27th designation in Tennessee should help Sweetwater get grants, mayor says

27th designation in Tennessee should help Sweetwater get grants, mayor says

September 28th, 2013 by Tim Omarzu in Local Regional News

Sweetwater, Tenn., began revitalization about 20 years ago, Mayor Doyle Lowe said.

Photo by Staff File Photo/Times Free Press.

MAIN STREET COMMUNITIES

Other communities across Tennessee designated as Main Street communities are Bristol, Cleveland, Collierville, Columbia, Cookeville, Dandridge, Dayton, Dyersburg, Fayetteville, Franklin, Gallatin, Greeneville, Jackson, Jonesborough, Lebanon, Leiper's Fork, Kingsport, Lawrenceburg, McMinnville, Murfreesboro, Morristown, Rogersville, Sweetwater, Tiptonville, Savannah, Union City and Ripley.

When the National Muscadine Festival is held this weekend in downtown Sweetwater, Tenn., visitors will be in a newly certified "Tennessee Main Street" community.

The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development on Friday announced that Sweetwater was the 27th community in the state to be accredited by the National Main Street Center, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

"What this does for us is kind of give us an edge on grants," Mayor Doyle Lowe said. "When they see that we were designated a Main Street community, it's a lot better for us."

Downtown Sweetwater began revitalizing two decades ago, said Lowe, a lifelong Sweetwater resident.

"About 20 years ago, there were lots of empty storefronts," he said.

A Kmart and other outlying businesses drew customers away from mom-and-pop stores downtown.

"To be truthful with you, their clientele just died out," he said.

That's when the antique stores that now dominate downtown began cropping up.

"That draws people in here," the mayor said.

Lowe hopes tour buses filled with antique buffs will be drawn by a "train depot" the city will start constructing this fall on Walnut Street across from a passenger train car on display downtown. The new depot, which will resemble the former Sweetwater depot knocked down years ago, will have public restrooms.

Tour buses won't stop unless a public restroom is available, Lowe said. The city got a $500,000 Tennessee Department of Transportation grant to build the depot, he said.

The mayor announced the Main Street designation at noon Friday at the city's gazebo on Main Street before a crowd of about 50 people.

"We're really excited," said Brenda Bryan, owner of The Lily Pad Boutique, a 3,000-square-foot women's clothing store with 10 employees that she describes as "a small-town store with a big-city flair."

"It's amazing what we've done with our downtown area," Bryan said. "We have customers from as far away as Nashville. We have lots of Chattanooga business."

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6651.