Storefront updates, streetscaping, downtown public space improvements coming to Cleveland, Etowah

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / The view down Inman Street in Cleveland, Tenn., as seen in 2022.

Downtown businesses will get help renovating their storefronts in the Southeast Tennessee towns of Cleveland and Etowah, which will also use grant money to fund projects to add features and beautify public spaces.

The towns received $300,000 each and were among 17 grant recipients recently announced by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Stuart C. McWhorter. The grants totaled $4 million.

Thanks to the grant, some of Cleveland's downtown business storefronts, sidewalks and public areas are in line for updates and repairs that will begin in January, according to Joe Fivas, Cleveland's city manager.

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"There is a $300,000 grant, then we have a match that makes it around a $700,000 total investment in downtown," Fivas said in a phone interview. "About a third of the money will go to helping businesses with facade improvements, and there'll be a formula where people can select for exchanging their windows, maybe some painting."

Successful business applicants will have a 25% match on awarded grant funding, he said. Cleveland's Main Street organization will oversee planning with businesses.

"We think it will probably help five businesses," Fivas said. "A business anywhere downtown can qualify to apply."

Cleveland's grant funding targets three goals, he said.

About a third of the money will go to helping businesses with facade improvements, such as window updates and repainting, Fivas said, and another third will go toward streetscaping work downtown to include sidewalk repairs, moving unsightly utility lines underground and replacement of the city's old downtown trash cans.

The final third of the funding will go to public space improvements, such as sitting areas with landscaping or other beautification ideas.

"The important thing is this is a partnership between downtown business owners, the city and the state, and it fits into the redevelopment of the Cherokee Hotel, and it fits in with the new corridor," Fivas said. "If fits nicely into our overall downtown plan."

Etowah is a newly-accredited Main Street community, and City Manager Russ Blair said the town's historic Gem Theatre on Tennessee Avenue got the first dose of help with a $50,000 grant through the program for brick restoration last year. The $300,000 will be used to help store owners on the main drag rehabilitate their storefronts.

"Our plan is to use the full award of $300,000 and pass that along to interested property owners in the downtown district who want to make facade improvements to their properties," Blair said by phone. "We had probably 10 to 12 building owners already submit a letter of intent when we submitted our application."

  photo  Staff photo by Ben Benton / The historic Gem Theater and Etowah Arts Commission in downtown Etowah, Tenn., are seen in 2020. The Gem Theater was built in 1927 as a movie house and was acquired by the city in 1991 for conversion into a performing arts center.

It's the first time downtown property owners in Etowah have had a chance to undertake a project at 25% of the total cost thanks to the grant funding, Blair said.

Tennessee Downtowns is an affiliated program of Tennessee Main Street designed to help communities embark on a comprehensive revitalization effort for their downtowns, according to the Tennessee Main Street website. The Main Street Four-Point Approach is a multifaceted economic development tool that helps communities to revitalize their downtowns by leveraging local assets from historic, cultural and architectural resources to local enterprises and community pride. The National Main Street Center is a subsidiary of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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"Tennessee's downtown districts and main streets are the focal point of our communities, and these grants will help attract new business and promote tourism at the local level," Lee said in the news release on the funding.

Investments in Tennessee's downtowns lead to a better quality of life, McWhorter said.

"These 17 communities have a better chance at securing new investment and spurring job creation because of the downtown improvement grants, and we are proud to partner with them in their revitalization efforts," McWhorter said in the release.

Bristol, Dyersburg, Elizabethton, Halls, Johnson City, Lawrenceburg, Lewisburg, Madisonville, Martin, McMinnville, Newbern, Sevierville, Smithville, Sweetwater and Union City also received grants.

Contact Ben Benton at or 423-757-6569.