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Retail, restaurant center desired in downtown

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Poll shows interest in dining, shopping options still abound

By Marty Finley

Heath Seymour said the desire exists for a mixed-use facility in downtown Elizabethtown, providing restaurants and shopping residents who live in the area could walk to.

City and Heritage Council officials gleaned the information during an informal poll at a quarterly downtown design meeting, in which participants were asked what they would like to see the former Herb Jones Chevrolet property developed into.

Seymour, executive director of the Elizabethtown-Hardin County Heritage Council, said the Herb Jones lot was simply used as an example and the poll does not mean the city is ready to take on development of the property. The concept of a multi-use retail and restaurant center could be applied to other vacant buildings downtown, he said.

Mayor Tim Walker said the poll was designed as an exercise to gauge reactions and field suggestions on what residents want to see. The Herb Jones property is one of the more visible and talked about properties downtown and it could be used for a number of developments because of the property’s acreage, he said.

The city shopped the Herb Jones location to Hardin County government as the hub of a joint government center with Elizabethtown. The county rejected the proposal and chose instead to relocate the majority of its offices to Hardin Memorial Health property at the intersection of Ring and Rineyville roads.

Another option pitched by visitors was the development of a convention center or entertainment venue for residents, Seymour said.

The ideas fall in line with other cities officials have visited where downtown business is bustling, such as New Albany, Ind., and Franklin, Tenn., Seymour said.

“It kind of fits the model,” he said of the mixed-use facility.

Seymour said he is not yet sure how the suggestions can be incorporated, but narrowing a focus benefits the city as it approaches developers about downtown’s potential.

The meeting fell shortly after members of Elizabethtown City Council inquired about plans for several properties purchased by the city in its downtown revitalization efforts.

Councilman Marty Fulkerson said the city should develop or sell the properties. Otherwise, he said, Elizabethtown is nothing more than a bad landlord because it allows the buildings to deteriorate further, simultaneously wasting taxpayer money.

Walker said the former Helping Hand of the Heartland properties adjacent to City Hall were purchased specifically to expand the city’s administrative office space. City officials discussed the potential relocation of City Hall but ultimately bought the land to secure room should the city green light the expansion, he said.

The other two properties, the former J.J. Newberry’s building in Public Square and 133 W. Dixie Ave. at the corner of Dixie Avenue and North Mulberry Street, have attracted prospective buyers but nothing definitive. Walker referred to the city’s downtown assistance program, which offers grants and tax incentives to fledgling developers, as an example of its commitment.

“The city is ready and willing to do everything it can,” Walker said.

Seymour said he believes 133 West Dixie, or the “purple building,” has serious upside because of its location at a highly visible corner.

“I think there’s a lot of potential,” he said.

The former J.J. Newberry’s has received care since the city made the purchase, receiving a new paint job and some clean-up. Seymour said the back section of the building looks “rough” and could be replaced while a new roof is needed. He expects the building to receive more attention as the weather warms.

As for the building’s future, it is “hard to tell yet” because the council has not provided instructions on where it wants to go next, Seymour said. The facts need to be tallied and presented to the council so it can make an informed decision, he said. 

Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.