development Partners, Inc., who is consulting with the city on the funding for the project and grant administration. Sanders told the council that, right now, downtown projects are difficult to fund and the ratios (of grant funding to other sources) on Crossville's project are very good and, according to Sanders, “higher than usual for a project like this.”
The council was told that once the project gets underway, it will take around 2 years to complete. The city has invested $790,868.50 in the project so far.
E.G.&G. architect Paul Roszak reviewed some of the findings of the firm's studies on the infrastructure and issues that would be addressed by the project. Roszak said preliminary plans for the work were complete and have been submitted to the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) for their approval.
According to Roszak, some of the water lines currently used in the downtown area could be more than 90 years old. He said that storm drainage in the downtown area was “almost nonexistent” and what storm drainage there is was described as “piecemeal.” The grates in the downtown area do not meet the ADA requirements and the asphalt/pavement system is deficient. Other systems that are outdated include the street lights, aging traffic signal lights and cracked and patched sidewalks.
Other concerns according to Roszak are that the overhead utility lines create hazards and would make firefighting difficult in the area. In addition, there is very poor water pressure, another problem for fighting fires. A map prepared by the city shows the lowest water pressures in the system is in the downtown area.
DCI's Tonya Hinch talked a bit about the organization's efforts at promoting the downtown area, including tours for all Cumberland County fourth grade students. Hinch brought a number of downtown property and business owners to speak to the council about their concerns.
James Mayberry of Mayberrys Furniture said that, for years, his building has had “a swimming pool in the boiler room.” He also said it was probably lucky that no one has been sued over the three foot high sidewalk at the side of his building, something that would be corrected in the project.
City attorney Ken Chadwell, who addressed the council as a downtown business owner and member of the board of Highland Federal Savings and Loan, said when they purchased the old Chronicle building it had a swimming pool in the basement all the way up to the first floor joists. Chadwell said it had been costly to repair the problem and that the Highland Federal offices across the street had similar issues.
Water in the basement of Highland Federal, according to Chadwell, includes storm water as well as treated drinking water and waste water. Chadwell said he thought it might come from damaged and leaking lines in the area.
Chadwell said he encouraged the city to take advantage of the grants to take care of this problem. He added that the use of the resources would be a prudent action to take.
Crossville businesswoman Carla French from the other end of downtown thanked the council for considering the problems of downtown business owners. French said the water at her home is always clear and good but in her store it is rust colored and unpleasant.
French said she left Crossville for 25 years but returned to open a business because of her love for Crossville and the future vision of city leaders. She added she wanted others to be attracted to downtown, not to grow huge, but to keep the status quo.
Jim Mitchell, son of long-time downtown businessman Bob Mitchell, said he had seen first hand the problems with water pressure when the fire department had to run hundreds of feet of hose to fight the fire next to the drug store building a number of years ago. He added the infrastructure coming to the building was the same as when the building was built in 1939.
Downtown property owner Lou Morrison, whose wife is dermatologist Dr. Kendall Morrison, said they own the Taylor Square (Old Hotel Taylor) building and other property on Park Street and there are problems with stormwater as well as water and sewer. According to Morrison, sometimes water in their building is rusty and some days the sewer flows and other days it does not.
Morrison said he had plans already drawn for additional development but he planned to hold off until improvements are made.
In addition, representatives of Cumberland County Bank discussed extreme storm water incidents that would have water one foot high at the front of their auxiliary building on Fourth Street, making it impossible to rent.
Tonya Hinch summed up the comments by warning the council that at some point the infrastructure in the downtown area will fail.
Engineer James Golias with E.G.&G. engineers said the total cost of the project is now expected to be $10.4 million and grants have been secured to pay $4.25 million, with a low interest loan covering another $1.3 million. Local funding still needed would be just over $4 million. Some of the funding would come from water and sewer depreciation accounts and would not require additional increases in water/sewer bills.
Golias said the estimates on the costs are very accurate and the $10.4 number includes all the costs of the project. He added that his firm is “very comfortable with the numbers.”
The bottom line for the project is that in order to keep all the grant funds that have been collected so far a decision must be made and the project must move forward soon or at least some of the funding will be lost.