Downtown merchants prepare for weekly car shows and street improvements

By Rozella Hardin
STAR STAFF
rhardin@starhq.com

   The Elizabethton Downtown Business Association is gearing up for the spring and summer seasons with some exciting and fun events to take place in the downtown, as well as some aesthetic improvements.
   John Bunn told merchants Thursday evening that the Carter County Car Club will be having a cruise-in downtown every Saturday, beginning April 3 and continuing through the month of October. Downtown businesses, at the request of the Car Club, are asked to stay open each third Saturday night. "We encourage businesses to stay open every Saturday evening," said Bunn.
   Larry Gobble, Tourism Director for the Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of the Commerce, who is helping coordinate the event with the EDBA, the Car Club, the Chamber and City, said before the summer is over, it is expected that as many as 400 cars will be participating in the cruise-in. "We are devoting one page of our new brochure to the event. The brochure will be distributed all over the Southeast," said Gobble
   Jack Tester, President of the Car Club, said, "We are very optimistic about the downtown cruise-ins. It has great potential. In fact, we predict that the downtown cruise-in will be one of the major events in the Southeast within the next three to four years."
   Tester encouraged merchants to put their best foot forward for the first Saturday night cruise-in on April 3. "We are doing a lot of advertisement, and we would like to make a good first impression," noting that WKOS Radio will broadcast from downtown that evening. "They also will be providing us with air time all summer," he explained.
   The Car Club will take on the task of extending the speaker system on Elk Avenue to E Street. "We hope to eventually extend the speakers across the Elk Avenue Bridge to the 700 block of E. Elk Avenue," said Tester.
   Also, the EDBA agreed to let the Car Club take responsible for vendors coming into the downtown on Saturday evening for the car show. It was agreed that any vendor, who chooses to set up for the car show must make application to the Car Club, must pay a $100 membership to the EDBA, have a business permit, and a health permit. "The number of vendors will be limited. They will sell such items as funnel cakes, chipped ice, hotdogs and hamburgers. Vendors will be set up on E Street and in the area near the Elk Avenue Bridge," said Tester.
   Bunn and Tester also encouraged merchants to stay open late on Saturday, June 5, when the Car Club will have its annual show. "This is the big show we have each year at Elizabethton High School. This year, we are moving it downtown as an opening to the annual Covered Bridge Festival, which will be held June 9-12," said Tester.
   Bunn, president of the EDBA, told merchants he had met with City Manager Charles Stahl earlier in the day, and that City officials within the next week will contact the Tennessee Department of Transportation about opening the Elk Avenue Bridge for two lanes of traffic until the remainder of the bridge is completed around April. "The platform has been completed and the barriers are in place, so there is a possibility that we could have traffic moving soon across the bridge. However, that decision will be TDOT's," said Bunn.
   Special guests at the meeting include two local railroad enthusiasts, Mike Tilley, President of the Watauga Valley Chapter NHRS, and Sheryl Heaton, who are hopeful that the railroad now owned by East Tennessee Railway can be saved for tourism development. "There are funds available both at the state and national level that can be pursued in purchasing the railroad. Our city and county officials are already working toward that end," said Heaton.
   Tilley suggested that if the railroad rights-of-way could be purchased, his organization was very much interested in building a loading platform in the downtown and conducting monthly excursions as well as weekly dinner cars. "There is so much potential," Tilley said, noting what railroad tourism had done for such small towns as Dillsboro, N.C.
   The Watauga Valley NHRS in 1995 and 1996 sponsored fall excursions from Elizabethton to Johnson City. "We were sold out for every trip, and turned away 1,400 people," said Tilley, who estimated approximately 4,000 paid to make the trip.
   Also, Bunn that just as soon as final approval was given to the design of planters for Elk Avenue, work would begin. "The planters are expected to cost about $1,000 each. We have four businesses already committed to pay the cost of a planter. Other businesses have indicated they will pay for the new light fixture in front of their business," Bunn said. The new canopy lights will be carriage-type with matching black wrought-iron angle brackets. Also, the aluminum on the canopies will be painted black.
   The aesthetics improvements downtown are expected to cost around $50,000 to $60,000. "It's time to start making things happen in the downtown," said Bunn.