The Sewanee Village: A Historical Perspective
by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
At the July 4 Sewanee Village virtual open house, host Frank Gladu walked guests through the history of envisioning downtown Sewanee as part of the University Master Plan. Gladu opened the gathering with the U.S. Marine Band performing “Stars and Stripes Forever,” a fitting tribute to both the holiday and how recollection challenges the imagination as it did John Philip Sousa who composed the march.
Gladu heads up the Sewanee Village Plan tasked with revisioning and revitalizing the downtown area. “The history of village planning goes way back,” Gladu said. “University land use studies in 1979 and 1992 identified downtown and the village as areas important for the university to develop and vitalize.” The University Master Plans of 2005 and 2011 stressed the importance of the Village. In 2012, a Vision and Program Study followed and then an Action Plan in 2014. “In 2016, our current town planner Town Planning and Urban Design Collaborative developed the Sewanee Village Implementation Plan that we’re following today.”
Outlining the land area scope of the project, Gladu said the Sewanee Village encompassed 200 acres with the focus being on the 45-acre downtown section. The greatest commercial development is projected to occur on the south side of Highway 41A. All the Village is zoned mixed use.
“The Implementation Plan was described as a 100-year plan,” Gladu said, “But we identified five priority projects to be completed by 2022.” Gladu provided updates on the five projects status.
The two projects with the most momentum are the new bookstore and the plan to narrow Highway 41A to calm traffic. The bookstore hopes to have a soft opening at the end of July. Construction to narrow Highway 41A could begin as early as next spring. The project incorporates extending the Mountain Goat Trail in the design and calls for planting strips and sidewalks.
“Sewanee Village development partner BP Construction has temporarily put plans for a mixed-use building on hold due to COVID-19,” Gladu said. The building design calls for a grocery on the ground floor and apartments on the second floor. The anticipated site is the current Hair Depot lot.
Housing is likewise “on pause.” A 2018 Housing Study demonstrated the demand. “There is plenty of opportunity,” Gladu stressed, “but just not the right combination of capital interests yet.”
Financial considerations also come into play in creating a downtown Village Green. “We have a design,” Gladu said. “But the Village Green is not an income producing project. We need to develop a capital campaign to raise funds.”
Studies done in conjunction with the Sewanee Village Project addressed the need for parking, mitigating storm water, and the importance of promoting tourism and how best to do so.
Recently the parking opportunities were enhanced at Woody’s Bicycles and behind the American Legion Hall. On the tourism front, new billboards on I-24 celebrate Sewanee’s charm and the highway side of Taylor’s Mercantile displays a Sewanee welcome wall banner.
Guests pointed to the need for better signage and Sewanee maps. Gladu championed both ideas.
Gladu hosts a Sewanee Village update meeting on the first Tuesday of each month.