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By KRISTIN SHERRARD
From the moment Carrollton Mayor Dwight Louden stepped into office in January 2006, part of his focus was on developing the riverfront along the Ohio and Kentucky rivers.
For years, many have said they wanted a river walk, but little to no action had been made. Louden was one of those who recognized the opportunity and seized it.
“Carrollton is a river town,” he said. “We have two rivers, which is a little bit unique not to be a huge city, and … it just seems like a natural thing to take advantage of the natural environment that God gave us. Don’t just ignore it and not take advantage of it.”
At the first Carroll County Community Development Corporation meeting he attended, he was asked if he was going to pursue the river walk.
“I told them then that I love the river walk idea, but I want to wait until we have time to improve the backs of those buildings some before we do it because the backs of those buildings on (Main Street) between Fourth and Fifth (streets) look so bad that you’re not gonna attract people down there with it looking like that.”
Through the city’s code enforcement position, as well as peer pressure from others in town, improvements were made, but Louden said they are a work in progress.
However, it was a meeting spearheaded by the Chamber of Commerce that really got the ball rolling.
City Attorney Nick Marsh, who was the Chamber president at the time, held a meeting with city and county officials, local organization members and local business owners to discuss downtown revitalization on Oct. 20, 2009 in the old county courthouse. It was there that people began vocalizing their desire to move forward with the riverfront development.
From that meeting, the downtown revitalization committee was formed, which Marsh said has done a good job of pushing the city to continue moving forward.
“The city has done a great job. They’ve done things that people have tried for years, and they finally started accomplishing some things,” Marsh said in an interview Monday.
“(Those at the meeting) were saying they wanted it, so I said let’s start acquiring the property,” Louden said. “I said let’s not just do a river walk; let’s acquire the property and do something better than just a river walk. And if you acquire the property, you can do whatever you want to do with it.”
In March, the city took a giant step forward by purchasing the 12-acre Liter’s Quarry property, which is bound by the Kentucky River, south of U.S. 42 at the Carrollton-Prestonville Bridge, west of Second Street and stops at Bakers Auto Salvage. It acquired the property by trading the city-owned farm on Boone Road and the old Ice House property on 5th Street, as well as $100,000 from the city’s general fund. Louden estimated that the two properties were worth a combined $100,00-$125,000.
Since then, Carrollton Public Works has leveled the dirt berm and cleared the property of much of the brush, saplings, trash, tires, steel cables and other miscellaneous items littering the grounds. Concrete has also been poured for a pier on top of the former loading dock overlooking the Kentucky River. Louden said a shelter was recently built by the road for an electrical box used to run electric to the pier. New street lights along Second Street were also previously approved by council but have not yet been installed by Kentucky Utilities.
So what kept the plan for development moving rather than have it stall like those that came before it?
The main difference was the willingness of both Louden and of city council to use eminent domain, if necessary, to complete the project.
“If somebody says they don’t want to sell, you’re done,” Louden said, describing what would happen without eminent domain. “… Before I ever started acquiring the first piece of property, I said (to council), ‘Look, I gotta know if you are willing to use eminent domain. If you’re willing to use it, don’t change your mind on me now. I’ve got to know before I start buying properties that you’re serious about being willing to use eminent domain,’ and they said ‘Yes,’ and they have been consistent all the way through.”
Louden, who walks from his home on Seminary Street to the riverfront almost every day in good weather, said he would visualize all that could be accomplished in the area. “The idea came to me a couple years ago that if you could get from the power line down all the way to the river, it would be a wonderful extension of the park and you would have the opportunity for the river walk and anything else you would want to do.”
On April 30, the city purchased a home and riverfront property at 209 Main Street for $90,000. The property runs from Second Street to Carrollton Landing. Louden said the property was already for sale, so it was the most logical place to start. The city is currently attempting to sell the house on the property.
The city then purchased the property at 301 Main Street from Doug Richey of Albany, Ind. for $50,000 in July. In November, council unanimously approved a resolution to authorize Marsh to file condemnation proceedings against individuals owning property near the riverfront project. Louden said this was passed because if Marsh had to go to court to use eminent domain, he had to have a resolution from council.
