Downtown Sewanee begins town planning process

By Isaac Sligh

Staff Writer

On March 26, six undergraduate students were invited to provide input on a panel discussion of future plans for the downtown Sewanee area. University administration has teamed up with Town Planning and Urban Design Collaborative (TPUDC) of Franklin, Tennessee in order to form an effective plan for expanding and improving the infrastructure, accessibility, and appeal of downtown Sewanee in the near future. As the university is currently on track to form a final plan for proceeding with the renovation, the panel released two sets of previous plans from 2012 and 2014 to the gathered students. These plans, including the 2014 “master plan,” detail approaches to a downtown more attractive to students and better able to serve the community. As mentioned in the master plan, the university’s goals stress “the importance of connecting the campus proper to the Village as well as spurring new ways of thinking about the University’s relationship to the Village.”

Ideas for new business and venues were proposed and discussed at the panel meeting, including among many others a new bookstore, a movie theater, a community art space, a “University club” restaurant, various affordable ethnic and non-chain restaurants, a Village inn, a thrift store, and a “CinePub.” During the meeting the representatives from TPUDC stressed that their plan will attempt to make Photo courtesy of www.sewanee.edudowntown Sewanee a better place for students to hang out, eat, and even drink responsibly while still maintaining an atmosphere friendly and completely welcoming to locals, faculty, staff, and children. They also emphasized that the University will encourage only local and/or small businesses to invest and move into the area — chain and big box stores are not part of this plan. One of the concerns addressed to the students was whether or not expanding downtown would burst the “Sewanee Bubble.” In general, the consensus among the students was that change is needed but not to an extreme extent. More than for specific establishments, students lobbied for more accessibility and better transport to the downtown area—a shuttle, extended Bacchus routes, and a trolley bus were all floated as potential solutions. Also, the perennially rumored extension of Tiger Dollars/pub bucks to include Julia’s, Shenanigans, and other restaurants was discussed as a method for encouraging students to make the walk downtown. Additional housing for locals and possibly students as well (the idea of a downtown dorm was mentioned at the panel meeting) is in the works.

In addition to improvements for students, the panel talked about plans for improving the infrastructure and livability of downtown for the entire community. Wider WiFi service has been one of the most lobbied-for improvements by the Sewanee community, as have better paths connecting the School of Theology/Gorgas-Quintard area to downtown and main campus. The community has expressed a desire for more events and festivals downtown, and also found the proposal of a simple, multipurpose community center appealing to help coordinate these. One of the proposals that proved popular to both surveyed students and locals was a new movie theater—the student panel agreed, pointing out that this will encourage students to spend longer evenings downtown and foster business all around, as students would likely go to a restaurant or store also as part of a night out. Popular in both demographics was the idea of a grocery store and general store, possibly with a pharmacy.

The 2014 Action Plan highlighted the lack of a venue downtown that sells fresh meat, fruits, and vegetables, a problem the community expressed a desire to correct. Highway 41A is also likely to be the target of significant changes—slimming it down as it approaches town, lining it with trees and more shops, and making it in general more friendly to pedestrians were all discussed. “I think that would make downtown Sewanee a more worthwhile place to be” said Brian Reiss (C ’17) when asked about the planned changes to downtown. “I’d think we should be taking residents’ opinions into account more” said R, a Junior who wished to remain anonymous. “I’d like to know that Sewanee residents want this change, not sim-ply be told that it’s for the greater good of the com-munity.” “I’d really love to see Sewanee’s downtown more developed. It’d be nice to have more places to go with friends” said long-term priority. General simple infrastructure Colton Treadwell (C ’16). Many of these comments tap into a broader desire for more accessibility and amenities downtown that students have expressed.

The panel emphasized that beloved local businesses such as Shenanigans, the Blue Chair, Julia’s, The Lemon Fair, and many others are not going anywhere and will be integrated into any future plan of downtown Sewanee. In terms of a time table, the panel was hesitant to provide concrete dates, instead labeling projects as near-, medium-, and improvements are listed on the 2014 Action Plan as near-term, such as village-wide wi-fi and new signage. However, the plan lists a new general store/pharmacy as near-term as well, hinting that this could be one of the first developments that the downtown Sewanee area will see. A movie theater and down-town student housing were listed as medium- to long-term projects.

For more information contact Vice President for Administrative Services Frank Gladu at fxgladu@sewanee.edu.

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