A! Magazine for the Arts

Arts District Proposed for Downtown Bristol

September 16, 2010

*** Published Wed, Sept 15 in the Bristol Herald Courier. ***

BRISTOL, Va. – Plans to establish an arts and cultural district downtown received both scrutiny and support during a public hearing Tuesday [Sept. 14, 2010].

In the end, the Bristol Virginia Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval and the City Council held the first reading on the ordinance creating the district. The council also scheduled another public hearing and final reading at its Sept. 28 meeting.

"This would strictly be a marketing tool for downtown Bristol," said Andrew Trivette, the city's director of community development and planning. "The enabling legislation allows for incentives but this ordinance doesn't include that. This is not a zoning change, but an overlay district of our existing zoning."

Believe in Bristol, the downtown promotion and development organization, requested the designation earlier this year. The Virginia General Assembly previously approved legislation allowing cities and towns to create such districts, but Tennessee has nothing comparable.

The designation would increase awareness of the existing arts component, attract additional artisans and link to state-supported marketing efforts including The Crooked Road and Round the Mountain, Trivette said.

More than 20 existing arts and cultural resources are included in the initial 86-acre area, according to a report Trivette presented to the council.

The proposed district would be bordered by State Street from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Commonwealth Avenue and sections of Scott, Moore, James and Goode streets. It would include the Bristol train station, Cumberland Square Park and Bristol Public Library, on the Virginia side.

"It's certainly something we need to look further into," Mayor Don Ashley said. "We want to position Bristol in the best possible position to take advantage of all these other tourism efforts like The Crooked Road and Round the Mountain. We look forward to learning more at our second reading."

The ordinance also would establish a steering committee, serving at the pleasure of the City Council but appointed by Believe in Bristol leaders, to oversee the proposed new district.

The City Council would then establish marketing and advertising goals for the committee to meet each year, Trivette said.

"I am the city liaison to the Believe in Bristol board and have updated them on our progress. We have talked about and believe the people running those [arts] organizations and businesses are best-suited to serve on that steering committee," Trivette said in response to a question.

While the inventory list includes arts businesses and organizations on both sides of town, the Bristol Tennessee City Council would have to create a similar designation, Trivette said.

Bristol Tennessee Vice Mayor David Shumaker, who attended Tuesday's meeting, had mixed feelings about the details.

"I think it's a good idea," Shumaker said after the meeting. "But I'm not sure we need a separate logo and a separate board to operate it. I don't think we need to fly too many flags at one time."