The Courthouse Square Revitalization program soon will provide the long awaited directional signs for the downtown city of Loudon business district, but more time will be required for the city's banners.
In the Courthouse Square Revitalization Committee public meeting Monday, Kathy Knight, Loudon County Economic Development Agency assistant director and program director, reported on the program to those in attendance.
Bids have been received for the sign portion of the program, with bids accepted for materials and installation, Knight said. Directional signs have been a repeated request of struggling downtown merchants who claim potential customers sometimes could not find their way to the business. A directional plan was part of the designs prepared by Tommy Stokes Design in 2010.
The Ortwein Sign Group from Chattanooga bid $13,762 for materials and $21,640 for installation for a total bid amount of $35,402. Sign Co. Inc. bid $18,994 for materials but did not bid for installation. Thomas Sign & Awning, a company from Florida, bid $17,204 for materials and $5,425 for installation.
Lynn Mills, Loudon city manager, said he will recommend accepting the Ortwein Sign Group's bid for materials and have the city public works department install the signs. The bid request was for 16 different signs and poles. The signs bid did not include the recommended downtown kiosk, but did include signs for key intersections.
Four bids were received for banners, which will have the new city logo designed by Tommy Stokes. The banner bids were for 75 banners and bids ranged from $47 for lightweight vinyl per banner to $249.33 per banner for heavier vinyl. All bids received were for vinyl banners.
Mills said he will recommend the council reject all banner bids and rebid for treated canvas banners. Mills said canvas is a superior material and will hold up better, particularly on the bridge.
"We have some canvas banners we ordered in 1992 and we're still using them," Mills said.
A request by downtown merchants to provide marketing materials for the city was discussed. Clayton Pangle, Loudon County Visitors Bureau director, said the bureau will provide a "trial" run of a pamphlet designed by LaVerne Howard, owner of the Mark's Diner building on Grove Street. "We have some ideas the Visitors Bureau is working on but we are like everyone else — we only have a certain amount of funds we can expend," Pangle said.
The pamphlet will be stocked at the Loudon County Chamber of Commerce office in the Depot building.
"We would have a much better chance of getting them at the welcome stations if they were of higher quality printing," Pangle said. "We want to see the reaction to the first run before we do that."
Howard said she was still waiting to get the benches and trash receptacles that were part of Stokes' "streetscapes" design.
"We voted on this in the beginning and we're still waiting on them. We have benches in front of our stores, but they are not uniform," she said.
Howard has met with the Loudon City Council several times over the last two months, asking for the Courthouse Square Revitalization project to be implemented more quickly.
Streetscapes and way-finding were part of the design for the designated area.
The projected overall budget for the Courthouse Square Revitalization Program is $2.192 million. As a pilot community for the Courthouse Square Revitalization Program, Loudon receives a 5.5 percent shared sales tax rebate from the state to help with redevelopment of the district. The amount of funds available for use hinges on the sales tax base. The city borrowed $875,000 to get the program started with anticipation of sales tax increases to service the debt. But, because of the way it is administered, there are many variables in the program pertaining to revenues and expenses, according to Knight.
New business opens Howard has contended that the downtown business district is struggling, with businesses constantly leaving or closing down. She said the city should find ways to support merchants.
Last week, the Courthouse Square district got one new business. Munsey Pharmacy opened its doors at 702 Grove St., across from the Courthouse.
James "Jim" Munsey, pharmacist, opened a pharmacy in the building in 2000, but left six years ago. The store has reopened and offers medical equipment such as walkers, diabetic shoes and compounded medications. It also sells pain creams and gels, veterinary compounding and other types of specialty compounded medications, as well as prescriptions.
"This is a good place downtown and people in the downtown area have a need for a pharmacy here," Munsey said. "They don't have to drive. We can even deliver their prescriptions to the door."
Munsey said large insurance companies are driving a lot of the pharmaceutical business and he hopes people will support an independent local pharmacy. He also hopes the city will support the business' location.
Tax revenues increase Knight, reporting on the effects of the Courthouse Square program, said sales tax revenues have increased 20 percent. "The revenues are coming in better than we had hoped," Knight said.
The budget included expended funds in the downtown triangle streetscapes and greenway, which cost $125,000. Other expenditures were: signs and awnings, $100,000; commercial exterior building rehab, $687,000; and residential exterior rehab, $200,000.
For the residential rehab portion of the grant, the program contracted with Loudon County Habitat for Humanity. Dave Sponsel, Habitat president, reports that of 25 families who were contacted about the grants, 20 percent responded and filled out applications. Of those five, two accepted.
When one of those rehab projects was begun, the workers found extensive termite damage.
"As soon as the weather breaks, we are going to go out there to work," Sponsel said. "You should be very proud that most of those places on the list are in good shape."
The allocation for the residential portion of the project might be reallocated for other projects, Knight said.