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CARROLLTON, Ky. – From the moment Carrollton Mayor Dwight Louden stepped into office in January 2006, part of his focus was developing the riverfront along the Ohio and Kentucky rivers.
For about 30 years, the topic has been discussed, and many have said they would like to see such a project, but little to no action had been made.
At the first Carroll County Community Development Corporation meeting he attended as mayor, Louden 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. 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, Chamber president at the time, met 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 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.
City officials acquired the property by trading a city-owned farm on Boone Road and the old ice house property on Fifth Street, plus $100,000 from the city’s general fund. Louden said the two properties are estimated at $100,00 to $125,000 combined.
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 that littered the grounds. Concrete also has been poured for a pier on top of the former loading dock overlooking the Kentucky River. New street lights along Second Street have been approved by council but have not yet been installed by Kentucky Utilities.
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 working to sell the house.
The city then bought 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.
The resolution allows Marsh to use the power of “eminent domain” to acquire the properties, should the property owners fight the condemnation in court.
On Dec. 6, the city bought three more properties: Bill Arvin’s at 207 Main St. 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 working to acquire.
Thus far, the city has spent about $345,500 on the Liter and Main Street properties, not including the value of the properties traded for the Liter property. The city hopes to recover some money by selling the house at 209 Main St.
“I’m ecstatic with the progress they’ve made” in just a year, Marsh said. “I’d be interested to see how cities like Madison, how long it took them to do what they have done. ... 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 success is additional funding from the Public Energy Authority of Kentucky project to use for 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 up front 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.
Louden, who lost re-election in November to former judge-executive Gene McMurry, said he had planned to complete the acquisition phase by spring or early summer of 2011.
In the meantime, some work has been done to the newly acquired properties, including work to 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.”
Louden suggests the city seek proposals from architectural firms to develop a 10-year master plan before seeking funding in spring 2012 to help complete the project.
“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.”
Louden said completing the riverfront development would improve the quality of life in Carrollton.
“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 President Mark Smith anticipates riverfront development will bring more tourists and locals into the downtown area. He sees that as an incentive to new businesses looking for somewhere to open.
Louden agrees the development would boost tourism and draw more visitors to events held at Point Park, such as the annual corn hole tournament and music festivals.
“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.”
As his term as mayor comes to a close, Louden said he believes the riverfront development has been 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.”
Kristin Sherrard is a reporter for The News-Democrat in Carrollton, a sister paper to The Banner.