After what has been a growing and thriving downtown over the last several years, Mount Pleasant is beginning to see some of the luster wear off, according to some business owners. Three businesses have shut their doors for good or moved to other locations and two more will soon be moving on as well.
The reasons are many, but one common theme among those business owners is concern surrounding the upcoming Streetscape project.
Donna Morency of Mount Pleasant Main Street knows it won’t be easy to navigate.
“Honestly, it’s going to be a tough year,” she said. “Most cities that have gone through this – they get through it, and we can too, but we have to be purposeful about it.”
One business owner said she was very excited about what downtown would look like when the project is completed and that as a resident she is excited, but as a business owner she’s worried.
“I can’t wait to see what it looks like when they’re done, but right now I’m losing sleep over what’s going to happen when they start working on the road,” Cleo Lemberg, owner of Pinch of the Past, said.
Morency agreed, “The end result will be positive – not only for businesses, but for shoppers and residents of Mount Pleasant.
The Streetscape project will include a massive sewer system replacement that’s simply necessary for the city to continue to grow, according to Mayor Bill White. The project will run from Mt. Pleasant Grille to Church Street but will be done in small sections, so as to not disrupt everything at once.
“‘Digging Downtown’ is a social media approach to help businesses by sharing what to expect during the construction, use signage to steer customers to parking locations and which entrances are easily accessible,” city manager Kate Collier said. “Mount Pleasant is not the first city to undergo construction in their downtown area. There will be some growing pains and the Main Street program, along with the city, wants to provide assistance.”
According to Collier, the engineering firm the city is using also designed Franklin’s streetscape over 20 years ago, something she hopes will encourage those business owners during this process.
“It is all doable and we will get through it as best as we can,” she said.
The city is in desperate need of an upgrade to its sewer system, which is what spurred the initial conversation about construction around the town square. White and the city council agreed that if the need was already there to dig up those existing lines and replace them, why not replace other utilities as well for a cleaner look?
“We were going to have to dig up the street no matter what,” he said. “This felt like the perfect opportunity to not only fix what can’t be seen, but also what can be seen.”
The town applied for – and was awarded – several grants for the project. TDOT awarded the city $1.25 million in Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant funds in 2018 for the pedestrian improvements. As part of the grant agreement, the City must provide a minimum match of 20 percent to receive those funds.
Phase I of the Downtown Revitalization Project will include new accessible sidewalks, ADA-compliant pedestrian ramps, new pedestrian lighting and amenities including benches, trash receptacles and bike racks.
The city bid out the project and opened bids May 11, and the sole bidder came in at more than $6 million, while the estimated cost from the engineers was $3 million. The city is working with the Tennessee Department of Transportation and the engineers to determine what the next steps will be. There may be additional grant money or the city may bid the project out a second time.
Once that process is complete and work begins, Morency said it’s more crucial than ever to continue to support small, local businesses downtown.
“Eat at the Mt. Pleasant Grille, get a coffee or sandwich at Towne Coffee,” she said. “It may take you five minutes longer, but it will be worth it to keep our small businesses thriving during that time.”