To Mayor Philip Craighead, the controversy over proposed changes to the Lebanon Town Square seems to be coming a bit out of left field.
He said he stands firmly behind the plan he sees as a way to take advantage of state grants to improve safety on the square and make the area destination location for residents and tourists at minimal cost.
"I believe in this," Craighead said, adding his office and the Lebanon-Wilson County Chamber of Commerce had several meetings on the subject to get public input, the majority of which were positive.
"We had several meetings about the proposal," he said. "We'll end up having more meetings."
He points to a similar project completed in nearby Gallatin that's seen success for businesses around that town square.
"Theirs was a major project that involved tearing up all the sidewalks and redoing the antiquated drainage around that square," Craighead said. "They began in January 2008, and it was finished in time for their Oktoberfest. Here, we're not tearing up all the sidewalks or the drainage, so it should be much faster."
He declined to comment on whether he thinks some of the recently voiced opposition has political overtones.
"I'm not going to get into all of that," Craighead said. "All I can do is present the facts and push for what I think is right."
He reiterated the plan all began as a way to make the square safer for drivers and pedestrians by taking advantage of Tennessee Department of Transportation safety grants. This is money set aside for the state to address areas proven to be hazardous for vehicle and foot traffic.
Since the major work would be paid for by the grants, the city sought to take advantage of the situation by piggybacking other upgrades, lighting and landscaping, on that project. This would save the city a considerable amount of money, Craighead said.
"Our costs would be so minimal," Craighead said. "We would really have to have some rewiring for lights, but we could apply to Middle Tennessee Electric for one of their discount programs for upgrades, and it wouldn't cost much at all."
The other costs to the city would be in landscaping in the four parking pods proposed for each corner of the square.
"We would have to pay for some irrigation or we could plant hardy plants and have city workers water them at night," he said. "We've already been approached by local garden clubs, which have offered to sponsor an area."
Most importantly, Craighead said the goal was to make the square a destination for shoppers, diners and walkers. He said business owners in the revamped Gallatin square reported increased business. Given the work needed for the Lebanon Town Square is much less extensive, the return on a minimal investment could be large.
"We're not talking about spending a lot of money, but the return could be enormous," he said.
Mike Manous with Manous Designs, the firm working on bringing the Arcade on the square back to life, said he is excited about the planned improvements he plans to move his own business there this summer.
"I 100 percent support the plan for the square," he said. "Basically, our firm came up with the plan for parking in the four quadrants of the square."
He said anyone who thinks that idea hurts the integrity of the square doesn't know his or her Lebanon history.
"That's the way the square used to be," Manous said. "We have photos from the 1940s and '50s that show the four quadrants for parking."
He also said people who believe the plan will hurt square parking are right in the total number of parking places that will be reduced, but the pay off is worth it.
"More importantly, the parking spaces in the quadrants will be closer to most of the businesses' front doors and will be a lot more convenient and safer than parking in the center of the square, pedestrian and motorist safety trumps that."
Craighead hopes all the business owners on the square, and citizens who want to see Lebanon take a step into the future, will come to any future meetings and voice that support.
"This is our house, and we're just doing needed repairs," he said. "You can't neglect your own house."