Shelley Smith

Shelley Smith

The question of how to foster high-quality places is one of the most important challenges in economic development today. Key solutions for downtowns everywhere are to provide ample outdoor spaces, outdoor amenities, connectivity to surrounding residential neighborhoods and natural areas, as well as to cultivate a sense of place through the installation of relevant public art.

Outdoor areas downtown should not exist as merely an after-thought; the potential exists for well-designed outdoor areas to be the most marketable features to set our community apart from other towns throughout the region, serving as catalysts for the economic recovery of our community and one of the greater downtown area’s main draws for visitors and residents alike moving forward. One of the primary goals for the downtown revitalization effort since its inception is to activate public locations in a way that engages all people.

Public spaces and public art contribute to the visual landscape and character of towns and helps transform areas adjacent to uninviting transportation corridors, such as railroads and state highways, into welcoming places.

One way that private hospitality establishments have contributed to the successful activation of downtowns in other communities is by going beyond simply serving food and drink to provide an activity that can draw families together in a social setting, capturing customers and business revenue for entire areas by entertaining families for hours on end. Statistics show that younger generations of parents are spending more time with their children than ever before. Even though both parents work in many family households, research shows that younger parents are still spending more time with their children than previous generations. An important element of the vision for the downtown’s success should be that it will not simply be a playground for adults and will increasingly become a destination for the entire family as well.

In recent years, a trend has emerged among popular dining and hospitality establishments throughout the southeast that moves the businesses out of the restaurant category and into the new category of "community gathering spot" and it is all about context. This new breed of establishments are essentially playgrounds and social settings with the right mix of activities for children and ambiance for adults. Parents flock to these area hot spots that can provide a safe and contained environment with some means of occupying their children, be it a playground, activity, or even an open area to play in with other children, while leaving parents free to socialize with other adults over good food and drink.

Business models vary from full-kitchen restaurants providing a sit-down atmosphere adjacent to park-like settings, existing greenways, or other public spaces, to take-out establishments with a private outdoor play or picnic area, while others emphasize a more traditional social hall atmosphere, often with regularly scheduled food trucks and open areas large enough for children to run and play in a safe area.

These family-friendly gathering spots are cropping up throughout the region, and whether by intent or coincidental good fortune, parents in these communities have dictated a new model for success in the hospitality industry. Noteworthy examples in my experience are Hampton Station, Swamp Rabbit Café, and Piney Mountain Bike Lounge in Greenville, South Carolina.

The epitome of experiential retail, Piney Mountain Bike Lounge in particular is an excellent example of a niche establishment providing a particularly unique experience and setting for the local community to gather, and features a craft beer tap room, food truck court, a lounge area with a ping-pong table and board games, a bike and apparel shop, a service area for bike repair, outdoor deck seating, and most extraordinarily, a fully-lit dirt pump track behind the establishment for the enjoyment of all ages. According to their website, “Our main goal at the Bike Lounge is to provide a place for the local community to gather and to share their love for riding. Our experienced, knowledgeable staff can help you with all of your riding needs while you enjoy a cold beer at the bar.”

If you have a favorite gathering spot where you’ve spent time with your family or an idea for a concept that you would like to see in our community, look for this article on the Tullahoma News Facebook page and share your experience or ideas in the comments section at

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