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Weighing a downtown fixture's fate

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Mayor asks council to make decision on J.J. Newberry building

By Marty Finley

Mayor Edna Berger asked Elizabethtown City Council on Monday to carefully consider what direction the city should go on the former J.J. Newberry building.

The structure, a 22,900-square-foot property at 69 Public Square and 100 E. Dixie Ave., is sitting in disrepair and action needs to be taken, Berger said.

The city, she said, can consider making basic improvements to the building, returning it to a state where it could be toured by prospective developers, or it can consider demolition followed by a new development.

Either option is sure to cost a bundle. The property is in dire need of a roof, which has been estimated to cost between $100,000 and $150,000, Berger said. The property also is need of plumbing and electrical renovations that could drag costs to $300,000 or higher, said Executive Assistant Charlie Bryant.

Demolition is unlikely to be a cheaper alternative because the city would need to develop something new in its place. Berger said a public park has been mentioned as one desired development, but city officials said the costs of demolition paired with a new development could run between $300,000 and $400,000.

Money involved does not take into consideration the nostalgia and memories residents have about the former retail store at its apex.

“I know it’s very sentimental to a lot of you,” she said to the council.

Berger said she has explored the option of tearing down the back section of the property and redeveloping the front portion, which houses several large windows that offer potential to build around. The costs would be in line with the other options, she said.

The city invested around $100,000 into the acquisition of the property after it committed to an initiative to redevelop downtown, which has produced some lookers but few developers who are willing to take major risks on the vacant buildings.

Some small businesses have taken up storefronts in the downtown area, and a collective of businesses recently moved into the vacant building once known as Rider’s Traditional Clothing.

The city has asked developers to consider the property and submit business plans on what the building could be used for with few takers. Those approached have pointed to the immediate need for a roof, Berger said.

The city has completed some minor cleanup but pooled little in restoration costs to date. Bryant said improvements would not bring the building to a usable condition as it would be uninhabitable until a developer invests money into a true restoration.

Councilman Bill Bennett said the city should sell the building at a loss, suggesting a reduced price of $50,000. There was no immediate feedback on Bennett’s suggestion, but the council said it would weigh Berger’s request and revisit it at a future meeting.

Just last week, a collection of students from the University of Kentucky toured downtown and developed designs on possible business concepts.

During a collaborative design session at the Brown-Pusey House, the students said downtown has serious potential for revitalization if the right convergence of ideas and money are applied.

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

In other business

  • The council heard the first reading of an ordinance establishing a commercial transition overzone for specific properties on North Mulberry Street, West Dixie Avenue and West Poplar Street. The overzone gives properties zoned for commercial use some flexibility on a case-by-case basis. Planning Director Ed Poppe said it impacts smaller, older lots in or near the downtown area that cannot physically meet current zoning standards and regulations, such as building setbacks. It does not change the use of any properties, he said. Waivers can be obtained by these designated properties for certain regulations, such as minimum lot frontages, parking reductions greater than half the required spaces and landscaping requirements. The historic downtown includes residences and is zoned for commercial use, including converted homes.
  • The city accepted access roads along Patriot Parkway into its maintenance system, which are roads or remnants left behind by the construction of the connector between Elizabethtown and Radcliff. Poppe said the roads accepted are “stub roads” between Hill Street and Robinbrooke Boulevard.
     
  • The city approved an addendum to its agreement with the Hardin County Veterans Tribute committee, which states the committee will cease to exist, turning over management of the memorial paver program and all future events at the tribute to the city. The committee also agrees to turn over all records on construction, funding and fundraising while still bearing responsibility for questions or inquiries arising about past funding and fundraising. The committee has pledged to give the city $10,000 for future maintenance, according to the agreement.
     
  • Fire Chief Mike Hulsey asked the council to consider a ban on parking along Northview Avenue because the width of the road is uneven and too narrow for emergency vehicles to access. The city is considering improvements to the street, but Hulsey said it would be wise to restrict parking until the details of those improvements are known. Council members said they eventually would like to reopen parking on at least one side of the roadway.