Loudon City Council revisited the idea of entering into a memorandum of understanding with the Loudon County Chamber of Commerce to fund a downtown coordinator.
The coordinator would work with the chamber and be responsible for managing an application for the Tennessee Main Street program and promoting business in downtown Loudon. The agreement would authorize $35,000 per year to pay for a contractor and expenses.
During the public comment period of a workshop Feb. 14, Loudon resident and Loudon County Commissioner Kelly Littleton-Brewster said funding for the position would be taken from a state grant, which is supposed to be spent on the Courthouse Square area. She said she knows of greater needs in the area, including projects to improve buildings.
Kathy Price is under consideration for selection as coordinator. She told council the Courthouse Square money is funded by local sales tax. She said the state did not set parameters for how the money is spent.
Loudon Mayor Jeff Harris said he understood the city could spend the money on anything related to the Courthouse Square area.
“We could spend it on a barbecue,” he said.
He said the money has previously been used for improvements to buildings, including projects to purchase awnings, and on the Historic Loudon Theatre.
Harris pointed out that the agreement with the chamber was for one year and could be reviewed then.
Councilman Tim Dixon said his concerns were related to where the money was going. Councilwoman Tammi Bivens said $30,000 would be paid directly to the coordinator as a 1099 independent contractor and $5,000 would be used for expenses that included technology.
Chamber President Rodney Grugin told council he did not expect to use all of the $5,000 for expenses. He also said the coordinator’s duties would be limited to those described in the agreement.
Bivens said she was concerned the city was considering spending $35,000 to get a $14,000 Tennessee Downtown grant. She said she would like to see the Loudon Merchants and Property Owners Association take a bigger role in promoting downtown.
“I would hope we could get them going,” she said.
Councilman Johnny James said he thought the marketing relationship with the chamber would go smoothly because their mission is to promote Loudon County.
“You’re in the same business we’re in,” he said.
Harris said after the workshop that putting the coordinator position in place was an important step in a bigger plan to revitalize downtown through multiple grants and programs.
“A lot of great things are going to be happening in the next couple of years,” Harris said.
He said the momentum already developed with the Courthouse Square program has positioned Loudon to participate in the Tennessee Downtown program right away and in the Tennessee Main Street program.
According to the Tennessee Department of Economic Development, Tennessee Main Street provides a strategy for revitalization, a network of linked communities and a national support program. The program is based on four key objectives of design, economic restructuring, promotion and organization.
Participation will make Loudon eligible for more grants than just the $14,000 referenced in the agreement with the chamber, Harris said. The Main Street program has specific requirements, including broad-based community and government support for a revitalization effort, he said.
Main Street participation requires an active board of directors and a paid, professional manager/director. The downtown coordinator position fulfills the requirement for a paid director, opening the door to move to the next level, Harris said.
Also required to participate in Main Street is a private, independent, nonprofit organization locally designated as the governing body and policy board. Harris said the chamber fulfills the requirement for an affiliated 501(c).
Bivens said LMPOA also has 501(c) status and could be a force behind revitalization and promotion. The key would be getting more business participation, she said.
Working through all the steps to participate fully in the opportunities available through Main Street might take a couple of years, but should happen about the same time other pieces of the puzzle are falling into place, including the addition of a new residential development downtown, Harris said, Harris said.