ERWIN — From addressing stormwater issues to spurring economic growth, town officials and those who do business in the area have high hopes for Erwin’s downtown revitalization project, the first phase of which is now under way.
“We hope that it will stem some economic growth in downtown,” Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley said Wednesday. “We hope that it will attract new retail businesses, as well as making it more friendly for people to visit downtown.”
Phase I work will cover the area of downtown Erwin from Second Street to Gay Street. Work is set to include the replacement of traffic signals with mast arms and signals, replacement of telephone and power poles with underground utilities, and the installation of decorative street lights, crossing signals, brick-detailed crosswalks, landscaping, streetscapes and bioswales.
Along with aesthetic and infrastructure upgrades, a major component of the project is the replacement of the current stormwater system in the downtown area to increase its size and capacity. Sidewalks and roads in the area are to be removed, and any water and sewer lines needing repair or replacement are to be addressed. New sidewalks and roads will then be installed.
“It will alleviate some of the flooding problems that we have downtown when we have heavy rains,” Hensley said. “We hope that will eliminate any of the flooding in our downtown businesses.”
The downtown revitalization project has been in the works for several years now. It was part of the town of Erwin’s five-year capital improvement plan, which was initiated in 2010.
In July 2011, the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved an agreement with Nashville-based planning firm Kimley-Horn and Associates to develop a master plan for the revitalization project. Community input into the development of this plan was sought, and representatives with Kimley-Horn held meetings with community members and downtown merchants soon after the agreement was approved.
“We had town meetings where we invited the public to come down and sit in on what they would like to see happen in our downtown area,” Hensley said. “Kimley-Horn took the information gathered at those meetings and put together a plan that we think is going to be very pleasing to everyone.”
Kimley-Horn’s completed revitalization master plan was presented to and approved by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen in February 2012. Last June, the board also approved the hiring of local engineering firm Tysinger, Hampton and Partners to oversee engineering work and a contract with Kimley-Horn to oversee construction on the revitalization project.
Late last month, the board accepted a construction bid from Summers Taylor Inc. to complete the first phase of work. The bid was for a little less than $1.5 million, and Summers Taylor has just more than 130 days to complete construction work, as town officials want to see the first phase completed by the start of the Unicoi County Apple Festival in early October.
Hensley said downtown businesses will remain accessible while construction is ongoing.
“The majority of downtown merchants are really looking forward to it,” Hensley said. “They are actually sitting down tomorrow with us and the contractor and going over a traffic plan to where we can assure the downtown merchants that their business will not be lessened in any way.”
A groundbreaking ceremony for the project is planned for Tuesday. And with first phase construction set to begin soon, the town wants to provide residents with a way to stay on top of the project’s progress. A website, www.erwindowntown.org, has been established. Hensley said the website will have posts that include information such as construction updates and traffic conditions.
“Once the construction starts, we’ll be keeping it up every day,” she said.