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Smyrna revitalizing three miles of Lowry Street, one block at a time

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Kevin Guenther, project consultant, and Ron Alley, CEO of Carpe Artista and member of the task forces for the Depot District and for the Lowry Street Revitalization, discuss an aspect of the plan, while Council Member Steve Sullivan listens. DAN EPRIGHT

Revitalizing a three-mile stretch of Lowry Street in Smyrna is a very large and complicated project.

A public session April 4 at the historic Smyrna Assembly Center on Front Street displayed one way to accomplish the work; by dividing it into phases, one or two blocks at a time.

The block-by-block approach is marrying up the recent Smyrna Town Council-approved Lowry Street Revitalization Plan with the first phase of the Tennessee Department of Transportation - TDOT funded - Lowry Street Streetscape Improvement Plan.

This first phase will see improved sidewalks and landscape dividers, and will include shade trees along the sides of Lowry Street and in a street-center traffic island. These initial physical and aesthetic improvements, and others, will extend for a block or so, centered on Washington Street, the outlet to the Depot District. It is proposed to extending to Jackson Street on one end and Sam Davis Road on the other, to include the historic business block on Lowry Street.

The prime manager of the Lowry Street project is Kevin Guenther of the consulting firm Ragan-Smith, under contract to Smyrna to help form the vision for the rebirth of Lowry Street and help make the plan happen.

"If you think about it, this really is our downtown," Guenther said. "This is where Smyrna has the heart of Downtown. Right now, if you are passing on Lowry Street, it is very hard to get the sense that you have arrived downtown.

"You do have some nice character to the existing buildings. We have some fun things that are happening with the Depot District and with the restoration of the train station.

"However, by improving the streetscape here, we are making a statement that we are reclaiming a certain part of Downtown Smyrna. We are creating a sense of place."

These improvements are challenged by the physical layout of the area, with railroad tracks on one side of Lowry Street and with all the traffic that was diverted out to Interstate 24.

Guenther explained that Lowry Street, U.S. Highway 41, used to be known as The Dixie Highway, extending all the way North to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and all the way South to the Gulf Coast of Florida.

"This was the main transport corridor here, and for a lot of small towns along The Dixie Highway. This was the place where people would stop," he said. "A lot of that experience changed with the Interstates opening."

The good news, according to Guenther, is now there is a desire among Millennials in their 20s and 30s and Empty Nesters, whose grown children have moved out on their own, to find those quaint urban spaces once again, which would include Downtown Smyrna.

"They want a place that has a sense of downtown, a sense of place. And the hope is that by investing in some of this public infrastructure it is going to help bring back some of that desire for mixed use projects, where you have commercial retail shops mixed in with residential property, places where people can walk from their home to a restaurant, where they can shop and stop at a restaurant, and where they can live, all in the same two or three block area," he said.

To make such a vision happen, detailed plans, design specifications and some zoning changes would need to be made in a coordinated fashion.

Guenther said the classic patterns along a main street, with commercial shops downstairs, and residential apartments upstairs, at one time were extremely popular, though more recent zoning rules have restricted thm.

Part of the fix is called Mixed Use Development and includes a block of apartments near a block of commercial shops, near small restaurants and the like. Such plans can bring Main Street, Downtown, back into focus, he said.

"I think that there is opportunity in the plan. There is a strong market demand for housing and for niche retailing. That's something that's desirable. We think Downtown Smyrna can be one of those places."

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