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ISSUE: County government relocation
OUR VIEW: It was inevitable
If downtown Elizabethtown becomes more of a ghost town, it won’t be Fiscal Court’s fault.
The recent decision to proceed with planning a government office complex on partially developed county-owned land off Ring Road has brought out critics, most of whom began voicing opposition when the subject was broached in 2007.
No matter one’s feelings about the move, the sky is not falling. Criminal and civil courts are not moving and H.B. Fife Courthouse still will hold sway in the center of Public Square.
The county attorney’s office, now operating out of rented spaces separated by miles, is slated to reunite in the H.B. Fife Courthouse, commonly thought of as “the courthouse.”
The Justice Center, where circuit, district and family courts are housed, is operated by the Administrative Office of the Courts, a state agency. The only “court” to move is Fiscal Court.
There is no reason to believe the project will require tax increases. That idea is an old saw which generated a lot of noise the first time Judge-Executive Harry Berry proposed building a new center in what he considers a more centralized location beyond Elizabethtown’s traditional downtown.
Combining a new government center and E911 center provides smart financing benefits. Waiting until 2014 to issue bonds, as Berry told this board, provides additional savings.
Yes, the major reason most people go downtown is to work or visit a county office. That can change, too. It already has.
As Magistrate Fred Clem said, the presence of county government may be a hindrance to downtown revitalization because neither residents nor visitors seek out county services as an attraction.
“We’ve got to look to the future,” he said.
More and more government services are available online and the volume of government-generated foot traffic likely peaked a long time ago. It’s hard to walk around the square and make the argument government offices there can sustain a lively retail or business environment. They haven’t for a number of years.
The Heritage Council and downtown boosters were dealt a setback in January when voters vetoed a measure that would have created opportunities for smaller establishments to sell liquor by the drink. Surely this feels like another kick. But the magistrates’ decision also clears the air. The uncertainty is over and there is an approximate timeline of what to expect and when.
Change is coming and small vestiges already are popping up. A scattering of new stores and other businesses have established toe-holds since serious talk of moving government offices began. Second Saturday is growing and gaining recognition. Sidewalk improvements and new lights are part of city government’s efforts to restore vitality to the historic district. Other events such as Cruisin’ the Heartland show with the right attractions and the right price and promotion, downtown can be the right place for exciting things.
It should be more. It can be more. Let’s hope the best is yet to come.
This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.