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Contemplating the evolution of Fry Street

out brysoncityIt’s not much of a street now. And soon, Fry Street might not be a street at all.

“What we’re working towards there is, of course, permanent closure to vehicular traffic,” said Karen Wilmot, executive director of Swain County Tourism Development Authority. 

 

Bryson City’s Fry Street runs perpendicular to the much busier Everett Street. It lies quietly parallel to Depot Street, which gets a steady flow of traffic.

Fry Street is a short stretch of pavement resting beside the train tracks. It serves as a boarding and unloading area for the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, with tourists milling about the sleepy street.

“It’s just a dangerous area with all the pedestrians on foot,” Wilmot said. 

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The TDA is spearheading an effort to see the street evolve into a public space. The tourism authority has approached Bryson City about abandoning the right-of-way and allowing ownership of the property to revert to GSMR. Under this scenario, the property would be leased back to either Bryson City or Swain County, and landscaped into a public park.

“It would just be a space that everyone would enjoy,” Wilmot said. 

The TDA just recently got the first renderings back from an architect the organization is working with. Revisions were suggested — there was an issue with the placement of a stage — and updated plans are expected soon. 

Plans for the abandoned street involve plants, shrubs and trees. There will be benches and a small gazebo area that will serve as a stage. 

A current gravel lot will also be paved. Plans call for that area to be used as free public parking. 

“That’s tremendous,” Wilmot said, estimating the move could net up to 50 more parking spaces downtown. 

Wilmot said that the TDA honed in on Fry Street during a retreat in January. It’d been on the radar, but during the retreat members came around to the idea that the area had tremendous community value as a public space. 

“A lot of things we wanted to do we couldn’t do because we didn’t have an appropriate space,” Wilmot said. “It was recognized as something we really wanted to make happen.”

Wilmot informally surveyed nearby merchants about the proposition of turning Fry Street into a public space prior to approaching the Bryson City town board. 

“They were all very supportive, with the caveat that they didn’t want it just sitting there, that they wanted to see action taken,” Wilmot said.

Wilmot expects to have the revised plans for Fry Street ready to present to Bryson City’s board in December. City Manager Larry Callicutt said the board is currently taking a wait-and-see approach insofar as the request to abandon the right- of-way. 

“We’re waiting for the information so we can make a decision,” Callicutt said. 

Mayor Tom Sutton is in the mood to take it slow. There are details to be considered. 

“We’re just gonna take it step by step by step and try to do it right,” Sutton said. “We’re not trying to jam anything down. It’s always better to take your time and do it right.”

The mayor said that the board would need to carefully weigh the benefit of giving up Fry Street — “We do lose a thru-street there, depending on your point of view, that’s a disadvantage” — before making a decision. 

But Sutton could see the benefit. A public area in the heart of downtown would be nice. It could be a catalyst for something more, like a more vibrant downtown and more foot traffic for merchants.

“The longer you keep people on your streets, the longer they shop and spend money,” Sutton said, rationalizing that vehicular traffic would naturally divert to Depot.

Swain County Manager Kevin King said that county commissioners had yet to weigh in on the Fry Street possibility. The county is waiting to see if the city abandons the street.

King also said it remained unclear how exactly a lease arrangement would work. 

“Those details haven’t really been worked out,” he said, “as far as who would lease what.”

The general concept of a downtown park, King said, seemed like something the county could get behind. He imagines that if the concept becomes reality, the county will be involved with aspects such as grant writing for funding.

“We want to partner with the town to try to get this going,” King said. 

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