bracing for growth in tourism
access and grant money for
downtown projects are fueling the excitement
"Id like to see them clean up the river
Hazel Ray, owner of Cornercopia
CARROLLTON, Ky. (June 1999) If you build
it, they will come, or at least some version of that mantra made
famous in the movie Field of Dreams describes what Hazel
Ray thought would happen when she became a downtown Carrollton business
owner back in 1981.
Then reality set in.
by Laurel Harper
merchants and city officials anticipate a boom when the nearby
Kentucky Speedway opens next year. The city is positioned well
for tourism with General Butler State Resort Park located on the
outskirts of town.
I finally had to realize nothing was going to happen
unless we made it happen, says Ray, who operates the CornerCopia
crafts, gift shop and ice cream parlor at the corner of Fifth and Main
streets, along with her daughter Jeanette Singer.
So thats exactly what she and other members of the Carrollton
business community are doing. Their efforts will literally change the
face of the city in the coming months.
Rays initial assessment seemed right on target. The small river
community of about 4,000 people lies at the confluence of the Kentucky
and Ohio rivers, along scenic U.S. 42 just five miles off I-71. Both
Louisville and Cincinnati are only 50 miles away; Indianapolis and Lexington,
Ky., are within a 2 1/2-hour drive.
Many writers have used the word sleepy to describe towns
like this, but Carrollton though it seems serene on the surface
is anything but. The entire region is thriving, enjoying a strong
economy due to several major industries located just east of the city.
Weve been very fortunate in this area of Kentucky,
says Harold Shorty Tomlinson, president of the Carroll County
Chamber of Commerce and manager of General Butler State Resort Park.
We have more industry per capita than any other area around and
a strong agricultural background.
Carrollton also is noted for its rich history. The city, initially called
Port William, was established in 1794 by pioneers traveling down the
Ohio who decided to stay. The name was changed to Carrollton in 1838
when Carroll County was formed. It retains its historic charm today,
peppered with 19th century and Victorian homes and buildings. Carrollton
boasts a 25-block area recognized as one of the most intact 19th-century
downtowns remaining in the state and is listed on the National Register
of Historic Places.
History is playing a big role in tourism today. More and more
people are looking for heritage destinations where they can travel for
overnight jaunts. Carroll County has much to offer along these lines,
notes Jennifer Ray, the countys executive director of tourism.
Add to that the fact that Butler Park, ranking 17th on Kentuckys
list of top tourist attractions, sits on the outskirts of town, with
a new 1,000-capacity conference center set to open next year. Plus,
a race track that may possibly hold NASCAR events is scheduled to open
soon in adjoining Gallatin County, just 20 miles away. It should come
as no surprise, then, that tourism is a major industry for the county,
attracting more than 500,000 visitors, nearly $31 million and employing
more than 820 people in 1998 alone, Ray says.
The town is definitely primed for growth. Thats what prompted
Hazel Ray and several other concerned citizens to push the issue. One
major outcome of their effort is a committee whose objective is to make
Carrollton an official participant of the Main Street Program (part
of the National Trust for Historic Preservation), which helps communities
across the nation revitalize their historic or traditional commercial
It has likewise proven a powerful economic development tool. A study
tracking the programs success in 1,400 communities, conducted
from Main Streets inception in 1980 to date, shows that on the
average every $1 spent to operate the local program yielded $35.43 reinvested.
Working with the Chamber of Commerce, the Tourism Commission, the Carrollton
Main Street Program, the Carroll County Community Development Corp.
(CCCDC), the Kentucky Heritage Council and supported by the City of
Carrollton, just two years later the Main Street board is beginning
to see its efforts pay off handsomely.
Carrollton was among a select group of Kentucky cities the state recognized
last year as a Silver Renaissance Community, something that never would
have happened without the Main Street connection, according to Jennifer
What does this mean to the city? Nearly $428,000 in a state grant to
be used for the revitalization and beautification of the downtown area.
Matching funds from local groups add up to another $142,726, with the
total amount exceeding $570,000.
When complete, the area bounded by U.S. 42 (Highland Avenue) from Fourth
to Sixth streets, and on Court and Fifth streets from U.S. 42 to Main
Street, then on Main Street from Fifth to Court will undergo a massive
Broken sidewalks will be replaced, the walk in front of the main entrance
to the courthouse lawn will be redesigned and widened, and all area
sidewalks made handicapped accessible. Utility lines will be buried
and both contemporary lighting and 1930s-style street lamps installed.
Landscaping, including removing existing trees whose roots have damaged
the sidewalks and replacing them with non-intrusive varieties, will
complete the work.
The objective is to re-establish the Courthouse Square as downtowns
focal point. It gives us an opportunity to improve the downtown
quality, which makes it more inviting to other businesses, Tomlinson
CCCDC director Bill Mitchell agrees. A downtown helps attract
high-quality industries when all things are equal. It can give the edge
to a community, just like a good hospital and schools.
On a more aesthetic level, the project will help strengthen and preserve
downtowns historic integrity and, its proponents hope, lead to
further redevelopment of the entire riverfront.
Id like to see them clean up the river banks, too,
Hazel Ray notes.
The state has allocated another $37,500 for business owners in the designated
area who want to improve their building facades.
Structures along Main Street back up to the Ohio River, so Jennifer
Ray hopes that some of the money will go for revitalizing that side
as well as the facades along Main.
City Council has likewise shown its support. Along with pledging matching
funds for the revitalization grant and promising workers to help with
the streetscaping, in 1996 it approved an incentive package for business
people who want to locate downtown.
That money is earmarked for such things as start-up expenses and building
improvements. With the exception of pool halls, bars, adult entertainment
and any enterprise that requires extensive on-street parking, any business
is eligible to apply.
Beefing up the roster of downtown businesses themselves will be next
on the revitalization groups wish list. Currently, says Jennifer
Ray, the mix includes gift shops, craft shops, an inn, an antique mall,
a hardware store, a general goods store, a clothing store, a sporting
goods store, a couple of restaurants and bars, and several service businesses
and professional offices.
The Carrollton campus of Jefferson Community College is there, too.
She would like to see a few more antique stores come in and a bookstore/coffee
Mitchell would add more professional offices, entertainment, service
industries, institutional tenants and residential units to Rays
list, to ensure the area remains viable even during tourisms offseason.
The downtown area cant be on its own. It has to be a part
of everything else, he cautions. Thats why Carrollton
and this part of Kentucky have been so successful. We havent ignored
one thing in lieu of another.
With a population of about 9,600, the countys small enough
that weve got a real synergy going here, he adds. Everyone
has worked together to keep their eye on the ball.
There is one dark cloud on the horizon a gravel quarry is moving
to the fringe of downtown and several business owners are concerned
about what impact this will have.
But overall, they view the citys future with optimism. After
all, we never dreamed the grant would be as much as it was, Hazel
Ray points out.
A lot of people pitched in to help, and were hoping for
a lot of success.
Its just time for us to have this now.
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