Smithville Comprehensive Façade Improvement

Smithville, Tennessee
Chris Cantrell bldg.

Smithville, the county seat of DeKalb County, is located on the Cumberland Plateau just south of I-40. The town and county are home to notable events and outdoor recreation destinations that are assets to the local economy. From the annual Smithville Fiddlers’ Jamboree & Crafts Festival held on the downtown square to nearby Center Hill Lake and the Appalachian Center for Craft, the county is recognized for its authenticity and local culture.

Local economic developers and elected officials value these assets and realize the potential in redeveloping downtown Smithville as the anchor destination to support the other economic drivers. Like many of Tennessee’s rural small towns, Smithville’s courthouse square had experienced the closure of long-time local businesses due to economic changes and the changing lifecycles of businesses and property owners.

Tennessee Downtown's Delegation

In 2012, Smithville/DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce leaders identified the TNECD Tennessee Downtowns Program as a fit for their community’s downtown development needs. Chamber leaders gathered broad community support to apply for the program. The county’s strong history of collaboration among local officials, community leaders, and local business owners in economic and community development efforts positioned the Chamber to submit a compelling application.

In 2013, Smithville leaders received the news of their selection into the Tennessee Downtowns program. A Steering Committee was formed to lead the program’s efforts. Smithville city leaders, county officials and a group of downtown stakeholders participated in TNECD-sponsored training and technical assistance that positioned the community for broad-based buy-in.

Phased Approach

As the committee began to research best practices and available resources, they developed a phased approach to guide their efforts. Between 2013 and 2022, the community has created three phases of work that have supported impressive progress and the leveraging of local and state resources. 

Downtown Smithville Development Plan – Phase 1 for 2013 – 2015:

  • All downtown buildings to have inviting, attractive exteriors
  • Promote the downtown business district to Center Hill Lake and Smithville Fiddlers' Jamboree tourists and other unique visitors using banners, brochure racks at marinas, social media and other marketing venues
  • Promote downtown Smithville to locals through a "Shop Local" campaign
  • Develop Evins Park to be used for outdoor concerts, performances, and other community events
  • Provide 10 new directional/way-finding signs to the downtown business district
  • Create a new logo for downtown Smithville
  • Recruit community volunteers through the Chamber and local media to continue the downtown committees and projects

Downtown Smithville Development Plan – Phase 2 for 2014 – 2016:

  • Complete downtown facade renovations with consideration to historical and architectural design
  • Develop new downtown events including music/art events, classic car shows, weddings at the open-air stage, boat shows, etc. to draw locals and visitors to downtown Smithville
  • Create additional downtown residential areas (loft and studio apartments, family apartments, etc.) by developing presently unused space in second stories and alleyways
  • Set up committees for beautification, special events, marketing, and new business recruitment
  • Create marketing materials for display at Center Hill Lake marinas, Edgar Evins State Park, Smith County Welcome Center, Highlands Welcome Center, local and regional chambers and other venues
  • Create new signage for downtown businesses
  • Pursue new retail and service businesses for the downtown
  • Develop “Shop Downtown” signage with new logo and display on high traffic areas on Hwys. 56 and 70

Downtown Smithville Development Plan – Phase 3 for 2018 – 2022:

  • Create an open space, recreation, and greenway advisory group to explore the possibility of more sidewalks, greenways, walking paths, recreation, etc.
  • Develop a new Welcome/Visitors’ Center with offices for the Chamber and Jamboree
  • Beautification Committee Projects: new lampposts, benches, flower pots/hanging baskets; improve grassy areas and mulching flowers; etc. to add to the charm of downtown
  • Create a Downtown History Walk to include the old cemetery, downtown history, Civil War marker, Main Street homes, Public Library, and other historical assets
  • Develop outdoor kiosks to share information with visitors (county & lake maps, history walk & county brochures, demographics, newcomer/tourism info, etc.)
  • Encourage property/business owners to keep up the visual appeal, general care, and maintenance of their buildings

2013 Façade Improvement Program

In the first two years of their Tennessee Downtowns program participation, the Smithville Downtown Steering Committee made great progress in accomplishing their Phase 1 objectives. In order to accomplish their first priority for all downtown buildings to have inviting, attractive exteriors, the committee invested $8,000 of the $15,000 Tennessee Downtowns grant in a façade improvement project that created community support to improve sixteen downtown properties. During this first phase of façade improvements, the committee provided grants up to $1000 and required a 50% match from property owners.  The committee decided to select projects in one area of their square for maximum impact of grant and property owner investments. The response was phenomenal with 16 buildings improved and over $100,000 made in private investments.  

2014 Façade Improvement Program

In 2014, the community received funding through the TNECD Façade Improvement Grant (FIG) program to give property owners in the northwest section of the square an opportunity to apply for funds to improve their buildings. This block was prioritized; many of the properties were empty, unappealing buildings with old awnings, faded and peeling paint, and broken windows. The $25,000 grant plus the 25% matching funds from each building owner would have made a big impact, but, as they had seen from earlier façade improvement efforts, local property owners invested much more than the minimum requirement. The final impact was estimated at more than $75,000.

