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Maybe it’s time to redefine.
The Heritage Council is working diligently to resurrect Elizabethtown’s historic core. Behind fresh ideas from Heath Seymour plus support and money from city government, things are looking up around the Public Square.
The Historic State Theater’s resurrection also has been a huge boon to the efforts. Country music recording artist Mark Wills drew folks Saturday and several nights each month the facility hosts theatrical and social gatherings.
New sidewalks and vintage light have improved its looks. There’s also excitement about private investment, including the pending opening of Justice Place, which will be the third dining option in the area.
But the area that Elizabethtown still calls downtown is far from being the community’s focal point.
In 1964, it was different. That’s when the song “Downtown” was released and shot to No. 1 on pop charts. It’s upbeat tempo and Petula Clark’s powerful voice caught the world’s attention. The lyrics also aptly described the attraction of many community’s commerce centers.
The lights are much brighter there
You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares and go
Downtown, things’ll be great when you’re
Downtown, no finer place for sure,
Downtown, everything’s waiting for you
Those lines applied to Elizabethtown in 1964. Most everything the city had in those days was waiting within a couple blocks of the square. J.J. Newberry, Western Auto, Joplin and Lanz were joined by multiple retailers and pharmacies. Banks sat on the corners. Hotels and the only movie house still welcomed guests. All of governmental and judicial functions occurred in the three-story building right in the center of Public Square.
The lights are no longer brighter there.
The establishment of shopping centers on the city’s outskirts continually moved north. Businesses on the Square either followed or folded. It’s been more than a quarter-century since Towne Mall relocated the region’s retail center. New development continues to move north but establishment of Ring Road also refocused and spread growth.
Financial and medical centers have centered along the Ring Road corridor. It’s the gateway to the city’s latest tourism developments — the Elizabethtown Sports Park and Hardin County Veterans Tribute. Just as the community’s religious community used to crowd downtown streets on Sundays, the city’s largest churches have re-established their congregations in new buildings near Ring Road.
A couple years from now, county government offices will be gone too. Hardin Fiscal Court approved $12 million plans last week for a more centralized, modern complex along Ring at Rineyville Road.
Here’s the collision: “Downtown” moved a long time ago.
The shell of buildings remaining in the city center still has a nostalgic and historic value. It remains home to the Justice Center and will retain the interest of law offices looking for convenient access to courtrooms.
If it’s going to be more, this is the time to act.
It’s clear that the future will be something other than the past. The status quo has been disrupted. It’s time for the traditional city center to find a new purpose, maybe even a new name.
This is not 1964. A new future must be written.
Ben Sheroan is editor of The News-Enterprise. He can be reached at (270) 505-1764 or email@example.com.