Current work being done to replace the trees along Cedar Avenue.

SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. — Residents of South Pittsburg have developed a love-hate relationship with the downtown streetscape project that was completed in the mid-1990s.

Some enjoy its decorative landscaping and old-world charm, while others bemoan its jutting planter curbs that can make driving through the area feel like a skills test.

Either way, city leaders have been formulating a plan to revamp Cedar Avenue between First Street and Fifth Street while keeping what people love about it.

Last month, Mayor Virgil Holder announced a potential Tennessee Department of Transportation study that could focus on what needs to be done to make the road "more safe and more friendly to traffic flow."

At the March meeting of the South Pittsburg City Commission, City Administrator Gene Vess said officials also are considering options for the street's aging ornamental lights and replacing the Chinese ginkgo trees that were cut down last summer.

"We've done all we can do to keep the lights going," he said. "We're not electricians."

Of the street's 57 lights, Vess said 32 are working, 15 are not working properly and 10 are completely out.

Mike Partin, president and CEO of the Sequatchee Valley Electric Cooperative, proposed two options to help.

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City Administrator Gene Vess speaks at the March meeting of the South Pittsburg City Commission.

The first option included replacing the lights with LED technology at a minimum cost of $18,525, but Vess said that price likely would rise since some rewiring would almost certainly be needed.

The SVEC also proposed repairing the current lights, which could cost "$5,000-plus," Vess said.

"The plus is the unknown," he said. "We don't know what they're going to get into as far as the wiring. They [SVEC] said they'd work with us and give us as good a deal as they possibly could. There is going to be a plus side to it that we're not aware of or a cost side to it."

If the town chose one of the two SVEC options, city leaders could enter an agreement also for the SVEC to maintain the lights at a cost of $8,400 per year.

Commissioner Samantha Rector said South Pittsburg had a maintenance agreement to keep the lights running years ago, but a previous city board terminated it.

The current board took no action on either of SVEC's proposals.

City leaders took "a lot of criticism" over cutting down Cedar Avenue's trees last summer, Vess said, but after consulting a professional arborist in Chattanooga, there is a plan to replace them with either volunteer tulip or trident maple trees.

The pits where the trees are planted would have to be increased from their 3-foot-by-3-foot squares to 4-foot-by-8-foot boxes.

The street had 63 trees, so using the larger planting pits would lessen the total number the town could replant.

The board voted unanimously to apply for a $10,000 South Pittsburg Rotary Club grant that would cover the cost of the trees and start working on replacing the old ones.

It will be a lengthy process, officials said.

Vess said labor costs should be minimumal since the town would use its own workers to prep the planter boxes and plant the trees.

The work would not be completed before next month's National Cornbread Festival, as some had hoped, since its too late in the season to plant new trees.

"We're trying to get this lined up and get ready for next year more than anything," Vess said.

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at