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Carrollton Mayor Dwight Louden hopes to continue his plans for revitalizing the downtown area with an improved riverfront and new businesses as well as working towards cleaning up the city if elected to another four years in office.
One of Louden’s biggest initiatives as mayor has been the riverfront project. Currently, the city is acquiring additional property along the Ohio River and cleaning it up.
“Council has agreed to [use eminent domain] if we need to,” he said. “We haven’t used it yet, but we may; we’re getting very close to using it.”
Louden said generally the decision whether or not to use eminent domain is assessed property by property, and before papers were filed in court to use it, he would ask council’s permission.
The last initial step in Louden’s completion plan will be to make limited improvements to the properties. This includes pouring a concrete pad on top of the former docking facility that hangs over the Kentucky River on the former Liter property, which is currently in progress; putting in shelters, bathrooms and picnic tables at the Liter property; and pulling back the riverfront to put in a river walk.
“At some point, we’ll probably hire some kind of architectural firm and put in a request for proposals to see what they think we should do for the entire area,” Louden said. “That would be the grand scheme, and then maybe we can get some federal money to do a big redevelopment of the riverfront property.”
Louden said he visited the riverfronts in Henderson and Owensboro, Ky., both of which were 10-year-projects, which is his estimated timeline for the complete renovation in Carrollton, and received money from the federal government.
“They’ve got everything from amphitheaters to spray parks to various facilities; it’s really nice,” he said. “Maybe we could do something like that is what I’m thinking, something that would be a little grander than just the walkway. I think we can probably do that on our own.”
To revitalize the downtown area, Louden plans to overhaul most of the existing wordage on the books for the Enterprise Incentive Program in order to begin using that money again for its original purpose.
“It was to promote business, specially new business, downtown,” he said. “Places where EIP has worked properly would be places like Down on Main Street where we gave them EIP money. They were re-doing the building, and they wanted the awning and façade work and windows and things, and now they have a new ongoing business. There are a number of other places downtown where we have given money, and they still don’t have a business. There are places downtown where we have given them money twice, and they still don’t have a business downtown.”
Louden said he has been discussing ideas for re-writing the code with a number of organizations, including the Chamber of Commerce, the Carroll County Community Development Corporation and the downtown revitalization committee.
“It’s just a matter of getting everybody’s input and making sure we are doing what we really need to do and writing it,” he said.
Some of the conditions they have discussed are requiring applicants to have a business plan, requiring some kind of commitment and plan if a building needs significant work and putting in a condition where if the applicant leaves Carrollton within a couple years, the funding must be repaid. Changes to the code would ultimately be approved by council re-written by city attorney Nick Marsh.
If re-elected, Louden said he would like to have the code re-written and in place within the first year of his new term.
Currently, the program is technically frozen, but he said if a project came along that met the qualifications of what council would like to see downtown, it would be approved. However, for the most part, there have not been any projects that have met those requirements, he said.
Another important aspect to revitalizing downtown Carrollton is through the market analysis.
”It’s necessary to identify what kinds of business would be successful downtown,” Louden said. “A number of businesses would not work downtown because they are just too specialized and our population is not great enough to support it, so we need to identify the types of businesses that would be successful and then go after entrepreneurs who are willing to make that investment to do that. Whether it’s a chain store or a ‘Mom and Pop’ store, it depends on what you get from the market survey.”
Council originally approved $12,000 to be spent on a survey, but it fell through when the intended surveyor quit working in the business. Louden said he does not think council is ready to spend additional money for the survey, which is estimated to cost $25,000, so he will focus on finding grant money to pay for it. Louden said there is money out there for these studies and that the city is still at the top of the list for a grant it had originally applied for.
One of Louden’s biggest long-term concerns in the city over the next 10 to 20 years is the deterioration of the aging housing, especially in the back part of town.
“I’m concerned that those properties are going to continue to decline, and if we don’t do something, that’s going to be a problem, a big problem for Carrollton,” he said. “We don’t want Carrollton to turn into just a slum town completely and if you don’t take some action, that could happen.”
For now, Louden said the best thing to do is to stick with code enforcement. While he acknowledged that that is a sticky subject, he pointed out that everyone is in favor of seeing improvements.
”Nobody wants their neighbors’ place to look junky, and if your neighbor’s property runs down, it affects the value of your property,” Louden said. “… The only way that you get controversy is the way you approach [making improvements], and sometimes you have to step on some toes to get things done. Some people respond right away, and it’s easy, but some people don’t.”
Louden said providing some type of financial incentive to help people rehabilitate their properties has also been discussed. While it has been done before on the commercial side downtown, it can get complicated in the private sector because people can take the money, fix the house, sell it and leave, he said. In the long-term, Louden said he would also encourage promoting cleanup and beautification in Carrollton to make it a better place to live.
Another issue that needs to be addressed in Carrollton is the drug abuse. Louden said highlighted the work being done by the Champions for a Drug-Free Carroll County and the school system and said education is important in combating problem.
“I don’t think anyone has the perfect solution for drug and alcohol problems anywhere, but there again education is really important. I think family values [are] extremely important,” he said. “We have a lot of subsidized housing in Carrollton, far more than other communities that are this size. So you have people with problems that come here in hopes of finding housing that can’t find housing, and they’ve got problems and they turn to drugs and alcohol. If we can, through the schools and various organizations, educate the children at least, it won’t be an ongoing from parent-to-child problem.”
He said this will not be solved overnight. “This is a very long-term problem, long-term solution,” he said.
Louden also said he believes the police officers are very well trained, and there is an incentive program in place for them to improve their continue their education.
“We have a STEP program we call it for our officers where if you take these training courses, then you get an increase in pay and then after you reach that step, you can take additional courses and step up again. So we have several programs like that, but I think our officers are very well trained.”
As a retiree, Louden said he has been working pretty close to full-time during his four years in office. He said he spends about four to six hours almost every day in the office and spends time in the city looking at things he is concerned about, in addition to attending over a dozen different meetings throughout the month including meetings for Carrollton Utilities and the Public Energy Authority of Kentucky. Louden has been a member of the PEAK board for 12 years and has also been chairman of the board. PEAK generates about $1 million a year for the city, Louden said.
“The funding from PEAK has really been a life-saver for the community, and they don’t really realize it,” he said. “It’s money the citizens don’t have to pay and yet we can provide benefit to the community. If it weren’t for the PEAK funding, the city of Carrollton would probably have to have their own occupational tax in addition to the county occupational tax. It was discussed for several years when I first got on council because it was apparent that we were running out of money.”
As mayor, Louden said he attends as many civic functions as he can to support the community.
“These are not things that you have to do, but that’s what I feel like the mayor should do. I try to dress appropriately every day because I feel like I am presenting myself to the world. I represent the city of Carrollton, so what they think of me is the impression they think about the city so I try to present myself in that way.”
While the position is currently part-time, Louden said he would not be surprised if it becomes a full-time job in the next four years or a city administrator is hired because he feels there needs to be somebody to stay after things.
“You can’t do it for the money,” he said. “I kind of view it like church work. … You do it because you want to be helpful and it’s the right thing to do. … I think the more time you spend, the more things you get done, and I think the city of Carrollton has a lot more going for it than it did in the past.”