Archive for the City Plan Category

The Lost City of Downtown Bristol

Posted in City Plan, Downtown Bristol on August 29, 2010 by Divide By Zero

I love downtown Bristol, especially at night.  I was born and raised in Northern Virginia, and was a bit reluctant when my parents moved down here during my second year of college.  All growing up there were tons of things to do at night, on the weekends, and during the summer there was something going on just about every day somewhere within a 30-45 minute drive.  We moved down here about 8 years ago to be closer to my daddy’s family.  It was quieter, more peaceful, and very relaxing.  We never had to deal with traffic, public transportation, cruel people walking by you on the street.  And then it dawned on me: we never had to deal with traffic, public transportation, or any people walking by you on the street.  It was a big culture shock to my baby brother and I at first, but we quickly got used to the atmosphere this part of Virginia/Tennessee brought to us.  State Street was our favorite place to go.  We’d walk around for hours and enjoy everything.  We loved finding hidden treasures in the antique shops.  We took tons of pictures of us being boys around town.  We went to about a million car shows/cruises near the famous Bristol sign.  We loved everything about it.

The only thing bad about it is that State Street is only a few blocks long.  It always intrigued me that State Street is smack in the middle of a larger neighborhood.  Yet no one really goes half a block North or South of it.  Most of the buildings engulfing Historic Downtown Bristol are abandoned.  There is also an abundance of unused land.  In my perspective, this area (along with my ideals about The Cameo Theater) has a whole lot of potential, and no one to back it.  Here is my idea of what needs to be done.

I have read through the Tri-Cities TN/VA’s Community Development Comprehensive Plan in its entirety (read: what they published on their website, which is not the entire document).  I don’t know how many of my readers have had time to look through this document (found at, so I will explain.  What I found is a 27 page plan outlining what the city is going to do with:

  • Employment
  • Land Use
  • The Central Business District
  • Infrastructure
  • Transportation
  • Community Facilities
  • Historic Districts, and
  • Housing

The document I’m directing you to has pages, sections and whole chapters that have been either redacted, or never published in the first place.  This seems strange to me as it begs me to ask the question “Why?”  I am a citizen of Bristol, my fathers family has lived in this area for over 100 years, why is this information not accessible to me?  It also has a bunch of data about the City of Bristol, none of which is actually useful, anymore.  This draft of the Comprehensive Plan was created as a Microsoft Word document on June 21st 2002, and in it the last pages show charts of a 5 year plan.  Keep in mind there is too much to do to finish the entire plan in 5 years.  This is just meant to be the first baby step to get the ball rolling on rejuvenating Bristol.  Among the things they proposed to accomplish in that time are:

  • Demolish old abandoned houses, 3-4 per year
  • Use CDBG and HOME funds to rehabilitate low income homes.  Coordinate with BVUB for matching funds
  • Create “gateways” into historic areas with period signage (to begin in year 3 of the historic plan (2005))
  • Coordinate with Economic Development for appropriate locations which may include recreations, bike paths, etc.
  • Find alternative sources by funding for transit and acquiring capital for operations and labor (year one of the plan through its duration)

I could go on and on, but those are a few of the main points that I have noticed haven’t changed since I’ve lived here.  And I moved here not long after this plan was supposed to be implemented.

I will give all the departments and city offices that have to communicate in order to get everything accomplished the benefit of the doubt.  Really, I agree with most of the proposed plan.  I would love it if everything in the plan were accomplished.  I only see 2 main flaws.

  1. Too much time is given to each section of the plan.
  2. Everyone involved seems to be spreading themselves, the funding, and the ideas way too thin.

Why so much time?

At the rate the things proposed in this plan are being checked off the list, it seems unlikely that it could be accomplished even in another 15 years.  If I were the author of the Comprehensive City Plan (CCP for the rest of this article), I would update it at least every year, with a checklist at the bottom with any reached goals checked off AND a brief description of how successful the plan went.  If I were feeling particularly proud, I may even add a star-rating system, or a smiley face or something.

Another downfall about allotting too much time for a plan of any kind, is how it encourages procrastination.  I know we’ve all been there!  You have a deadline to meet at work, or a 20 page essay due for history class in a month.  Plenty of time right?  In most cases no.  I understand more than most people the importance of seeing a good movie every now and then, and I am a huge fan of afternoon naps, as well as coming up with projects to keep my mind occupied (with anything that doesn’t put pressure on me).  I do not, however understand how someone or in this case a lot of City workers, most of whom are elected officials, can shrug off the importance of rejuvenating a whole city.  They have the power to change our whole way of life in Bristol for the better!  That, however directly or indirectly, is their job.  It’s something all of them could be proud of.  I know I would.  I dream of that kind of power, I think everyone in my age range does.  If I were elected to city council, after doing my happy dance I’d be going all around my jurisdiction taking pictures and printing out current statistics for that area.  They would all go in a shoe box under my bed.  Then the day I was leaving office I’d do the same thing, and compare the 2 boxes.  How cool would it be to see exactly how much of a difference you, one person, could make in the livelihood of an entire City like our very own Bristol?!  I can’t begin to imagine.

