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Mayor J.J. Duvall has resurrected community spirit since taking office as Radcliff’s chief executive, but an inability to land new retail establishments and chain restaurants has left the city reconsidering its approach to luring business.
“Now it’s time to get down to the real stuff, and that’s economic development,” he said.
Duvall reached out to the public Tuesday afternoon during a televised work session, recounting discussions with corporations and restaurant chains and detailing barriers the city faces in attracting businesses. In response, officials said the city may have to retool its strategy to develop a burgeoning business climate.
When talking with restaurant groups and grocery store establishments, Duvall said they echo a similar refrain: While traffic from Fort Knox is a draw for businesses, the post’s proximity does not automatically position Radcliff as a destination.
Duvall said he reached out to Darden Restaurants, which owns more than 2,000 restaurants and employs more than 185,000 people across the U.S., according to its website. Darden, parent company of LongHorn Steakhouse and Red Lobster, has targeted Elizabethtown multiple times.
Duvall wanted to capture Darden’s attention, but the company told him it had little incentive to penetrate Radcliff’s market because it can attract both Fort Knox and Radcliff traffic at its Elizabethtown restaurants, which are near recognizable retail brands.
Likewise, Duvall has lobbied grocery stores to anchor in Radcliff following the closure of Food Lion earlier this year, negotiating with brands such as Kroger, Whole Foods and The Fresh Market.
In doing so, Duvall said he has optioned the former Food Lion location on South Dixie Boulevard, but the companies say the location is incompatible with their needs and too outdated to meet modernized branding standards.
“We have such an influx of people, such an influx of growth, but (they) are offset by things we don’t have,” Duvall said.
Duvall said the city wants to reignite interest in Redmar Plaza and is working with real estate developer Joe Markham to get a multi-million dollar renovation of Radcliff Square Shopping Center off the ground. Markham last year pitched the idea of Radcliff Village as a multi-purpose lifestyle complex with restaurants, hotels, multi-family residential units and entertainment options, but the development has been hit with financing problems because of the economy.
“It’s a hard sell for us right now,” he said.
With limited retail options available to promote in the city, Duvall said the city must get creative.
“We have got to find that niche,” he said.
Councilwoman Barbara Baker proposed the city explore the possibility of attracting medical industries and leverage the establishment of a veterans nursing home as a drawing point for businesses. Councilman Don Shaw built on Baker’s idea and said the city should sit down with senior management at Cardinal Health to find other corporations or groups in the health care field looking for a home.
From there, ideas poured forth from the council. Councilman Edward Palmer said the city should proposition local investors to develop venues of commerce that focus less on chain restaurants and more on small boutiques, retail stores and “mom and pop” restaurants. Councilman Stan Holmes, meanwhile, said the city should court businesses frequently associated with Applebee’s.
One problem Radcliff faces is its residents will travel to Elizabethtown to purchase a steak, Palmer said, but Elizabethtown residents are hesitant to do business in Radcliff, which affects traffic count.
Palmer also said the “nose-to-the-grind” model of making phone calls and actively pursuing businesses should be stacked against the use of an economic development board to determine which model is more effective.
“In my tenure here, I haven’t been impressed with the second model and what we’ve got for our bucks,” he said.
The council, Duvall said, needs to review ordinances and streamline the business climate so development is easier. Duvall has spent his time in office trying to slash costs, save money and build the city’s reserve fund, but he said attracting business would be worth the expense of incentives and other assistance.
“Maybe we can loosen the belt up a little,” he said.
Following this line of thinking, Palmer insisted the city place emphasis on the cleanup of Dixie Boulevard, describing sections of the roadway as blight for potential developers.
“That looks bad when you’re talking to somebody and trying to get a (major) restaurant,” he said.
Palmer said the city could consider new standards for Dixie and allocate funds as “seed money” to help business owners with cleanup costs.
Duvall said the city-owned chamber office is one of the buildings on Dixie in disrepair.
“If you’re going to do it, you’ve got to lead by example,” he said.
Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or firstname.lastname@example.org.