Accepting the challenge

Downtown Association thrives, works as Maryville grows

Downtown Maryville is growing. So is the organization dedicated to promoting the downtown area as an excellent place to “live, work and play.”

The Maryville Downtown Association was started in 2003 by Doug and Teresa Horn of Quality Financial Concepts. In the past year the association has seen membership rise from 15 to 20 core members to about 55 members.

“We’re excited about that,” Downtown Association co-chair Terry Gillingham said. “Our primary purpose is promoting the aspects of living, working and playing downtown and seeing what we can do to move revitalization along.”

A recent wine tasting party and fund raiser at Preservation Plaza held by the association drew more than 150 people and raised more than $3,000. Gillingham said more importantly, many people saw the progress the association is making in helping to bring businesses and people downtown to for a successful event.

“We raised $3,000 net and that exceeded our expectations. Most importantly, it seemed people who came had a great time. Many people didn’t really realize there was a downtown association and out of that event we picked up new members, and people interested in bringing business downtown,” he said.

Gillingham said the association is in the mist of developing their mission and objectives and one of the primary goals is bringing more business to empty storefronts downtown. The association is doing more marketing to attract business, including launching a new website:

“We’re doing more outside marketing through newspaper and radio, and we’re looking at expanding that so we can recruit consumers,” said Gillingham. “But we are also hoping through those efforts it will encourage businesses to want to be a part of downtown and the growth we hope to experience.”

Promoting the historic aspects of downtown is also important to the downtown association. “We’re hoping to maintain the historic aspects of downtown and promote those to not only outside consumers but to our own community,” he said.

Gillingham said that although new downtown areas are developing in Blount County, including the new Pellissippi Place and the downtown area being planned for the former West Plant property in Alcoa, downtown Maryville has a charm of its own.

“They’re not going to have the character and charisma an older, historic area has. People like to get back in touch with their community roots, and that is an aspect that can’t be duplicated,” he said.

The association’s first challenge was to get people to believe the association could have an impact. “I think people see now we have strength in numbers, and we are bringing people downtown. We have in the past year developed a better relationship with city government, the chamber and state government,” he said.

“Now we need to do what we can to fill empty slots. That’s no small task. Some buildings are old, need work, and commercial loans are not easy to come by.”

Gillingham said there are lots of large, empty buildings downtown. “We need to find occupants. We need to find ways to work with city, state and federal governments to find ways to leverage those businesses with either tax incentives or abatements,” he said.

“We’re trying to work with those entities. That is probably the biggest challenge now.”

The association co-chair said what is clear is that downtown is unique and can never be duplicated. “You can build strip malls or residential areas but you can never rebuild the core of a community,” he said. “That core of Maryville needs to reflect the overall pride the entire city has in the community. That’s where we hope to tap into people’s desire to show that Maryville is a great place to live, a great place of visit and is a great place to work, live and play.”

Gillingham is co-chair of the Maryville Downtown Association with his wife Antje Gillingham, owner of the Knitting Nest at 117 E. Broadway Ave., Maryville.

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