I also know that elected city officials are extremely busy, and being in or close to politics they have to play the political game.  But there are so many official (and unofficial for that matter) groups whose sole purpose is to focus on one aspect of the good and growth of Bristol and surrounding areas.  So why is the proposed 5 year plan taking so long?  We should be well into being a thriving, bustling city by now.  Overall, I think that what the City wanted to accomplish in 5 years could have been accomplished in 2 and a half.  It would take someone like me (and a large group of concerned citizens) 5+ years to complete the beginning of that plan, sure.  But I wouldn’t have the contacts to people in charge, like the powers that be, have.

Why so thin, and sickly?

I’m pretty sure that with the recent economic trends, most Bristoleans know how to stretch a dollar pretty thin so it lasts a while.  As consumers, that’s a good thing.  And over time anyone can do it.  As a City, it’s a bad thing.  Let me explain, with 2 examples I just made up:

1) Would you rather eat 3 pieces of cake where you can see through the icing, and are barely able to savor the sugary goodness it holds, or have 1 piece of cake where you get a fair amount of icing in every delicious bite?  I don’t eat sweets too often, but when it comes to flavor, luster, and vibrancy,  I know that frosting can mean all the difference.  Take those 2 kinds of cake to (one with a lot and one with a little frosting) to a pot-luck, and see which one more people eat.

2) If you have a leaky roof, and it takes 40 gallons of sealant to do the entire thing, and you only have 10 gallons, are you going to cover the entire roof?  Even the most novice roofer knows that if you don’t have enough sealant to cover the whole roof, you pick out the spots that are causing the most problems, and generously slather it on until you are able to get more sealant.  There are still going to be problems, yes, but at least most of the big leaks are going to be gone.

The point I’m getting at is that the City seems to be allocating funds, resources and ideas all over Bristol evenly.  All that means is that it’s going to be more difficult to get EVERY SINGLE problem solved at once.  Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for Bristol as of April of this year is 9.8%.  The CCP states that it’s 3.5% (meaning that Bristol has almost 3 times the number of unemployed citizens as it did 8 years ago). There are more and more young people present, and they continue to move here every year.  I don’t have the exact statistics, but I know that the CCP says that the population is getting older, which is contradictory to what I’ve seen .  That may have been true 10 years ago, but not now.  The CCP also states that there are 2,932 acres of vacant land in the City, 32% of which is undevelopable or chopped up into vacant lots.  Is it just me, or does that seem like a bit of a waste?

Delmer C. Dotson Jr.’s Proposed CCP:

I don’t pretend to be a city planner, but I am a problem solver by nature, a writer by the grace of God, and a Bristolean by choice.  I am in no way qualified or authorized to make decisions on behalf of the City of Bristol, but here’s what I would do in order to help Bristol had I the power.  I would lobby for more state and federal funding for a rejuvenation program for our beloved Birthplace of Country Music.  If UVa’s College at Wise could get 14+ million dollars 2 years ago to erect one brand new building and polish the entryway to the College, the entire City of Bristol could get at least enough money to remodel and open a 2 or 3 abandoned buildings near State Street.  Prime examples:

  1. Open and operate The Cameo Theater with a few of the suggestions I had in my last article.  You would spend a fraction of the funds, it would generate income, it would beautify downtown Bristol, and it would spark interest and culture within a large community.
  2. Open and operate the Bristol Firehouse Museum.  Again, a fraction of the funds would be spent, one less huge abandoned building downtown (which is currently just an eye-sore), and it could be a place for local school field-trips.  There are also opportunities to generate more money for the City to use on other projects, as well as a venue for coordinated special events.
  3. Subsidized public transportation for private companies.  It would help to lower unemployment, it wouldn’t take nearly the amount of funding as it would to renovate a historic building, there could be planned bus tours to all the interesting/historic places around town (sight-seeing), and on the weekends we could get the drunk people home from the bars safely.

These are all ideas I came up with by myself in the past 10 minutes.  If we had a team of City officials dedicated and persistent enough, this list could turn into 10 pages overnight.  And if they took one idea at a time and successfully implemented it into the City of Bristol instead of working on all of them at once we could have a much grander 5 year plan accomplished in record time.

I think we can all agree that we’d love to have little successes we could celebrate and revere every year, rather than one giant success 50 years from now.  So on behalf of the 20-somethings and everyone else of Bristol and the Tri-Cities:

City Officials, please take your job seriously.  We elected you for a reason.  We believe in you.  As long as you’re showing progressive steps toward the CCP, we can work with you.  The people of our fine City want, nay, we need to be proud of where we are.  After all, in a way Bristol makes all of us who we are.  We don’t want to see the place that birthed most of us become dilapidated and fall victim to whatever the national or world economy is going through.  We’re stronger than that.  We can survive, adapt, and become a shooting star among all other stars.  Don’t let surrounding cities steal our thunder.  And if you need help, just ask us, you know where we live.


Delmer C. Dotson Jr.  “The Jester”