City Council approves car club’s ‘Cruise-Ins’ with change

Published 5:08 pm Friday, March 15, 2024

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By Buzz Trexler

Star Correspondent

Carter County Car Club President James Bass cruised in to the regular Elizabethton City Council meeting Thursday night with an annual request and drove away with more than he was asking for in the application – namely the option of the club holding “Cruise-Ins” the last two weeks in April.

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 From 2011-2022, the club has hosted a weekly “cruise-in” event on East Elk Avenue in downtown Elizabethton on Saturday evenings from April to October, as well as an annual Car Show Day, as a fundraiser benefitting local charities for several years. In 2023, in response to complaints about access to downtown during those events, the club removed the month of April from its request.

 Joe Alexander, of Main Street Elizabethton, said during the public comment period it seemed like “each year brings a new season of animosity and bickering over the annual cruising.” Ahead of the meeting, Alexander took it upon himself to conduct an independent survey of 62 businesses in the 300 to 600 blocks of East Elk Avenue. Of the respondents, 36.5 percent wanted no change, 60.3 percent wanted some form of change, and 3.2 percent had no opinion.

 Justin McLane, owner of Wayward Springs Tack and Consignment, said his business is no longer open, but its closure was not due to the car club’s event. “But looking at the numbers, our sales for Saturday were 40 percent worse during cruise-in,” he said. “And looking at it, even if the Lord hadn’t called me into ministry, there’s probably a good chance we would not have continued after our lease was up. We did not have time with opening a business and running a business, and I thought it was very unfortunate.”

 Lisa Fletcher, owner of Fletcher’s Homemade, 510 E. Elk Ave., and whose husband owns Undervalley Dragway, 516 E. Elk Ave., said she would like to see fewer cruise-ins because of the impact on business. Fletcher said her store’s sales in April 2023 were up 20 percent from the previous April, which she attributed to the cruise-ins started in May as opposed to April, for which she expressed appreciation. “But I think that also goes to show that business is hurt by the cruise-in,” she said. “It’s partly the parking and it’s partially because just people don’t come downtown for a free event to shop and so it does hurt business if they’re trying to be open.”

 Fletcher thanked council members for obtaining downtown improvement grants, and Council Member Wes Frazier for “bringing your leaf blower downtown.” 

 Bass said the car club had supported 27 groups with donations totaling $34,400 in 2023 and any decrease in the number of events would likely mean a decrease in charitable contributions to those and other groups.

 Councilman Richard Barker said, “I would like to see the car club encompass the 300, the 400, and the 500 block of East Elk Avenue and stop it at Sycamore Street. That way, keep Sycamore Street open, and keep the 600 block and all of East Elk Avenue open so that people can better get to town and can have easier access to get across the bridge …”

After nearly two hours of discussion and a series of motions, City Council:

 — approved the club’s request to hold cruise-ins from 5 to 9 p.m. each Saturday from May 4 through Oct. 26, except for Sept. 21, which is the Saturday of Covered Bridge Days weekend. The club’s annual Car Show Day will be held Saturday, July 13, and the street closures will be from 5 a.m. until 5 p.m., followed by the cruise-in from 5 to 9 p.m. The car show rain day would be July 20.

 — mandated that the cruise-in closure end at the East Elk Avenue intersection with Sycamore Street.

 — included the caveat that the club could be notified that a special event has been approved that would necessitate moving the cruise-in to E Street, explaining that such notifications would likely be given 45 days in advance.

 — gave the option of cruise-ins being held on E Street the last two weeks of April, if the club voted to do so and presented the request at the next City Council meeting.

Councilman Kim Birchfield voted against the motion to end the cruise-in closure at the intersection with Sycamore Street, while Fraser voted against all three motions as well as on the final cruise-in vote.

 In other action, City Council:

 — approved a three-year, $3,999 annual agreement with Vector Solutions Fire Training for fire training management software to aid Elizabethton Fire Department in meeting state and federal standards. In the past, the department has maintained a paper filing system on each employee that goes back as far as five years.

 — approved a $31,150 annual mowing contract between the Elizabethton Electric Department with Richard Campbell, doing business as The Lawn Ranger.  The areas to be maintained include the department’s main office, Hatcher Lane substation, Winner substation, Watauga substation, Hampton substation, Elizabethton district substation, Elizabethton primary substation, Milligan substation, Okolona substation, and West Elizabethton substation.

 — awarded a $838,700 contract to Burleson Construction Co. to replace the 40-year-old roof at Elizabethton Electric Department’s warehouse. Thomas Weems Architect completed the design drawings for the roof replacement.

 — renewed the city’s five-year solid waste disposal agreement with the Carter County Landfill. The cost is about $451,194 in year one of the five-year contract extension period, based on $37.70 per ton and disposing of about 11,968 tons of solid waste in one year’s time.

 — approved a 10-year agreement with Tennessee Department of Transportation regarding the Riverfront Linear Path.

— approved resolutions supporting grant applications through the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) Economic Development Administration (EDA) to provide additional funding for a planned, ongoing sewer interceptor rehabilitation project along Watauga River. Total project cost for Phase I is $3,530,000 split between grants from ARC, EDA, and local match.

 — renewed the Master Services Agreement (MSA) with McGill Associates for continued miscellaneous engineering services.

 — approved on first reading a budget amendment to reflect Downtown Improvement Grant grant revenue to a new total of $300,000 and grant expenditures to $318,750, with the match amount of $18,750 to be funded from Fund Balance.


Editor’s Note: When originally published on March 15, this story neglected to explain that Joe Alexander was presenting his survey as a private citizen and not as part of his association with Main Street Elizabethton. We apologize for any misunderstanding caused by the omission and have edited it accordingly.