On Dec. 6, the city purchased three additional properties: Bill Arvin’s at 207 Main Street for $42,500; Bill Frederic’s three lots for $35,000; and John Glauber’s two lots for $28,000. There are two properties left that the city is currently attempting to acquire. Thus far, the city has spent about $345,500 on the Liter and Main Street properties. This does not include the properties traded for Liter property. However, the city hopes to recover some money by selling the house at 209 Main Street.
“I’m ecstatic with the progress they’ve made,” Marsh said. “To acquire that many properties and to make that much progress going through there in one year’s time, I’d be interested to see how cities like Madison, how long it took them to do what they have done. And I know Madison is always constantly expanding, so it’s always going to be a work in progress. But to acquire all the way down to the Kentucky River and then as far up as they have gone up the Ohio River, I think they have done a tremendous job in one year’s time.”
Louden said another key to the city’s current success is that they now have additional funding from the Public Energy Authority of Kentucky project to use on property acquisition. PEAK was originally a joint venture between the city of Carrollton and the city of Henderson to purchase a 10-year supply of natural gas, according to a May 11 News-Democrat article. The cities paid for the gas upfront and sold it to their industry customers for a lower cost than they could purchase it elsewhere. The project began in 1998 and ended in 2008. The city received an additional estimated $400,000 this year from the project.
The city has also embarked on three additional natural gas projects with British Petroleum, Tennessee Energy Authority and Societe Generale.
While he and council did not have any definite future plans, Louden said had he still been in office, the property acquisition would have been completed in spring or early summer of 2011. The next step would be pulling back the riverbank with a bulldozer and creating a gradual slope. Carrollton Public Works has already begun making progress on this step.
“Once we do the excavation, then we can go ahead and do the river walk, maybe five feet from the edge of the new embankment,” Louden said. “We could do the river walk down through here and then we can also go over on the Kentucky River side, which we already own, and do some work on that riverbank and do a river walk up to the pier. That would be my recommendation and that was what I was trying to pursue in the short run.”
Next, he would contact architectural firms to submit proposals for what they believe should be done with the purchased and the Liter property. After finding a firm, they would develop a 10-year master plan before looking for funding in spring 2012 to help accomplish their goals.
“At least in my opinion, developing the master plan is very important because otherwise, you end up doing things that you may later on wish you hadn’t,” Louden said. “… I think for the most part the council that we have had is pretty much in agreement that we need to do the master plan, but I have no guarantees about what this new group will do.”
The mayor visited both Owensboro and Henderson, Ky. to look at their riverfronts and said both took 10 years to complete their projects. They also received federal grant assistance. Louden said Henderson has an amphitheater on their riverfront that can be used for a variety of events, and Owensboro built a new hotel and is developing a water park. “There are lots of things you can do, but we need to put some architectural firm to work and see what they come up with.”
When asked how the riverfront development would positively impact Carrollton, Louden said, first of all, it would improve the quality of life in town. “It makes the river better, a better place to look at and to visit, so for our local residents, it will be a benefit for them, for their enjoyment to go down there and see the river.”
On the economic side, current Chamber of Commerce president Mark Smith said he anticipates that the riverfront development will help bring more tourists and locals into the downtown area. He also it will be a positive incentive to new businesses looking for somewhere to open.
Louden said he hopes to attract those people who already visit Carrollton, such as those who frequent General Butler State Resort Park, as well as advertise through Carrollton/Carroll County Tourism. Visitors may also attend events held on the riverfront, such as the annual corn hole tournament and the Music and BBQ event.
With his term as mayor coming to a close following his November election loss to former Carroll County Judge-Executive Gene McMurry, Louden said as far as capital projects, the riverfront development was the most important thing he has accomplished during his term.
“It’s disappointing, but … still with the 10-year plan, I wouldn’t have been able to see the whole plan all the way through either,” Louden said, “but to get it started and at least get the plan developed so we know this is where we want to be, you know at least to get (it) to that point, that’s where I would have wanted to be.”