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Fight to the Finish

By Jenny Boyle, regional editor

Like most landscape architectural firms, the staff at E. G. & G., Inc. creates designs they hope to see implemented some day. But while others stop at that hope, this firm fights to make it a reality.

In Slippery Rock, Pa., E.G. & G. wanted to play up the interesting name of the town, so native stone was used extensively in the project. The concrete along storefronts was stamped in a stone pattern and large boulders were installed for seating as an alternative to benches.

When I spoke with John Grossman, Dale Garrison and Rod Garrison (no relation), senior executives at E. G. & G., Inc., it was easy to hear how excited they get about helping their clients. These men have been working together for years building the firm's reputation for accomplishing award-winning projects. And when I say "accomplishing," I mean that over 90 percent of their designs have actually been built.

As a part of their Heritage 2000 capital improvement plan, the City of Bowling Green sought to revitalize their core central neighborhood. The landscape architecture firm saw potential with the existing parking behind the main buildings downtown and developed a way to maximize the space while making it more pedestrian friendly.

The company is especially known for its streetscape revitalization program--a four-step process that moves projects from concept to completion.

"What makes us different than a lot of design firms is that we look at a much broader package of service to these communities," says Dale Garrison, vice president and co-founder of the company. "We do everything these people need to keep their towns alive. We provide the landscape architecture, the planning, the engineering services--everything it takes to get it done and not have another plan just sitting on the bookcase not being utilized."

(Before) The existing parking lots behind the main street buildings were not lit well or pedestrian friendly. To access those establishments, people had to walk around and enter through the front of the buildings.

(After) With the help of an approved easement by the property owners, the firm was able to add additional parking spaces and extend the sidewalk, light poles and landscaping to the back of the buildings. They also put all overhead utility lines underground and consolidated trash dumpsters in an enclosed area.

The firm works with mobilized community groups to raise the funds needed to implement projects.

The poured-in-place concrete sidewalk with hand-tooled joints was trimmed with fired clay brick in a variety of colors. Cleveland Select Pear trees were planted down the sidewalk along with light poles manufactured by Union Metal.

"We're kind of an extension to the downtown groups and the property owners," says Dale. "We become the development arm to turn around something that was starting to wear down, and create a very stunning prime real estate location."

Just look at these three streetscapes that went from run-down to renewed:

Bowling Green, Ohio

In the late 90s, the firm was approached by the City of Bowling Green, Ohio, whose leaders were interested in revitalizing the downtown area adjacent to the University of Bowling Green. The town mayor had formed the Heritage 2000 plan--a vision of where the city was going as it approached the new millennium.

"It was important to them that their central neighborhood was welcoming, economically viable and conducive to the strong quality of life in Bowling Green," says John Grossman, president of E. G. & G. "They realized that to position themselves from 2000 onward, they needed to revitalize their core central neighborhood."

After several public meetings with downtown property owners, their tenants, interested citizens, and members of the city government, the firm developed a design that capitalized on the traditional style of the buildings along the main thoroughfare.

"What they had going for them was that parking behind the buildings was already in place," says John. "We saw the tremendous advantage of putting a system of sidewalks and street lighting behind those buildings, so you could come out of the parking lot and access the buildings directly from the back, instead of having to walk all the way around to the front of the building."

The firm was concerned that property owners would be wary about the proposed construction.

"We didn't want to take any property," says John. "We wanted each owner to retain their ownership, so we had to approach every single one and have them sign a release to allow construction to happen."

When all 48 property owners agreed to the easement, the firm began developing the best way to make use of that space.

Property owners have agreed to an assessment that funds a full-time maintenance program. The city has contracts with local landscape firms who replant the downtown area each summer.

"We were able to increase the number of parking spaces, consolidate trash dumpsters behind enclosures, and carry the decorative lights and landscape on the main street to the back of the building," says John. "It looks nice and conserves space."

