A refurbished sidewalk is one of the improvements residents hope to see on South Main.
In the late 1990s, the South Main neighborhood morphed from an abandoned warehouse district into a hip and thriving arts community. But while the empty buildings were converted into art galleries and gift shops, the sidewalks were largely ignored.
Today, the walkways near South Main and G.E. Patterson are crumbling. Trees planted along the street have outgrown their grates, rooting up bits of sidewalk. Few of the curbs in the area are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The South Main Arts District, along with the Main Street Mall and the Pinch District, is one of the highest priorities for the Center City Commission's (CCC) plan to improve downtown streetscapes. Last week, landscape architects from Ritchie Smith and Associates shared their vision for South Main in a public meeting at Central Station.
Smith showed photographs of the neighborhood's worst offenses. One photo, taken in front of American Apparel, showed a stretch of sidewalk resembling a patchwork of different colors and gradients of asphalt.
"It almost looks like an artist did this," Smith said.
"Yeah, a bad artist," replied a woman in the audience. According to Smith, much of the aging sidewalk would be replaced, but the neighborhood's historic granite curbs would be retained. Curb cuts would be upgraded to ADA compliance, and additional planters and benches would be added to trolley stops.
In some areas of sidewalk, remnants of old driveways lead to buildings that are no longer there. Those would be filled in with sidewalk. Overgrown trees would be fitted with appropriate grating.
"Most trees downtown don't have room to grow, and they'll likely die in five to 10 years," Smith said.
Some of the large storm drains located under the sidewalks aren't covered with grating. Smith referred to the oversized drains as "child eaters."
"Some are big enough to lose a dog or cat, and others are large enough to lose a person," Smith said.
The improvements would cost about $1.8 million, which the CCC is hoping to attain through the Tennessee Department of Transportation and the city's capital improvement budget. Neither of those funding sources have been approved.
Smith's firm designed some of the South Main improvements seven years ago, but the funding never materialized for the project.
Andy Kitsinger, senior vice president of planning and development for the CCC, said it's possible that funding could be delayed again, but he's hoping that having the project "shovel-ready" will help.
"The areas south of Linden to G.E. Patterson are in some of the worst conditions of any street downtown," Kitsinger said. "We need the city to make that a highest priority."