Plans for Square 2/8/13

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 8, 2013

Listening, learning, commenting Tuesday night at a hearing about Square renovations were (clockwise from foreground) Debra Jones, Ricky Swindle, Cole Flint, Helen Kelly and Gaines Baker, the latter four standing because all the seats in the City Hall meeting room were filled.

Chairs rare, opinions aplenty at meet

By John Howell Sr.

Batesville Square business and building owners found standing room only Tuesday night after seats in the City Hall meeting room filled for a hearing on proposed downtown renovations.

Blake Mendrop of Mendrop Engineering Resources described several options that were originally conceived for Batesville Main Street by Belinda Stewart Architects. Mendrop, joined by engineering staff members Brad Griffin and Keith Quick, led the discussion, and heard comments during the meeting’s 35 minutes. Thirty-two people signed in to attest their attendance, including the mayor and four aldermen.

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The city has been awarded a $350,000 Mississippi Department of Transportation grant that will be matched by 20 percent from the city, Mendrop said. The money will be used to fund phase one of the project with most work directed to the quadrant of the Square bound by the railroad, the Kelly Law Firm block, the Stubbs/Baker Building block and the through street connecting Panola and Eureka Street.

Sidewalk widening
A major focus of the construction will be the widening and replacement of the sidewalk on the Stubbs/Baker Building block, bringing the sidewalk route into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Other considerations would modify parking, add planters, increase green space, add decorative light fixtures and relocate utilities or place them underground.

“We’ve all talked about wanting to get all the power lines down, all the poles down around the Square,” Mendrop said. “This money is not going to allow that to happen; it’s not enough money to allow that to happen,” he said.

Mendrop said that several decorative light fixtures consistent with the Batesville Master Plan developed by Stewart Architects have already been placed, and city workers have rerouted wiring to fixtures underground. He said that stamped concrete has the same eye appeal as pavers at less expense.

“When we start adding some of these islands and landscape areas … we’re going to lose some parking places. With that, we’re going to gain some back. … I don’t think anybody wants to lose any parking places,” Mendrop said.

‘Zip’ lane debate
Parking space could be gained, the engineer continued, by using the space from two paved lanes, known as the “zip lanes,” parallel to the railroad track. The lanes are presently closed to traffic. Debate over the zip lanes would continue throughout the 35 minutes of the meeting’s duration.

“People come to the medical office, or law office, or to buy pipes or something, I don’t think they’re interested in looking at trees,” Gaines Baker said. Baker has a law office and rental apartment on the Square. “They’re interested in getting in and getting their needs taken care of,” he added. “We don’t have enough parking places and traffic flow is not conducive to people coming down and getting their business taken care of.”

Parking on the Square and traffic flow would continue to resurface throughout the meeting as would improvements needed at the opposite end of the Square.

What about northwest corner?
“Is there any consideration being given in the corner?” asked Boyce Crowell. “There’s a big parking lot in there,” he added. Crowell is renovating the upper floors of the old Petit Building on the west end of the Square that now houses Dale Copeland Jeweler on the ground floor.

“What you need back there is lighting,” said Diane Davis Cummins of Davis Family Pharmacy. “Nobody is using it because … it’s dark back there,” Cummins said of the large parking area adjacent to her business.

Mendrop said that little is planned for the northwest end of the Square in Phase One of the renovations except for bringing the entrance between the corner of Davis Pharmacy and Copeland Jewelers ADA compliant.

Lights, improvements planned
“We did address that parking lot a little bit at our last meeting,” Mayor Jerry Autrey said. “We’re getting estimates on digging that up and having some Leland Cypress or something put in there. We’re going to get with Kerry Davis with (TVEPA) to get it lit up, and maybe we’ll seal it and do some more striping; … that’s a lot of parking back in there,” Autrey said.

“That’s the only parking we have on that end,” besides storefront parking, Yvonne Taylor said. Taylor owns Y Taylor Gifts. She also asked about three trucks that are parked in the storefront area of the Square’s northwest quadrant.

“Where’re they going to park them, around back? asked Cole Flint of Flint’s Hardware. “If you park something (in the back of the buildings) and leave it overnight, they get broken into,” Flint said.

“That’s why they’re (the parked trucks) there, it’s just out of self-defense,” Cummins said.

Reopen Zip Lanes?
Crowell asked Mendrop about the closed zip lanes. The engineer replied that the space of the presently closed traffic lanes could be turned to parking and green space.

“A lot of us would like to see it opened back up,” Cummins said.

“Everybody who goes through that side of town has to go through there, and they will not stop and let you out,” Dr. Billy Haire said, referring to people who park facing the buildings on the Square’s northeast quadrant. “So if you took some of that traffic and and put it in that other lane over there (into the zip lanes), it would help.”

“I think you’d congest things,” Mendrop said. “Everybody may not agree with me on that, but sometimes when you’ve got (traffic here) and you’ve got conflicts there on those other ends, from a traffic standpoint, I think it conflicts.”

“But everybody going south downtown has got to go down that one street, and if you change it and make it narrower it’s going to even be more dangerous,” Haire replied.

“When the zip lanes were open you could just kind of ‘zip’ across there,” Cummins said, citing customers who objected to navigating streets outside the Square to patronize businesses downtown.

Other considerations:
— Cole Flint raised a question about the cost of increased maintenance of the additional green space;

— Contractors will be required to provide temporary access to businesses during sidewalk reconstruction. “It would be in their contract,” Mendrop said.

Alderman Dugger asked if the contract could require some of the work to be done at night.

— The actual start of construction will probably be “fall at the earliest,” Mendrop said.

— Batesville Main Street spokesman Joe Azar encouraged building owners to apply for a facade grant to help defray the cost of improving building fronts. “We’ll help you through every step of the process,” Azar said.