Dale says the firm was faced with a unique design challenge. They had to create a streetscape that would stand the wear and tear caused by students who frequented the bars and restaurants in the area.

"All of our improvements had to be such that they were very substantial," he says. "We put tree grouters around the trees and we made plant material larger so that it could withstand any abuse."

In addition to implementing durable materials, the firm proposed an assessment of property owners that would fund a full-time main street program to keep the landscape lush year-round.

"About 65 percent of the property owners agreed to the assessment," says John. "With that much approval, it was easy to do it for all 100 percent. [The property owners] wanted to be assured that these capital improvements would be maintained."

Rod Garrison, project manager and associate principal, says when that program was initiated, it was one of the first of its kind in Ohio.

"It's almost like a mall management system," he says. "But it's legislated at the state level and the entire maintenance system is paid for through property owner tax dollars."

Having just celebrated its five-year anniversary, downtown Bowling Green has seen a major turnaround as a result of these improvements. New businesses have moved in, nearly all the second floor office space has been filled and the entire atmosphere of the area has improved.

"Ten years ago, businesses were leaving and going to the mall," says Rod. "Now that is reversed. Because of its improved environment, the downtown is bringing business back and attracting new business."

Franklin, Tennessee

When the firm signed on to renew the streetscape of Franklin, Tenn., they knew they were dealing with a sensitive piece of history that had to be handled with care.

"Franklin is a celebrated town, both architecturally and historically," says John. "Some of the great Civil War battles took place in Franklin and numerous people come to re-walk history. The city was trying not to lose that sense of history."

"We're helping both the public and private sectors see that they're sitting on a jewel in the rough. It's worn out, it's tired looking, but you can bring that jewel back out and polish it."--John Grossman, president, E. G. & G., Inc.

The town had begun renovation on many of its Main Street buildings, which had been covered with false facades in the 50s. They also wanted to re-work a Confederate monument that was placed smack in the middle of Main Street.

Franklin, Tenn. was the site of several historic Civil War battles. The designers wanted to emphasize this in their redesign by making the Confederate monument in the center of town more prominent.

Before: The original "square" in the center of town had insufficient drainage, poor lighting, and no protection from the vehicular traffic that was directed around it.

After: The firm fashioned a circular curb around the town monument and paved the outside portions of it with pre-cast concrete pavers. This helped ease the flow of traffic and made use of underutilized space. In keeping with the original geometry, the square patch of grass was bermed up to help with drainage and proper lighting was installed to highlight the Confederate memorial.

"When they found us, it looked like a sea of asphalt," says John. "Sidewalks ran into the street, there was very little green space, it looked tired, old, and absolutely worn out."

The geometry of the square was problematic on several levels. The awkward space required drivers to maneuver around its corners, the irregular traffic flow caused many accidents, and lack of a curb further complicated matters.

There were also issues with inadequate drainage and dangerous utility lines. John says they wanted to put the focus back on the monument, while addressing the issues that plagued the street.

"We came in with a circular curb around the monument area to move the traffic in a circular motion," he says.

The firm described Franklin as a "sea of asphalt" and overhead utility lines when they signed on to revitalize the town. Because many people come there each year to re-walk the historic moments of the Civil War, the firm created sidewalks and placed all utility lines underground for a cleaner looking, clutter-free main street.

Because the area was referred to as "the square," the team knew they couldn't very well change the shape. Instead, they bermed up the square patch of grass, solving the drainage problem and giving the monument further protection from passing traffic. They also ran underground utility lines to the space and installed luminaires to give adequate lighting without shining light directly on the monument.

The firm studied historic documents to recreate paver patterns and choose proper lighting fixtures. At the base of each pole is a plate that covers an electrical source. This allows street festival vendors direct access to electricity without running dangerous wires along the ground.

