Quite the opposite.
Johnson is concerned the revitalization effort might be bad for business, so bad it could force the closing of Johnsons Jewelers.
If the road and sidewalks were torn up at the same time, Johnson fears, customers couldn’t get to his store. He could be out of business before both reopen.
Johnson voiced that worst-case scenario Thursday night, Nov. 19, during a meeting of Macon County Revitalization, Inc., at the Welcome Center.
That scenario, he said, is based on conversations with jewelry company representatives throughout the Southeast and business owners in Gallatin who went out of business as a direct result of that city’s square revitalization process.
“They said when they start tearing your sidewalks up and tearing the streets up and you can’t get to your customers that you might as well shut your doors,” Johnson said. “And I’m really concerned about that.”
Johnson wasn’t the only business owner concerned by that scenario.
“Believe me, I have that same fear,” said Miles Gibson, the group’s president and owner of Gibson’s Café.
Adding to that fear is the fact that Gibson’s residence also is located on the square.
Speaking for himself and not the group, Gibson said they’d be “hard-pressed” to shut down vehicle or pedestrian traffic to the square for any length of time.
Pete Williston, the group’s vice-president and CEO of Citizens Bank, said there are differences for the better between Gallatin’s project and the one being planned here.
Macon County’s first revitalization meeting drew 40 people, Williston said. Seven showed for Gallatin’s first meeting.
Noting he wasn’t involved in Gallatin’s process, Williston said his sense “was they just sort of ramroded that through.”
Williston said local mayors are supporting the process but not driving the process.
“That’s why it’s so important to have business owners and property owners involved in the process,” Williston said. “We’re the ones with a dog in the fight.”
The majority of business owners around the square are members of Macon Revitalization, Inc., and have given $25 donations, though many of those same owners do not attend the revitalization meetings.
“But the fact is they’re positive,” Gibson said. “They have an open ear.”
The group is still in the process of putting together a master plan to guide the project from start to finish. Overall, the project is still in the early stages of development.
“We’re more prone to be very weary of just going in and tearing the place up without a plan,” Gibson said.
“That’s something we have control over. When I look at Gallatin, I saw the same things.
“They just shut that place down. Our square is a lot different in many, many ways. That’s why it’s so important to come up with a good master plan. Why would we want to revitalize the square if we put half the people out of business, including me?”
Randy East used the saying “no pain, no gain” to describe the revitalization effort.
“No gain is without some kind of pain,” East said. “In the pain we suffer on the front end, you’ve got to look later on if your town improves how much more your business is going to improve because it is revitalized.
“I think we as a group should work with the county mayor and city mayor because these property owners have a valid concern. We should work with them to try to minimize [the impact on businesses].”
Added Gibson: “It’s our responsibility, as this group, to make sure people don’t go out of business while we’re doing this. If somebody goes out of business directly because of the square revitalization, which did happen in Gallatin, then I think we’re not doing our jobs.
“We’re the business owners. We’re here to protect ourselves and make the place a better place. It’s not going to be easy but it’s definitely going to be worth it in the long run.”
Other new developments in the process were discussed throughout the 80-minute meeting:
In the only motion made during the meeting, the group decided to promote the revitalization effort during Christmas in Key Park. It will staff a booth to hand out brochures and possibly show a short video on the project.
The group is in the process of filing for 501c3 tax status.
Gibson called it a “step in the right direction” while Williston added that it is “going to take some time” to complete the filing process.
Money in the bank
The group is doing “pretty darn good” with its finances, Gibson said.
The group currently has $784.08 in the bank. That’s after it spent $470 on a workshop several weeks ago.
“All this money has come from private donations,” Gibson said.
Since the group’s last gathering, a meeting was held between Tri-County Electric and North Central Telephone Cooperative.
NCTC President Nancy White said Tri-County is in the process of putting together a cost estimate for how much money it’ll take to move the large, unsightly transformer pole off the courthouse lawn.
“Part of it will have to go underground in two different directions,” White said.
White said Tri-County thinks it can get most utilities off the square. Business owners would then be able to bring their services around to the back of their buildings.
“We already have phone services in the back, so we don’t have much to move,” White said. “As far as moving the lights and all of the wires two blocks back, they pretty much said forget it because it was $2 million.
“We should just focus on getting it off the square. That seems to be very doable and probably in our budget, but I don’t have the final numbers.”
Omar School of Design
Having Omar School of Design adopt the square as a project was again discussed. The school, located in Franklin, has done similar work in the past with the square in Livingston.
Williston said he has already drafted a letter to Ted Clayton, who is on the school’s board of directors and also owns a home in Macon County. The letter has not yet been sent.
Jim Hodges of the Hodges Group in Portland owns the hotel. He was not at the meeting, but Williston said Hodges has always said “he will do something when he sees this group do something.”
Stating “it’s no secret,” Williston revealed some of Hodges’ plans for the hotel. According to Williston, the main floor will have retail, the upper floor will have condominiums and some parking would be available in the basement.
“He’s waiting for the rest of the square to start moving,” said Williston, adding that Hodges has already stabilized the building.
Gibson said he’s had discussions with Hodges’ group about cleaning the front of the building.
“If he just invested a little bit in the outside of the building while it’s still sitting there, I think that would go a long ways to help the square,” Gibson said.
Gibson said there needs to be a nice sign somewhere around the intersection of highways 10 and 52 pointing those passing by to “Historic Downtown Lafayette.”
Gibson said entering the square from Highway 10, between Rite Aid and Citizens Bank, is “probably the most scenic approach to our town.”
Gibson said the sign is “one of the most positive and inexpensive things we can do right now or in the near future to help the square.”
In one of the meetings more comical moments, East jokingly suggested putting a large, flashing neon sign on Citizens Bank property pointing to the square.
“I’ll put it in my window,” Williston jokingly responded.