​Sewanee Village Q&A

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

The October Sewanee Village update meeting took the form of a Zoom question and answer session. The Sewanee Village Plan is tasked with revisioning and revitalizing the downtown area, focusing on five priority projects: the new bookstore, narrowing Highway 41A, housing, a mixed-use food market building, and a village green. Frank Gladu, who heads up the Sewanee Village Plan, took questions from the 12 Zoom participants about the new bookstore, downtown Wi-Fi, and narrowing Highway 41A.

“The newest, latest, greatest thing happening downtown is the new bookstore,” Gladu said. He reported comments about the bookstore being a positive addition that fit in well with downtown architecture. Asked about students’ willingness to make the trek to downtown to visit the bookstore, Gladu replied that from his base of operation at the Lease Office, he frequented the porch during the pandemic and had observed a marked increase in bike and foot traffic.

Business owner Ed Hawkins observed, “We need to get the community back to the village. Since the students came back, the community has stayed away.” Hawkins thanked Matt Costello for his guidance to Sewanee businesses. A 1984 Sewanee grad, Costello followed a career in business. His advice to Sewanee businesses about navigating government grants and fundraising proved invaluable during the pandemic slowdown, Hawkins said.

Asked if the Ben Lomand fiber project would provide downtown with Wi-Fi, Gladu said downtown and the area south of Highway 41 were in Phase 3 of the Ben Lomand fiber project. He noted it would be up to individuals and businesses to avail themselves of the fiber connection. Ben Lomand installed Wi-Fi for public use in Angel Park a year ago, Gladu said.

Taking a question about whether it was worthwhile slowing the traffic on Highway 41A when it would be an inconvenience to many and there was so little on the south side of the highway, Gladu underscored the long-range benefit of narrowing the highway to slow traffic. “The point of the road project is to make the south side of the highway a more connected spot for future development,” Gladu stressed. “In a sense it’s a ‘which came first the chicken or the egg’ question. The south side needs to be connected to make it attractive to developers.” He gave the example of the proposed food market, a priority project in the Village Plan.

Regarding the road project’s cost to the Sewanee Utility District and the possibility of a rate increase, Gladu said, “It was not known until after the road was designed that water and sewer would be impacted to such a large extent.” SUD worked with the Tennessee Department of Transportation to adjust the infrastructure changes needed and reduced the cost by one-third, according to Gladu. He gave the current estimated cost to SUD as $280,000. “It’s still a big ticket for a small utility,” Gladu acknowledged. “The University will work out a partnership with SUD to sidestep a rate increase. The University is a big SUD customer,” he pointed out. “I don’t have specific numbers on the University’s contribution, but there is a general verbal agreement between the University and SUD.” Final figures on the cost to SUD will not be available until the bid process is completed.