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Town focuses on attracting more restaurants in upcoming year

Now that the downtown improvement project is completed, the Town of Jonesborough is focusing on bringing more restaurants to the area.
According to Town Administrator Bob Browning, the goal for 2014 is to bring restaurants into downtown, as well as all of Jonesborough. Browning said one of their biggest issues is the turnover in the restaurant businesses. Restaurants, he said, are key in terms of bringing someone to the area because they create an appealing destination for visitors.
“We are trying to do what we can to assist and encourage people in the restaurant business to take a look at Jonesborough,” Browning said, adding more opportunities are needed in the downtown area. “There is not anything wrong with the restaurants there. But we know you have to have a certain volume of that activity to be a draw in itself.”
Although there are certain limitations of what the town can do for potential businesses, Browning said, they are trying to be responsive to anyone who inquires.
Another goal, he said, is to have the business community stabilized from the standpoint of creating the right kind of environment for good business.
In an effort to help businesses, the Town of Jonesborough, with the assistance of the Main Street Program, is generating promotional activities with a focus on downtown.
“At any given time there are three or four different things going on at night-time,” Browning said. “They generate more activity from a tourism standpoint.”
Individuals tend to spend more money after 6 p.m., which is why the town is working with the business community to encourage merchants to stay open past that time.
“I feel like we are doing some good things; we’re not where we need to be, but we are heading in the right direction,” Browning said.
Many positive remarks about the downtown improvement project have been made since it was completed in September 2013, according to Browning.
“So far, everything has worked really well for us, really good success with everything that has been done,” he said. “As far as the way the people perceive the town, we are getting really good feedback with how the downtown looks.”
Browning said there is a night-and-day difference because of improvements. The downtown changes took place, he explained, because the Johnson City Power Board was at the point where it needed to redo its underground power service infrastructure. Browning said there were a lot of short outs, creating problems and leaving people without power.
Since the lines and equipment had been installed in the early 1970s, the entire system needed to be redone.
“The Town of Jonesborough was also dealing with infrastructure problems,” Browning said.
The cast iron waterline, a 60- to 70-year-old line, cracked every time the town paved.
“We needed to get that line replaced at the same time,” Browning said. The town worked with all of the utility companies to make the necessary improvements.
A streetscape plan was also implemented. Browning said some of the trees they had at the time were buckling the sidewalk, creating areas that needed repair.
The comprehensive plan also included improvements to parking, as well as improvements for pedestrian access and safety. He said they expanded the width of some of the sidewalks, as well as planting trees with tree wells.
“We put all of this work together in an overall improvement plan that we undertook in 2012,” Browning said.
The project included tearing up the streets to create an infrastructure for water and power. Browning said they were putting in lines 4 or 5 feet deep so they could replace all of the services, which included work to the meters.
“We upgraded everything we possibly had to upgrade so we didn’t have to come back,” he said.
Due to the extent of the work that took place, he said leaders knew there was going to be an impact on the downtown businesses community.
“We tried to do it in a way to minimize the impact as much as possible,” Browning said, adding they kept things open as much as they could.
“Our staff worked in the rain. They did everything possible to keep the project moving along. They got in early and worked late in order to move progress.”
Although there was an impact on customers’ access to some of the shops downtown, Browning contributes some of the drop in sales to the economy as well.
“When the economy is bad, it’s a lot harder to weather those storms,” he said. “It’s a hard market anyway. A hard time with the economy down and consumer confidence low.”