Council green lights cruise-in for downtown

Photo by Dave Boyd
Chamber of Commerce rep Larry Gobble (left) Carter County Car Club president Jack Tester explain the plan for the club's cruise-event in downtown Elizabethton to the City Council.

By Thomas Wilson

   The cars are coming.
   After nearly an hour of discussion, the Elizabethton City Council gave a green light to open up downtown Elizabethton every Saturday night beginning April 3 through October for the "cruise-in" event of the Carter County Car Club.
   However, the approval came with heavy lobbying by organizers and heavy questions from several council members.
   Mayor Pro Tem Sam Shipley had several questions regarding the event including how it might affect parking availability for the Bonnie Kate Theater and Dino's restaurant as well as individuals living in apartments downtown.
   "That is going to hurt (Bonnie Kate's) business I feel," Shipley said. "Saturday is one of his biggest night's for youth to go somewhere in this town."
   Car Club President Jack Tester said the event held downtown typically drew more than 2,000 cars and upwards of 3,000 people. The Car Club takes up donations used for operational costs to benefit the East Tennesse Christian Children's Home, Tester said.
   "We think this will really put us on the map," said John Huber, representing Elizabethton's Downtown Business Association. The cruise-in has traditionally been held in the parking lot near Ingle's supermarket on West Elk Avenue. The event has been held on a limited basis in downtown Elizabethton on a few occasions.
   Huber said downtown merchants would be staying open during Saturday night events giving the crowd an opportunity to shop and dine around town.
   Shipley told organizers he had received a letter from the owner of Dino's stating his concerns about losing business from the weekly event. Councilwoman Nancy Alsup also raised the questions of sanitation costs associated with the event.
   City Manager Charles Stahl said the city's street department estimated costs of $13,000 to clean downtown streets between April and October. He and Elizabethton Police Chief Roger Deal told the council police presence to monitor the event could involve additional costs for police overtime.
   Council members Janie McKinney and Richard Sammons both expressed their support of the event. "I have no concerns about it," said McKinney who indicated the event would enliven the city's downtown area. "You drive downtown on Saturday night, there is no too much going on."
   However, Sammons did say he felt the "grassroots" nature of the cruise-in event could be lost if it became a type of business organization. "I believe it will dull that volunteer spontaneity associated with it," he said. "It has been a huge success when it began."
   Sam Shipley told the council each Saturday would provide a weekly event for the Car Club and the downtown.
   "I just hope businesses will stay open," said Shipley. "I think this will be a terrific thing for the downtown if the businesses participate."
   McKinney moved to approve the request after citing the length of the discussion. On the advisement of Mayor Sam LaPorte and Shipley, the motion included a proposal drafted by the city's attorney granting either party the right to terminate the event downtown at any given time. Council voted 6-0 to approve the event with Councilman Pat "Red" Bowers absent.
   In other business, City Council voted 6-0 to provide $100,000 in funding toward the Carter County EMS/Rescue Squad's Station 1 headquarters. The $1.150 million project is scheduled to be completed in October, according to EMS Director Terry Arnold. The funding will be provided in the 2005 fiscal year that will begin July 1. The project is being completed by the Rescue Squad and included no funding from the Carter County government.
   Council members also approved submission of a Community Development Block Grant application that will fund over 80 percent of costs associated with relocating the Doe River Water Transmission line. The city has been racing the clock to relocate the water line, which provides more than 30 percent of the city's potable water, off a decrepit bridge over the Doe River.
   An engineering firm under contract to the city estimated the project's cost at $350,000. The CDBG grant provides $290,000 leaving the city's funding end at $59,900. The federal grant is administered through the state's department of Economic and Community Development. Gov. Phil Bredesen granted the city preliminary approval for the grant based on the "imminent threat" classification and danger to the city's potable water supply.