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SIMPSONVILLE – Officials from across Shelby County gathered in front of the community center on U.S. 60 at noon Tuesday to celebrate the formal dedication of about a quarter-mile of downtown sidewalks that perhaps will be the path to the city’s future.
This was the final chapter in a journey begun in 2007, City Administrator David Eaton said, in what city officials say they hope will become a miles-long connector for one of the state’s fastest-growing cities.
Mayor Steve Eden, who, Eaton said, had the vision for this project, said some were calling the sidewalk that stretches from Fairview Drive in the west to Old Veechdale Road in the east a “sidewalk to nowhere.”
But City Commissioner Sharon Cummins had a different idea: “It’s a sidewalk to heaven, because we have a church on each end,” she said.
Indeed the sidewalk links geographically if not exactly theologically Simpsonville Baptist Church and Simpsonville Christian Church – not to mention fronting Corpus Christi Academy – but it also spans a generational change in the 200-plus-year-old city that began as a stagecoach stop.
Shelby County Judge-Executive Rob Rothenburger, Shelbyville Mayor Tom Hardesty, Magistrate Michael Riggs, former officials Bob McDowell and Hobie Henninger and a large group of county, city, zoning and tourism officials joined private contributors and citizens for the brief ceremony and ribbon-cutting.
Representatives of property owners and businesses along the sidewalk – including both churches – who had been inconvenienced by the project were presented plaques to honor their involvement. Then most adjourned to the old city gym, where they chowed down on a city-catered lunch.
The sidewalk project began with a federal stimulus grant of $320,000 and cost more than twice that much to complete, including benches, streetlamps, trash receptacles and the clock that has become its focal point.
And it was Eaton’s job as city administrator to oversee the construction and also to pass out the praise on Tuesday.
“When I was hired in 2007,” Eaton told the gathered group, “the first thing the mayor and commission told me is that ‘we want to do something about downtown.’
“Seven years ago, there was an actual trailer park down the street. That was the first impression visitors were getting. You want your downtown to create a good first impression. That’s what brings business and industry to your city.”
He said officials first applied for a state transportation grant but were denied. “They said we didn’t have a plan,” Eaton said. “In 2009 the mayor brought the community together. This is their plan.
“Some said this would never happen. But I believe there’s more to come.”
Eden, who is in his 20th year in office, gave credit to the foundation of the project.
“It’s humbling to see all of you out here,” he said. “But this wasn’t just the vision of the commission but for our community.
“You’ve got to start somewhere, and we started with the hardest part first. Our goal is, with the widening of Buck Creek Road, to extend the sidewalk all the way out Buck Creek, so you can walk to the Pilot station if you want to.”
Longtime Commissioner Vicky Wise, who, along with former commissioner Scott McDowell, Eaton credited with designing and choosing the light poles and clock, has battled illness for many years, and her appearance Tuesday was a rare one in recent months. But there were few who expressed more joy about what these sidewalks would mean.
“I’m so happy we have this sidewalk,” she said. “You would be surprised at how many people you see running through Simpsonville.”