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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Downtown Revitalization

I recently came across an article by 'Solutions for America' on downtown revitalization. I am not fully aware of all the politics of this organization but they make some great points in the article about revitalization. While most of the article is focused on big city downtowns many of the points that are made are applicable to small towns.

The article starts with the following quote that is very applicable to Fort Thomas:
"research shows that a healthy and vibrant downtown boosts the economic health and quality of life in a community. Specifically, it creates jobs, incubates small businesses, reduces sprawl, protects property values, and increases the community’s options for goods and services. A healthy downtown is a symbol of community pride and history."

For purposes of analysis as it relates to Fort Thomas I will focus my thoughts on the Midway district but a similar analysis could be interesting in regards to the central business district and Inverness. The report mentions a few strategies that appear to be successful across a wide array of communities and studies including:
  1. Aim for a multi-functional downtown - The Midway borders some great assets including Tower Park and the closed to the public reservoir. I think a vision for Midway should include these assets if we are going to make the area successful. In the history of the Midway district it was the Army base that is now our public park that provided a market for retail to begin with. Rather than focusing just on facades or parking we need to pay attention to how the community uses the assets around the retail district and how all assets work together.
  2. Create partnerships - the report says "Downtown revitalization encompasses a wide range of activities. Therefore, it requires the cooperation of local government, chambers of commerce, the private sectors, civic organizations, and other key institutions." While I have not researched the issue I wonder if the city would be able to work with the water district to still allow walkers, runners, & roller-bladers to enjoy the walkway around the reservoirs. That is just one example where cooperation with other area agencies could allow the Midway to be more than what we currently have on the drawing board.
  3. Focus on developing the unique qualities of downtown - the work of the Renaissance Board has definitely been a big help in preserving the architecture and character of the district and the current plan by council to improve the streetscape including burying the utilities and improving the sidewalks will go a long way towards success in this area.
  4. Maintain and develop genuine public spaces - this is one area that I think we have fallen far short on in the Midway. The article lists wide sidewalks as an option and I think this is key for outdoor seating and subsequently for attracting additional restaurants. For anyone that has visited Europe a great feature in many public parks are park tables with chess boards built into them -this is the type of concept that I think would go over great being so close to the VA Hospital and Tower Park.
  5. Get local governments involved - this point focuses on the council's role in making a favorable environment for a renewed community. This includes zoning and support with historical designation.

8 comments:

  1. Question---

    How do you expect the City of Fort Thomas to encourage all of this without $$$?

    The state of Kentucky is broke and our local representatives are not real helpful raising money.

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  2. There is really not much I have suggested that requires additional funds. The street scape changes are already moving through council as shown by this article on the Enquirer: http://news.communitypress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/C2/20080221/NEWS01/802210350/

    The Renaissance Board has done a wonderful job getting funds for the facade improvements and we should continue pushing hard towards those ends as well.

    There is a small group of citizens that are working towards further development of Tower Park including a renovated amphitheater which I believe is under-utilized. I think this is an area where the city should get more involved to push state and federal governments for funds or search out grants that could get this done more quickly.

    While there would surely be some incremental costs to allow the re-opening of the reservoir to meet Homeland Security requirements, Federal Funds are possible if we just pursued them.

    As for our state reps they have been moderately successful in the past including getting funding for sidewalks along Memorial Pkwy. However, we need to have a comprehensive plan about how to tie all these efforts together and then go after the funding.

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  3. The Fiscal Court should have some input towards the Water District.

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  4. As much as I love the trees in Fort Thomas, it pains me to make this next statement.

    Much of the problem with the Midway district is that you can drive past it, and never realize it is even there due to the closeness and overgrown nature of the trees in front of the properties.

    When you walk through that area, it feels very closed in. Either thinning, or removing the trees would go a long way to making the area more visible.

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  5. One of the folks the people who are involved in Fort Thomas City Government forget is the struggle the Board of Education is in for revenue in order to keep up with the demands of modern public education.

    Without the needed revenue for the Fort Thomas Independent School District the quality of life will suffer. Right now, the Fort Thomas School have close to $20 million in unfunded building needs and are facing 12% budget cuts.

    Are you city folks going to get our state representative and state senator to look for new revenue sources?

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  6. I agree with the last post about the need for funding of education. The Fort Thomas Independent School District does a fantastic job and is a big reason residents are attracted to Fort Thomas. The wonderful job they do keeps not only keeps our children on pace in an increasingly global economy but helps maintain our property values.

    I could devote an entirely separate site to issues around education including the funding formula that makes our school district one of the most poorly funded districts in the entire state. It is one of 7 districts in Northern Kentucky that is among the 13 least funded districts in the state. We should continue to put pressure on our state representatives to re-balance this formula.

    Meanwhile we must keep doing our parts to support the Fort Thomas Education Foundation, school fundraisers, etc.

    Despite the current funding situation for the school system we still have to continue to move forward with developing our business districts. These are parallel paths that are needed to create a well-balanced community that meets the needs of all citizens. They are complimentary missions since sales taxes, payroll taxes, etc. can be put to use in areas such as education.

    The original post wasn't intended to be about spending large sums of taxpayer money, nor was it a funding discussion. It is about creating a vision for what the Midway district should be beyond new facades and sidewalks.

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  7. It is going to take a bit more than fundraisers for the foundation. You are not going to be able to properly fund the SEEK Formula unless there is money to fund it.

    At this juncture, our State Rep Fischer voted against Casinos in Committee. So, we need to ask him to support HB 262 and increased taxes on tobacco products if Ft Thomas Schools are going to stand any chance of having the SEEK forumula fixed.

    Would urge you and everyone else to call Rep Joe Fischer at 502-564-8100 x 742 Capitol Message Line--1-800-372-7181;Home-781-6965
    Tell Fischer if he wont support Casinos, then support HB 262 and increased taxes on tobacco in order to help Ft Thomas Schools.

    Call Senator Stine @ 502-564-3120 or Message @ 1-800-372-7181 or Home at 859-781-5311 and tell her to support Ft Thomas Schools by either voting for HB 262 and increased tobacco taxes or vote for the Casino Gambling Amendment.

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  8. Any discussions regarding revitalization in the Midway should begin with how we get rid of store-front apartments. If you drive to any downtown type of environment and you see store-front apartments, it is a sign that the area has died. The landlords have given up hope of ever renting that space as a retail/office space again, and the only way to bring income in is as an apartment.
    There is so much talk about $2 million being spent on burying utility lines and straightening out River Road. I really don't feel that this will make any difference if you'll still be able to walk past these spaces and see some guy in his underwear watching TV three feet from you. I will not let my kids walk past there without an adult - this is Ft. Thomas - come on! Before the city spends any money on infastructure I feel that they need to work with the owners of these buildings. Either by offering them an incentive to rehab and convert the spaces back to retail (through rent guarantees, grant opportunities, etc) or through disincentives.
    The Midway will still have it's parking issues, but you'll never get community buy in (in my opinion) until the appearance and usage of these structures improves.

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