Wednesday, August 18, 2010
THIS IS OUR HOMETOWN
This past Saturday was the last "Crusin' In Harriman" for the summer. The event occurs every second Saturday beginning in April through the second Saturday in August each year. The City of Harriman makes no money on this event, but it does keep the spirit of the city alive by bringing folks together downtown!
While standing in front of the Princess Saturday, looking over the "Crusin'" event on Roane Street, (click to see my Flickr photos) I looked up and saw the yellow “caution tape” flapping in the breeze on the roof of the theater and a single open window over the marquee. It was a reminder of the new roof currently being placed on top, and the symbolism of the open window. Our Princess is about to emerge from her chrysalis!
Over the past two decades, the city has declined. It started with Wal-Mart and K-Mart moving into town, drawing customers from downtown, and the loss of jobs from the closing of the Kraft Mills, Mead Corporation, and the various hosiery companies like Burlington. Finally, in 2000 the Princess closed her doors, and began a slow moldy decay.
Downtown Harriman lost all but a handful of stores, and in the years following, other buildings began to follow in decay.
However, there is something new on the horizon that gives us, those who still care and remember, hope. That hope comes from a dream that started with Gary Baker and Muse Watson. The dream was that children of Roane and surrounding counties would have a place to learn about "the arts". The facility is to be called the “Princess Performing Arts, Education, and Conference Center", and is to be perpetually operated and funded through Roane State Community College.
The dream begins with the restoration of the old Princess Theater (the building) and ends with the move toward a Princess Theatre (the art). The dream is not to routinely show movies there as a major function of the restoration project. However, if some local resident creates their own movie then there would be a special premiere showing. There will probably be special occasion movies, i.e. "Thunder Road" during Crusin', or holiday movies ("White Christmas, A Christmas Story, or It's A Wonderful Life") to highlight the seasons. But, the real dream purpose for the Princess is to showcase "live entertainment" while providing a learning experience for local students.
The dream is to provide a center where Roane State and high school students can come and learn "hands-on" about careers in the arts. Planned is a local TV station (Channel 15), a live entertainment facility, utilizing the 900 seat auditorium of the Princess and the newly designed stage, and later a conferencing center will come online.
But, the point to remember is that students will run the total operation of the TV station, and have hands on experience when live entertainment is presented on the Princess stage. It may be a theatre production of the Roane State, or area high school, drama department, or a music concert presented by local groups. All the productions will be beamed live or taped from the TV station to multiple counties!
The best part, is that students will gain experience that will serve them in future careers in the arts, radio, TV, or the theatre.
From this, downtown Harriman will reap the benefits of foot traffic on the sidewalks once again. Apartments will constructed within the old classic buildings, and store fronts of antique, boutique, specialty food shops will open, bringing jobs and further restoration and spirit back to "our hometown"!
While the dream was all about "some day", it has moved into the "coming true" column with the windfall, which came at the expense of other’s dreams, to the Princess Foundation after the Tennessee Valley Authority awarded $1.7M to the city of Harriman, specifically for the restoration of the Princess.
People who lost their property and homes, after the devastating "coal ash spill" for the Kingston Fossil Fuel Pant near Kingston in 2008, were rightly upset over this grant, and the other education and restoration awards to Roane County. However, this blessing cannot be overlooked or refused. We must carry on with the dream regardless of what God, or fate, sends our way.
The only dreams left now are those of limitless possibilities for the community! Whatever we can imagine now has a stage waiting for us to produce it, show it, and enjoy it!
This is our collective dream. Beyond this it is still our HOMETOWN. Please, PLEASE, get involved and continuing dreaming. It is all up to us now...it may be our last opportunity to make it just like we remember it.
Let me also give you a heads-up. Property values Downtown Harriman will be going up once people begin to see investment opportunities gained from having more foot traffic downtown. Pat Mynatt told me Saturday, while I was cooling off from the heat, that she started her “Red Door Antiquities” shop now in order to get ahead of the rush! I think that was a wise decision...don’t you!?