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Walker forecasts growth for E'town in 2013

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City expecting expansion in industry and increased quality of life after big 2012

By Marty Finley

 THE SERIES: A look back at accomplishments for the county and cities, and a look to what may be priorities in 2013. TUESDAY: Radcliff

 

Mayor Tim Walker sees growth in industry and improvement in quality of life for Elizabethtown when he discusses the forecast for 2013.

The city made good on some long-heralded promises in 2012, opening the Elizabethtown Sports Park and the Hardin County Veterans Tribute, and Walker said more surprises should be in store for the New Year.

The park has been one of the preeminent talking points in the city for years and opened in July with more than 5,000 in attendance. As of mid-December, the park attracted 555 teams from 13 states to more than 20 events in its opening season, luring 9,419 athletes to try out the new fields. Of those numbers, nearly 8,000 were visiting players, Walker said.

The park has gained national exposure since its start, generating nearly 30,000 out-of-town visitors and more than 50,000 individual visits with an expected economic impact of more than $4.5 million. The numbers, according to the city, do not account for league sporting events or visitors who participate in individual recreational activities, such as utilization of the walking trail.

“It’s been well received and really busy,” he said.

Walkersaid the city has around 45 tournaments and sporting events under contract for the upcoming season and plans to expand league play to numerous sports this season, including soccer, baseball and fast-pitch softball.

Beyond that, the park will attract several larger tournaments with a greater national and international reach. For instance, Walker said one baseball tournament is expected to host teams from California, Hawaii and Mexico.

The city also opened a new tennis complex late in the year and Walker said the U.S. Tennis Association has contacted the city about hosting tournaments in 2013 because of the high quality the facility affords players.

“That’s going to be big,” he said.

The city also launched an events program in 2012, hiring Sarah Vaughn to manage new programs and traditional events the city assumed from the Hardin County Chamber of Commerce. Elizabethtown recognized its birthday with the first Founders’ Day Celebration in July and took over management of the Heartland Festival and Cruisin’ the Heartland, which broke the record for number of cars in 2012.

The city also has booked the Official Kentucky State Championship Old Time Fiddlers Contest for June 7-8, which is moving venues after a brief hiatus.

Walkerpredicted advancement in industry this year with the expectation of production starting at Indian manufacturer Flex Film’s plant in early January. Walker said production was pushed back because of some additional construction work that was needed at the facility.

Walkeralso plans to be part of several announcements in 2013 regarding expansions of existing industry in the city while simultaneously promoting Elizabethtown’s advantages as a leveraging tool to land new companies. To show his commitment to economic development, Walker traveled to India during the fall of 2012 with members of the Elizabethtown-Hardin County Industrial Foundation, where he met with dozens of companies representing multiple industries. Walker said then he felt the seed had been planted for more growth.

Downtown will remain a priority into 2013 as the city continues to improve the aesthetics and infrastructure, placing new streetlights, historic banners and upgraded sidewalks, he said. Walker commended Heath Seymour, Elizabethtown-Hardin County Heritage Council executive director, for his fostering influence on the Second Saturday series and his ability to draw in new businesses, leaving few available buildings vacant by year’s end. Walker said developers are showing interest in buildings and vacant lots downtown and he hopes deals reach fruition in 2013.

The city also plans to start work simultaneously on several stormwater projects, including drainage improvements on flood-plagued Poplar Drive and a multi-million dollar sanitary sewer overflow program that will improve several neighborhoods.

“It’s going to look like a war zone while this is going on,” Walker said of Poplar Drive, but he said the mess will be worth the improvements because it will provide relief to residents 30 years in the making. Walker, too, said the city will soon bid the extension of Towne Drive to Veterans Way, which will include the construction of detention basins. The mayor said the project will provide benefits to local merchants off Dixie Avenue but also assist with stormwater problems in the area.

As for challenges, the city is committed to keeping county offices downtown but wants to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible if Hardin County government decides to relocate. Walker said a plan must be formulated to market the vacant buildings for reuse.

“If county government chooses to move, we want to make the best of it,” he said.

And the city must have its infrastructure ready if a business decides to settle in the oft-neglected south side of town, he said. Walker believes Elizabethtown is equipped to handle growth there.

“I wouldn’t consider that a challenge,” he said. “It’s more of an opportunity.”

Through the spirit of cooperation, Walker said he will make a concerted effort to promote and celebrate the successes of the surrounding cities and county in 2013, recognizing the average resident does not know where the city limits begin or end.

“When one of us lands a new business, then all of our communities (benefit),” he said.

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

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