Open for Business
Mayor Oscar Aguilar and Downtown Business Alliance President Rita Edwards cut the tape at the official ribbon-cutting and grand opening ceremony for Main Street Monday evening. Hundreds of people joined city officials and boosters for the event, many getting their first close-up glimpse at the redesigned streetscape intended to boost downtown and serve as a venue for future festivals and events.
Staff Photo By Jessica Worth

Redesigned Main Street gets rave reviews as hundreds attend grand opening ceremony Monday

By BRUCE ALSOBROOK, News-Telegram Managing Editor

Oct. 7, 2008 - It was crowded. It was noisy. It was joyous. And it was worth the wait.

The city's new Main Street officially opened for business Monday evening, with Mayor Oscar Aguilar and Downtown Business Alliance President Rita Edwards doing the honors at the Hopkins County Chamber of Commerce ribbon-cutting ceremony.

At 5:32 p.m., the scissors sliced through the tape, and a cheer went up from the hundreds of people in the crowd.

Six minutes later, Sallee Spraggins sat in the lap of her father, Benjamin, in a 1939 Chevrolet coupe driven by Edwards, as they became the first to ride down the new street, followed by a procession of nine other classic cars and trucks.

Sallee, the granddaughter of City Councilman Gary Spraggins and Deanna Spraggins, was the "winner" of the auction to take the first ride on Main Street.

"She 'wins' a lot of auctions," said Benjamin with a grin.

The event had the atmosphere of a downtown festival -- exactly what planners hoped to create with the makeover.

The festivities started at 4:30 p.m. Within 15 minutes, an estimated 300 people had already started filling the sidewalks and roadway, with more coming by the second. The new benches, designed and built by City Manager Marc Maxwell -- he has the weld burns to prove it -- and his stepson, Jarred Brown, were full of spectators lounging and chatting.

Walls set up around landscaping features did their job, as well, offering more seating.

Carts offering free Nathan's Famous hot dogs and hamburgers and cold drinks were set up on opposite sides of the street. The lines stretched halfway down the block.

Councilman Spraggins took the podium to welcome the crowd, thanking anyone and everyone who had a part in the creation of the street, from designers and builders to city employee Russ Nuss, who the city manager calls "an artist in rock" -- and deservedly so, as evidenced by the aesthetic display by the trickling water feature at the end of the block.

Mayor Aguilar thanked all who showed up.

"We appreciate each and every one of you for being here, and let's keep going," he said.

Flagpoles, placed in holders created at the edge of the sidewalk between each of the 24 parking spaces, waved in the gentle breeze. Spectators leaned on the period streetlamps, each equipped with power outlets for Christmas displays -- lights that can flash in synch with music, thanks to a controller boxed situated discretely behind one business -- and water lines that will allow for misters to be used in the hot summer months.

Creedence Clearwater Revival sang about hanging out "Down on the Corner," and Petula Clark extolled the uplifting joys of "Downtown," the 1965 hit crooning from speakers set up for the event. In the future, sound systems will hang from the streetlights to provide music at events, such as a hoped-for Magnolia Festival, one of the reasons for planting magnolia trees to complement the red oaks. The landscaping around the trees was specifically designed to ensure that they not only receive enough water -- an automated, underground irrigation system takes care of that -- but are aerated, as well, by special vent tubes and soil compositions.

And like the streetlights, the grounds around each of the trees have electrical outlets.

"There's no shortage of power here," Maxwell said.

Judging by the reaction of the people who attended the grand opening, there will never be a shortage of enthusiasm for Main Street, either.

In fact, the only seemingly negative comment was actually said with anticipation and hope:

"When are they going to do the rest of downtown?"

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