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Legion Street Improvements

Strawberry Alley Forever

Legion Street was the next piece of the puzzle to bring life back into downtown. They wanted it to be a happenin’ place.

In a state of general despair, Legion Street was known by many as a back alley for businesses in downtown Clarksville, Tennessee. GS&P understood the city’s commitment to revitalize downtown and, in cooperation with the city and stakeholders, developed a plan that would support the vision for the area. By focusing on a two-block section of Legion Street, designers transformed the small area into a safe, attractive user-friendly place while also creating a backdrop for community events and an inviting environment for businesses. Now downtown visitors enjoy clean, wide sidewalks, belowground utilities, flowering brick planters and a sculptural fountain.

Describe the Legion Street project.

Jonathan Haycraft: When we first met with the mayor, he said that he was tired of looking out his office window onto Legion Street and seeing a back alley of garbage cans, overhead electrical, utility lines, and broken-down sidewalks. He wanted to renew the street and make it something the city would be proud of and property owners would take pride in.

What was the city’s vision for the street?

Michael Flatt: Legion Street was the next piece of the puzzle to bring life back into downtown. They wanted it to be a happenin’ place. Franklin Street had been done one street over, and was somewhat successful. They had learned some lessons from that, and they were very specific about how they wanted this done differently.

What did they want to do differently?

Mike: They wanted more elements than just cars on the streets. They wanted to encourage business owners and pedestrians by having space with wider sidewalks. They wanted to be able to shut down the street from traffic altogether and hold events. All these things were put into the big picture. When we started, the city gathered all the businesses along the street and invited them up to his conference room. There was no agenda. It was just a brainstorming session, which led to some give-and-takes, like if you want this, you have to give up that.

Can you give an example of something they had to give up in order to have something on their wish list?

Mike: With the bookends of the buildings on each side, if they wanted space for pedestrians and events, then they had to give up something to create that space. They chose to give up a two-way street and turn it into a one-way street. They also gave up on strictly parking on one side, which was a big deal to them. So the city’s leaders and the stakeholders — the businesses along the street — were the ones who had to compromise.

What other innovative design elements did you use to create the warm and happenin’ atmosphere?

Mike: They really wanted attractive lighting for nighttime events. And, since they wanted to have a lot of street events, we incorporated power to support a sound stage for a large concert or event. Now they can easily go over behind a shrub and plug in anything in the world that they want. We also placed power receptacles up and down the street so the street vendors can plug in their popcorn or hot dog carts and they’re ready to go.

Jody Vance: There are standard light plugs at every light pole for Christmas lights plus, moveable 400 amp power receptacles for a stage band, which can pretty much be placed anywhere. We set an empty spot in two places that they can move around. They just have to run the wire.

One of the complexities of this project was working with all the utilities. How were you able to organize the process?

Jonathan: Coordination between utilities is huge when you get into downtown areas. This project had water, sewer, gas, telephone — which was a big deal — electric, and cable TV that were all on top of each other. Who was on top varied when you moved another 10 feet or in front of another business. Generally on projects like this, one utility comes in at a time, makes their adjustments, and then they get out of the way; then the next guy goes in and does his adjustments. In this situation, we met on the front end and went over the schedule, and explained how important it was to the city that they all be out there at the same time, including the contractor. So, we met weekly with them. The contractor worked on one side of the street, and the six utilities worked on the other. Two weeks later, they’d swap sides.

What other challenges did you encounter?

Mike: One of the big issues we knew about going into this project was the existing sidewalks, which were slabs of concrete on top of the basements for the buildings, which used to be the old coal chutes. When the sidewalk was removed, you had an open shot into the basements of most of these stores. To make sure there was no downtime, one of us, along with the city manager, would be there every time the contractor opened up a sidewalk to tell him what to do and the appropriate way to fix it.

So these guys knew up front what was expected of them?

Mike: We had strict guidelines for them to follow with an outline for the sidewalks. But we also explained to the owner that in order to do that, we needed some flexibility in the budget. So they worked with us and took our recommendation for creating a budget to allow us the flexibility to address each situation one-by-one, because no one fix was appropriate for every one of them. That was scary, because we honestly didn’t know if the whole street would fall in when it got started. [laughter]

Was this your preferred method of handling the problem?

Jonathan: Another way to do the job would have been to open up every sidewalk in front of each business to see what was there and address each individual circumstance so that when the contractor bid the job, he would know and feel comfortable with it. But we didn’t have time to do all that.

If you could name a specific part of this project for which you are most proud, what would it be?

Mike: I think we are still surprised that we got this project done within the schedule that we did. And that took a commitment not only from GS&P but from the client and his staff as well. It took a huge buy-in from their engineering department.

Jonathan: People often say that contractors are among the most stubborn people in the world, so it was hard for some to understand the flexibility that this job and design required. They couldn’t fathom doing it this way, with flexibility to make adjustments as needed. Basically, business’ doorsteps were not going to change, so we had to change what we did to meet the doorsteps from building to building. In this case, we set up the job with flexibility and made that clear right up front to the contractor: you’ve got to do this and we’ve got to do this. And, we also integrated design during construction to ensure that this flexibility was still within ADA compliance. I think it’s a clear demonstration that you can be flexible and still meet the rules.

Jody: The city definitely got the right contractor. When you have so many unknowns, like the coal chutes and all the utilities, you often have contractors who throw a big fit with every little change that’s different from the plans. This group knew on the front end that we’d have to work through things, and they worked with us and had some good ideas of their own. Also, it was a pretty complex project with a lot of different people involved. We had the six utilities, our team, the city, and internally, there were four divisions that worked on the project.

Jonathan: There were so many opportunities for a fiasco. If there had been one bad player in the mix, it would have never happened. Having worked on projects before with several utilities like this one, the way everybody worked together to create a seamless job was amazing.

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Project Info

  • Client: City of Clarksville, Clarksville Streets Department
  • Location: Clarksville, TN, USA
  • Market: Transportation
  • Services: Engineering, Traffic Engineering
  • Team:
    • Michael A. Flatt, P.E. Principal-in-Charge
    • Joseph L. Vance, Jr., P.E. Project Manager
    • Jonathan D. Haycraft, P.E., CPESC Project Professional
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