CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland, in his 26th and final annual State of the City address on Thursday, lauded the accomplishments made in 2017 as the city turned 175 years old.
And Rowland said goodbye to public life, joking in an interview before he began his address that he was taking up a career of doing housework unless he could find a doctor who would order him to avoid vacuum cleaners and dust rags.
In his last annual address to the Kiwanis Club of Cleveland at the Elks Lodge on Second Street, Rowland praised the teamwork among local, state and federal governments in a list of accomplishments for the year.
"We celebrated Cleveland's 175th birthday in 2017. That's a lot of years," said Rowland, who was first elected mayor in 1991 and served longer than any other Cleveland mayor.
"But our city is not acting its age," he said. "We are a young, growing city with our best days still ahead of us.
"We have been preparing for the future as we celebrated the past," he said.
Rowland said the city's preparation for the future remains focused on downtown redevelopment, and leaders in 2018 will choose from two finalists to serve as a consulting team as efforts move forward.
In 2017, a new interchange — named in honor of the mayor — was opened that provides access to Spring Branch Industrial Park off of APD 40, near Interstate 75's exit 20. He said the exit 20 area now is attracting interest from hotels and similar businesses that recognize the coming potential for growth.
Under economic development wins for 2017, Rowland said Bayer announced late in the year a three-phase, multi-year construction project to expand its operations in Cleveland, and work continues on Wacker's HDK plant in Charleston that is set to open in 2019.
Rowland praised work by the Chamber of Commerce to help the various entities it takes to grow the community.
Parks and Public Works accomplishments included continuing work to renovate and install new sidewalks. Deer Park, the city's oldest park, is being improved, and renovations are coming for Tinsley Park, he said. A new fire station is underway, and in 2017 officials started work on a backup 911 center.
New city events were added in 2017 and the city continues to reach out through social media, he said, making sure the world is aware of Cleveland's selling points.
As Rowland steps down, two men have announced they will seek to fill the vacancy.
Current state representative Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, announced he will give up his District 24 Tennessee House of Representatives seat to run for mayor, and Bradley County Commissioner Mark Hall also threw his hat into the ring.
As Rowland spoke to media before his address, he reflected on his run as mayor.
Looking back at his vision for the city in 1991, Rowland said he'd accomplished most of his plans, with the exception of a passenger rail line he and others hoped would be routed through East Tennessee, but the idea stalled when the decision was made not to add any new rail lines.
Rowland said he'd accomplished "a lot of goals I set, including Tree City USA, Governor's Three Star Community, refurbishing the old depot and museum center at Five Points and, of course, a new jetport, which, it's been phenomenal how it's grown," Rowland said. "We're on the verge of having a U.S. customs station there.
"We continue to grow, and I'm proud that it's been quality growth," the mayor said.
He credited a team effort for the successes.
"It's been a good team effort between city, county, state and federal partners, the Chamber of Commerce," he said. "Our Chamber of Commerce is the thread that binds us all together."
During his time in office, Rowland served and often led numerous local, regional and state bodies. He was selected mayor of the year by the Tennessee Municipal League in 2004 and Tennessee community leader of the year in 2009, according to biographical information on the city's website.
Throughout his adult life, Rowland made big splashes with almost every step, and was a well-known public face in Cleveland before he ever sought public office.
According to a 1977 story in The Chattanooga Times, Rowland was a Cleveland radio newsman who also worked as the Cleveland correspondent for The Times when he was cited in a joint House-Senate resolution for his work in journalism. One of the major stories Rowland was credited with breaking involved the child abuse death of 4-year-old Melisha Gibson in 1976, a case that reverberated nationally and led to major reforms in child abuse laws. Rowland was named Tennessee Broadcaster of the Year in 1976 by the Associated Press.
Rowland was promoted in 1982 to station manager of WCLE/WQLS radio in Cleveland. He was associated with the radio station for 28 years before being appointed to the Cleveland City Commission as commissioner of fire, recreation and parks, soon followed by his mayoral bid in May 1991.
Now, as Rowland prepares for his exit, he thanked everyone he'd worked with through the years for their roles in the city's accomplishments and for his memories as its leader.
"Thank you all so much for these years," the 80-something Rowland said. "It's been a great ride."
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.
This story was updated Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, at 11:53 p.m. with more information. This story was update Friday, Jan. 12, 2018, at 9:12 a.m. to correct the date in the lead.