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From Now Town to Downtown



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Maryville's main street continues evolving to accommodate growth, new attitudes  

STORY BY MITCH MOORE PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRITT COLE
ADDITIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY: DOWNTOWN MARYVILLE ASSOCIATION

In the early 1970s, “Now Town, U.S.A.” was the rallying call in downtown Maryville. Now Town was a federally funded revitalization project that transformed downtown Maryville into a pedestrian mall.

The fact that Maryville’s central business district hasn’t functioned as a pedestrian mall in decades is the biggest clue to the fate of Now Town; and nearly a half-century later, the City of Maryville is still wrestling with downtown identity, growth and viability.

“Maryville has always had a nice small-town downtown area, but lately we’ve seen a bigger push for more downtown living and office space,” says Bryan Daniels, executive director of Blount Partnership, a cooperative effort of four key Blount County development organizations. “This is driven by the expectations of today’s labor force, which is increasingly made up of people who want to live in an urban core where they can also work, shop and play.”

“It puts pressure on the community to create the right infrastructure downtown so that people can choose where they want to live before they start looking for the right job,” he adds.

In the retail sector it’s a chicken-and-egg proposition: a city must have residential opportunities to attract new downtown shops but a thriving retail sector helps lure potential residents.

The Downtown Maryville Association (DMA) is a key player in balancing this economic equation and helping transform downtown into fertile ground for strategic development. Its mission is revitalizing Maryville’s downtown as a vibrant, charming and unique gathering place to live, work and play.

Through its recent affiliation with the Tennessee Main Street Program, DMA has more access to federal funds that will help the organization fulfill its vision.

“We’re working with the Blount County Chamber of Commerce and the City of Maryville in the recruitment of new hotel accommodations, restaurants and entertainment venues,” says DMA executive director Pete Simmons. “We’re also looking to protect the businesses that are already downtown; we’re looking for new businesses that will complement what’s already here, not compete with them.”

All parties involved are courting potential arrivals, including a boutique hotel, a specialty apparel retailer and one or more brewery/distillery operations. There are also RFPs (Requests for Proposals) in play that could bring in new downtown residential projects.

The DMA has engaged its constituency, including students at Maryville College, to get ideas for what those stakeholders would be interested in seeing.

Another goal is an increase in the number of public gathering places downtown. A 23-by-23 foot section of public green space is being designated as a butterfly park under the auspices of the Main Street Program. This pocket park would showcase butterfly murals on one bordering wall as well as benches, features made of Tennessee marble and historic brick and native trees and bushes designed to attract butterflies and birds.

“The Main Street Program offers a proven process that will help us accentuate downtown Maryville’s native charm, grace and character,” says Aaron Killian, president of the DMA Board of Directors. “Unlike the Now Town project of the ’70s, what we’re doing now is a grassroots effort designed to bring out the charm of our buildings and our people. Rather than trying to cover up our identity, we’re trying to define it.”

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