River walk needed to make downtown a true ‘destination’

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By Jeff Moore

Potential. Ask just about anyone what they think about downtown Carrollton and you will eventually hear talk about the potential they see in reviving the once bustling business district.

Situated right on the confluence of the Ohio and Kentucky rivers, downtown Carrollton is at first glance a quaint and attractive area with the historic look of a river town from the past. Many buildings have undergone restoration work to restore the Victorian facades that make it so special.

But a closer look reveals the challenges that face efforts to bring new life to downtown.

A large number of these storefronts are vacant. Some businesses have closed, while others have gone under, leaving very few retail shops to attract traffic to Main Street.

In some cases, the lack of traffic keeps new shops from locating here. Ask many shop owners and you will hear that they are struggling to keep the doors open because there are days when they get few, if any, shoppers.

In other cases, buildings are sitting empty because the structures have not been maintained. It’s difficult to open a new business in a spot where the roof leaks or other repairs are needed.

While there are some strong retail stores that remain, many of the thriving businesses in downtown are not retail in nature. They are service businesses that clients visit when they need to cash a check, get a haircut, have their taxes done, hire a lawyer or place a classified ad in the newspaper.

Downtown is not a spot that people come to do their “shopping” these days. For a revival to occur, this has to change.

A recent meeting, organized by the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, brought together enough people to fill the old courtroom with the focus on what steps need to be taken to bring new life to our quaint, historic downtown.

The cross section of business owners, representatives from chamber, Carrollton Main Street Program and Carroll County Community Development Corporation, agreed on three key objectives they believe can turn the tide and make downtown a destination for both local residents and visitors to Carrollton and Carroll County.

A river walk tops the list, followed by bringing new shops and venues to downtown and beautification of the historic district.

Everyone at the meeting agreed that Carrollton needs to take steps to make the most of its location — right on the banks of the Ohio River. The river walk idea, which has been discussed for years, is viewed as the best way to make downtown a “destination.”

The concept already has a good start with the pledge of property owner Rae Stevens to donate the land needed to build the initial phase of the project. Stevens is to be commended for seeing how this can help her businesses and others that are located in the storefronts she owns.

I hope her vision will inspire other property owners to sign on to this project. A new committee will be forming to meet with other property owners seeking their support for the river walk.

A wonderful drawing of the concept hangs in city council’s chambers at city hall. This sketch came out of one of the previous attempts at capitalizing on downtown’s potential.

City leaders need to step up and press forward with the project, not letting any objections stand in their way. It’s time to take the river walk off the drawing board and make it happen.

Without a river walk to bring people downtown, attracting new shops and venues to downtown will be a difficult task.

Chamber board member and Main Street restaurant owner Rhonda Welch put it best in last month’s meeting when she said,”We’re running in a vicious cycle … You can’t get people because you don’t have anything to keep them here. You can’t keep them here because you don’t have people.”

Chamber president Nick Marsh is seeking members for three committees to lead the effort to take the steps needed to revitalize downtown. Call the chamber office to sign up for the river walk, beautification or marketing committees.

It’s our chance to turn Carrollton’s potential into reality.

Jeff Moore is publisher of The News-Democrat and The Trimble Banner and resides in Carrollton, Ky. He serves as president of The Carrollton Main Street Board.