Back Alley Paris Project

Paris, Tennessee
Paris -  Welcome to Paris

Paris, located in Henry County, has been described as the architectural and cultural gem of northern West Tennessee. Anchored by the 1896 Henry County Courthouse, the Paris courthouse square is surrounded by well-maintained buildings and storefronts from the early 1900’s. Paris and Henry County are fortunate to have a strong tourism trade that brings thousands of visitors each year to the downtown and nearby Kentucky Lake. Henry and surrounding counties also have many full- and part-time lake residents that also come to downtown Paris for dining, shopping and services. Home to the World’s Biggest Fish Fry, Paris is a regional destination that plays a significant role in West Tennessee’s tourism economy.

Paris has long recognized the importance of maintaining a vibrant downtown, and a coalition of city and county government leaders, property owners, life-long downtown advocates, and merchants have dedicated time and resources toward this goal. Today, the Downtown Paris Association (DPA) is the community’s Main Street organization comprised of business and community leaders that continue these efforts. The DPA works with property owners and merchants to maintain and renovate properties and actively supports both city and county government leaders in promotions and infrastructure projects.

Over the years, Paris downtown leaders have preserved and enhanced their historic buildings and public spaces in order to attract new investments, businesses, residents and tourism revenues. In 1988, the Paris Commercial Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places.  Since the mid 1990’s, the City of Paris has worked to revitalize the physical infrastructure of the downtown including replacing sidewalks and curbs with handicap accessible brick accented sidewalks with plantings, period lighting and installing underground utilities lines and services. 

Downtown Development

In 2010, Paris was accepted to the Tennessee Downtowns program, and in 2016 community leaders took the step to become a nationally accredited Main Street community. Since that time, Paris Main Street leaders have participated in training, strategic planning and grant opportunities offered through TNECD’s Tennessee Main Street program to revitalize their downtown district including a Façade Improvement Grant and a Tourism Enhancement Grant.

Back Alley Paris Project

Historic buildings in downtown Paris adjacent to the city’s alleyways were experiencing issues with flooding in basements. City leaders began to work to address the drainage issues in order to protect and prolong the life of the historic structures. The city evaluated the situation and decided to take numerous steps to not only make repairs to alleviate the flooding but also address other issues.

In 2013, the City of Paris received funding from the Tennessee Arts Commission (TCA) Arts Build Communities to begin the Back Alley Paris project that has repaired and revitalized important infrastructure and created new public art within the downtown district. This project has allowed the city to alleviate serious drainage issues and transform four downtown alleys into functional, attractive and educational arts venues. The project has also fulfilled important economic development objectives including constructing new restroom facilities for shoppers and tourists.

In 2016, construction began after extensive planning and coordination involving multiple stakeholders to ensure the project had as little negative impact as possible on local businesses. In addition to repairing the drain pipes, the city carefully removed old asphalt and replaced paving in the alleys, removed obsolete overhead wires, repaired utilities and installed a storm system where drainage is filtered by a chamber system at an off-site vacant parcel. The project also provided the opportunity to upgrade utilities beyond the water and sewer system, allowing for the repair or replacement of electric, gas, cable, and telephone systems in buried conduit to allow easy future access. The alleyways were resurfaced using pavers that improved the appearance and ease of future repairs.

The City and DPA had begun the Back Alley Paris art project in the alleyways prior to construction of the infrastructure improvements. The art development phase incorporated art and history into the alleyways making them an outdoor museum with murals depicting local history and culture using the buildings as a canvas. Murals that depict an event or person, along with a plaque providing a narrative or story, are presented as each alleyway is completed. To support visitor experiences, DPA leaders have created a mobile app that provides a narrated walking tour of art displays and features in the downtown and other community points of interest.

Community Impact

The Back Alley Paris project provides for a partnership with the local school system that brings students downtown to educate them on the community’s heritage.  The stories in the alleys open doors for the community to tell its history and create a place of learning and pride. The alleyways also provide new commissions and venues for local artists and art events that support art-related businesses.

The Back Alley Paris project has increased the number of events, community partnerships, educational and art venues. First year program results include:

Community Arts Festivals and Events 5
Community Education Events 5
Total Arts Festivals and Event Attendance 750
Total Student Attendance 200
Paris Walking Tour App Users 860
Local Artists Commissioned  5
Historic Structures Protected 31

Project Funding

Tennessee Arts Commission Grant and DPA Match (artist stipends and materials) $20,000
TNECD Tourism Grant and City of Paris Match (restrooms) $47,000
City of Paris Capital Investment (infrastructure, engineering, materials, staffing)  $244,000
Private Contributions (artist stipends) $1,000
TOTAL BACK ALLEY PROJECT FUNDING (Projections for local investments, contributions, grant funding) $312,000

Project Leaders and Partners

City of Paris  – City Manager  – Project Contact
Downtown Paris Association  – Executive Director – Project Contact
Tennessee Arts Commission
Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development
Henry County and Paris City School Districts
Tennessee River Arts League
Robert E Lee Academy for the Arts

For project contact visit the City of Paris and Downtown Paris Association.


Tennessee Main Street and Tourism Enhancement Programs

Downtown revitalization is a critical component of successful rural economic and community development. The Tennessee Main Street program helps communities revitalize their downtown districts and improve their assets for increased small business and tourism-related economic impact. Tourism is one of the largest industries and most important economic drivers in Tennessee.  The Tennessee Main Street and the Tourism Enhancement Grant programs can work together to help communities revitalize their downtown districts and improve their tourism assets for increased tourism-related economic development through the Governor’s Rural Task Force and Tennessee Rural Economic Opportunity Act of 2016 and 2017. For more information visit the TNECD Tennessee Main Street and TDTD Tourism Enhancement Grant Programs.

The Tennessee Arts Commission Arts Build Communities (ABC) grant program is designed to provide support for arts projects that broaden access to arts experiences, address community quality of life issues through the arts, or enhance the sustainability of asset-based cultural enterprises. For more information visit the Tennessee Arts Commission program.

For more information visit TNECD Community and Rural Development.