To address the asphalt issues, the team designed extensive sidewalk paver patterns by studying historic documents. They also laid reinforced brick pavers in parking areas along the street. When all was said and done the project won the Main Street award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

At intersections, the firm realized no one could park right up to the corner of where the two streets met. They extended the curbs eight feet and planted them to add more green space.

"The thing you see in Franklin is people strolling downtown at night, buying ice cream," says John. "From an economic point of view, the revitalization has produced a great return. When you do a streetscape well, in a comprehensive quality way, you really create value for real estate and value for a business environment to grow again."

Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania

The before and after shots from this University town--fabled to be named after a visit by the young George Washington--are like night and day.

"I could not believe that a community could have gotten that bad," says John.

When he says "bad" he means that sidewalks were horribly uneven, overhead utility lines hung everywhere and there was little green space to be found. It looked as though nothing had been maintained in years. John says the reason for this may have been due to the "brain drain" that Pennsylvania was experiencing at that time. Students were coming to college and then moving out of state as soon as they graduated. Funds for improvement were just not available. John says they found a community that was eager to revive their town.

(Before) The use of salt during the winter months prevented anything from growing in the small patch of earth along the town sidewalks. The area was cluttered with freeway signage and overhead wires as well.

(After) The firm ripped out and re-poured all sidewalks along all streets, put utility lines underground, and chose a uniform lighting fixture. For the new retaining walls, the firm wanted a material that would emulate stone, but also be cost-effective so they chose precast concrete units from Keystone. Older existing trees were replaced with Cleveland Select Pear trees to add more green to the landscape.

"The thing that gave me hope was that the leadership in the community was working together," he says. "They pulled themselves into an organizational format and they said, 'we're going to do something. That is really the first ingredient. You have to get key people together."

Rod says he knew they had made the right choice after the first town meeting--which was held during a horrible blizzard.

"The storm had made me late to the meeting, but when I got there the fire hall was packed," he says. "People wanted to be a part of the meeting. The outpouring of support was amazing."

John says they developed a plan in phases that would bring life back into the community.

"One of the things that just overwhelmed you in terms of negative image was the tremendous image of over head wires," he explains. "Those were owned predominantly by the power company and the telephone company. We knew right off that a big problem would be getting those wires underground."

John says they deal with these types of issues often, so they are usually able to work out some type of cost-sharing deal.

"Most of our projects are generating them more clients in the long-run," he says. "Finding a compromise is difficult, but it can be done."

Aside from putting all the utility lines underground, the firm created a new parking facility and placed a gazebo along a path that connects the parking lot to the main street. Along the main pedestrian walkways, the firm played on the town name, incorporating a stone design in the pavement and by using large native stones to serve as area seating. A local artist also created a stone water feature as well.

To date, the first phase of this project has been completed and work is underway to begin the second.

"The town has been very supportive," says John. "It was a great opportunity here, I think we can call it a new investment frontier. What we've tried to do is take something very difficult and break it up into a process that with a lot of hard work, gets accomplished."

A gazebo manufactured by Poligon Park Architecture was placed along the pedestrian walk between a new parking garage and the main street establishments. The town plans to use the space for outdoor summer concerts.

Creating a Niche

Though they do more than streetscape revitalization, the firm has definitely established itself as the company that does more than just draw up a picture and tell you they hope it works out. Their commitment to seeing it through and helping bring economic life back into these communities in a strategic way shows in the end result.

"Our strength is to find the dollars to do the project," says Dale. "We work with the community and its various departments to find the money. It's sort of the fun thing about this job because people get excited when they see the project built. Working with them can be very rewarding."
John adds that their overall goal is always to design a project that will bring new life back to the community.

"What we've learned over the years is that you have to turn the community around and recreate the image," he says. "We're helping both the public and private sectors see that they're sitting on a jewel in the rough. It's worn out, it's tired looking, but you can bring that jewel back out and polish it. And when you do it in a way that is unique to each community and their history, you really do get investors' attention. It becomes a place where you can make money again."

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June 16, 2019, 10:38 pm PDT

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