COUNTY MAYOR Chad Graham said he had a broad vision of what he wanted to accomplish before he took office. One of the many things on that list was what he called the “downtown revitalization model.” As a component of that revitalization vision, Mayor Graham recently completed some much-needed renovations to Bedford County’s historic courthouse.
Planning Director Chris White said he and his wife purchased an existing residential building on the public square about four years ago and instantly started to see characteristics and qualities mostly unseen or noticed by the general population. Being a professional planner, he saw an enormous opportunity for reimagining the public square that would include exploitation of the Duck River.
“Mayor Graham worked to secure a no-match grant from the Tennessee Department of Health which provided funds to build infrastructure that encourages the community to get active and healthy.” White said he and his staff first envisioned a “Main Street Market” concept, like an expanded farmers market – only downtown, and pursued the idea. But that was only the beginning.
The Duck River is a significant asset to the community of Shelbyville, so they wanted to potentially employ an amphitheater, splash pad, and other park features along the river. They also considered a unique river overlook structure so the community could enjoy the river differently.
They examined the gap between the courthouse annex and the building of the Bobo, Hunt, and White law firm. The sky bridge that now connects the two buildings spans high over what was once a street called Bridge Street and was used to access the old original bridge over the Duck River from the public square.
In an urban renewal project, the city later (in 1964) eliminated Bridge Street and created a different way to utilize the road systems near the square.
White said the ultimate goal in conducting these studies and developing these conceptual projects is to connect people to the story.
“Seeing an idea on a page is different from being told about it. Conceptual designs help people to see an idea rather than to just hear about it.”
White said their next idea was to convert the old Bridge Street into a pedestrian street that connects the public square to the proposed river overlook and expanded river walk. The city was approved for a grant connecting the two sidewalk systems and simultaneously creating the proposed river overlook. They anticipate the upcoming project to begin soon after the close of open projects now underway.
Long-term, White hopes to convince county leaders to move the juvenile justice center to a new building and turn the existing building into a beautiful green campus, with parking, to promote tourism to the old strong jail and the city proper.
White said they are constantly looking at different buildings to visualize making the square more vibrant. None of these things could happen without city leaders stepping up, sharing that vision, and working hard to turn ideas into reality.
“It started with a $20,000 grant to get people walking,” White said. “We’re just trying to create a vision and opportunity for local investors and entrepreneurs.” GN