Applications were received by the design committee and awarded through the Tennessee Downtowns Steering Committee. Each sub-grantee was encouraged to complete their project in 11 months or less and was reimbursed after both committees approved and confirmed the project's completion. The Smithville-DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce managed the FIG and updated the downtown committees, DeKalb County Executive, Smithville Mayor, and Smithville Aldermen regularly on the progress. Updates were also provided through the local media and the Chamber Chat TV and radio programs.

2016 Façade Improvement Program

In 2016, the community received a second TNECD Façade Improvement Grant that provided property owners in other sections around the square an opportunity to apply for grant funds. The $100,000 grant plus the additional 25% matching funds from each property owner provided larger grant amounts to tackle more expensive building improvements. This project gave Smithville the opportunity to turn old, unappealing buildings into charming, well-maintained properties and helped to continue the momentum. Exterior improvements addressed needs including new paint, new canvas or metal awnings, new entries, new or refurbished windows, and repair of masonry and foundations.

The second FIG project allowed the community to complete a major portion of their 2014 – 2016 Phase 2 plan. The overarching goal to bring back the downtown’s charm and increase excitement about the downtown business district was accomplished as residents saw the positive changes. The project motivated 2 additional property owners to complete 7 projects for an additional $52,730 in building investments. Additionally, in 2016, the city invested approximately $240,000 in the downtown through paving streets, replacing water lines, and improving sidewalks.

Economic and Community Impact

The Smithville Tennessee Downtowns committees have systematically created an esthetically-pleasing downtown that is encouraging new business development and stimulating the local economy. The property owners were committed to investing in the community development of the downtown knowing that the efforts would lead to economic development. The FIG projects gave the boost needed to get the downtown back on track to economic prosperity. The project also promoted community pride, provided the community with a visual identify, and reinforced a positive sense of community.

Today, Downtown Smithville is positioned to blend established businesses with a new mix of retail, services, restaurants, music and art venues, along with downtown residential living to help support growth in business revenues and extended business hours.

Between 2013 and 2018, Tennessee Downtowns and FIG recipients completed improvements that leveraged significant private and public investment. Smithville has completed a total of 64 building rehabilitation projects on 38 properties and realized over a 3:1 return on investment for private and state funding from the project. Total results include:

2013 Façade Improvement Program (Tennessee Downtowns funding)

FIG Building Rehabilitations   16 Buildings/16 Projects  
Public Improvement Projects (10 new directional signs to the downtown square, new public outdoor event space, new downtown logo) 
New Downtown Jobs Created 18  
New Downtown Businesses Created/Expanded (2 gift shops, a new restaurant, a new salon, a new ladies clothing shop, a new beauty shop) 

2014 Façade Improvement Program (FIG funding)

FIG Building Rehabilitations   12 Buildings/16 Projects
Public Improvement Projects (repaved streets, replaced water lines, sidewalk improvements, street and directional signs) 
New Downtown Jobs Created 15
New Downtown Businesses Created/Expanded (2 new salons, a ladies’ clothing boutique, a gift and consignment store, a flower shop, an herb store, a specialty clothing store, a graphic adverting business, a new barber shop, and a new law office)

2016 Façade Improvement Program (FIG funding)

FIG Building Rehabilitations 20 Buildings/32 Projects  
Privately Funded Building Rehabilitations 2 Buildings/7Projects   
Public Improvement Projects (Paving, repaired and resurfaced Courthouse entry/steps, City Hall façade cleaning, new LED Lighting and LED outdoor Christmas trees, new Christmas decorations) 
New Downtown Jobs Created 20  
New Downtown Businesses Created/Expanded (a ladies’ boutique, a new restaurant, a gift shop, a general store, a new barber shop, an antique store, a financial services office and a new law office) 

Project Funding

2013 TNECD Tennessee Downtowns/Façade Improvement Grant  $8,000  
2013 Property/Business Owner Match  $100,000  
2014 TNECD Façade Improvement Program Grant  $25,000  
2014 Property/Business Owner Match  $125,000  
2016 TNECD Façade Improvement Program Grant  $100,000  
2016 Property/Business Owner Match  $204,550  
TOTAL FAÇADE IMPROVEMENT GRANT PROJECT FUNDING (Projections for state grant funding, property owners investments) $562,550  

Project Leaders and Partners

Smithville/DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce – Executive Director – Project Contact
Smithville Tennessee Downtowns committee
City of Smithville
DeKalb County Government
Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development

For project information contact the Smithville/DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce.


TNECD Tennessee Downtowns and Façade Improvement Grant Programs

Downtown revitalization is a critical component of rural economic and community development. TNECD encourages revitalization of commercial buildings in downtown business districts through the Tennessee Downtowns program and the Façade Improvement Grant (FIG) programs. Tennessee Main Street and Tennessee Downtowns program resources along with the CDBG Façade Improvement Grant program  work together to help communities revitalize their downtown districts and create new businesses.

For more information visit TNECD Community and Rural Development.