Donors light the way for solar trestle art project

Daurie Schwartz with Schwartz Electric checks the wiring on the Cooper Street trestle art after LED bulbs were installed on Cooper-Young’s signature sculpture. The neighborhood is raising funds for the second phase of a project that will install solar panels to generate electricity for the display. Photo by Daniel Scruggs/

Cooper-Young is lighting the way to a greener future as donors and residents organize behind an effort to convert the neighborhood’s signature Cooper Street trestle sculpture to run on solar-powered LED lights.

With an estimated $10,000 price tag, it may be the neighborhood’s biggest community project since artist Jill Turman’s massive bridge-mounted architecture was installed in 2000, but supporters say the dividends in decreased utility bills and a reduced carbon footprint are worth the investment.

Proceeds from the Cooper-Young Community Association’s annual April art auction are earmarked for the project this year, and already four local businesses — inbalance Fitness, Midtown Massage & Bodyworks, Midtown Market and Cooper-Young Business Association — have stepped up with donations of $1,000 each.

“We just want to be a source of good,” said Scott Lebowitz, owner of inbalance, explaining his decision to support the project. The gym also supports Project Green Fork, an effort to make restaurants more environmentally sustainable, and has made energy-efficiency improvements to its own building, he said.

“We’re right there at the railroad trestle so anything that improves the community, we want to be a part of, and of course the sustainability part of the project was really exciting,” Lebowitz said.

Larrie Ann Rodriguez, who moved Midtown Massage & Bodyworks to Cooper Street just last year, said she was excited to support a project that would have a visible impact on her surroundings.

“I’m just really dedicated to our neighborhood in general,” Rodriguez said. “I live in the neighborhood, I work in the neighborhood and I fully believe in going green.”

Even Kevin Park, who is still restocking shelves after taking over ownership at Midtown Market, said he chose to get involved with the project to pay back the goodwill he’s received from Cooper-Young’s residents and community association.

“We see this community association as taking leadership in building a better community … so we want to be part of everything this community association is involved in,” Park said.

Cooper-Young resident Daniel Atlas initiated the project recently after noticing how quickly the trestle art’s utility meter was spinning, indicating its energy use. He hatched a plan and contacted the Cooper-Young Community Association, which currently pays between $55 and $70 a month in utility costs to light the bridge.

“I saw that power meter and I just started thinking,” Atlas said. “That meter was just whizzing by.”

The first phase of the project is already in place: About 40 incandescent light bulbs were replaced with LED bulbs in early February, reducing energy usage by more than 750 percent, according to Daurie Schwartz, owner of Schwartz Electric on Cox Street, who is handling the installation.

The new bulbs also will burn for years rather than months, saving money in maintenance costs. But that’s only the beginning.

The next phase of the project would install a solar array on the bridge that could cut utility costs even further — in fact, CYCA leaders hope the solar panels will produce so much electricity that MLGW might actually end up paying the community association each month.

Though solar arrays are uncommon in the Mid-South, which gets less intense sunlight than areas out West, Schwartz said he thinks the plan for the trestle art is feasible, with environmental benefits in the short term and a return on investment for the community association in the long term.

“You’re spending some money up front, but the bottom line is, you’re saving energy, you’re reducing your carbon footprint,” Schwartz said.

Finishing the project will require up to $8,000 more, said CYCA board president June Hurt, and Cooper-Young residents and businesses can help by purchasing artwork at the Art for Art’s Sake Auction, set for April 13 at Young Avenue Deli. Ben Smith, chef at Green Fork-certified neighborhood restaurant Tsunami, has donated a private dinner for two as a door prize for auction attendees.

Hurt also is looking for more businesses willing to make $1,000 donations directly to the CYCA for the project.

Tamara Cook, director of the Cooper-Young Business Association, said she remembers what an impact the trestle art made on the community after it was installed. When she heard about the CYCA’s plans to improve on a great idea, she knew her organization had to step up to help.

“It’s just kind of a gesture to lead,” Cook said. “We’re proud of the community association because they are pioneers when it comes to doing things like this. The trestle art, when they put that on that old ugly train trestle, that was huge news. Actually, I don’t know what we’d do without the community association.”

– By David Royer

Author: LampLighter

The voice of Cooper-Young, a vibrant, diverse neighborhood to live, work and play, in the heart of Midtown Memphis, Tennessee.

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