It’s good news that developers are getting interested in what they can do with the old Frankfort Lumber property alongside the Kentucky River in South Frankfort. Three years after the Riverfront Development Plan came out, the document has been at risk of gathering dust like so many others that have recommended ways to make Frankfort a better place to live and work.
Joy Jeffries, executive director of the Frankfort-Franklin County Tourist Commission, told the City Commission Monday that she’s optimistic the riverfront proposals can fare better. She said at least two of the three developers who’ve expressed interest in the cleared lumberyard seem serious.
A multipurpose complex on the site, near the intersection of Capital Avenue and Second Street, was one of the river plan’s key recommendations. Such ideas have come up for discussion before. Three decades ago, city officials tried to stimulate business growth atop the North Frankfort floodwall, across Wilkinson Boulevard from the Capital Plaza complex.
That proposition went nowhere. But riverfront development has been more successful in other communities. One of the more prominent examples is Northern Kentucky’s Newport on the Levee, home of the Newport Aquarium and an entertainment/dining center. But Newport and Frankfort are dissimilar. Visitors to Newport on the Levee peer across the Ohio River into the skyline of busy Cincinnati, a regional nexus of business stimulation. The vista you’ll behold from the North Frankfort levee is of the city’s own Bellepoint neighborhood. Behind you is the Capital Plaza, built in the 1970s to replace Craw, a legendary “red-light district” that was demolished by urban renewal in the 1960s. The plaza didn’t live up to commercial expectations and now it needs a makeover of its own.
The Frankfort Lumber site has more promising characteristics. For one thing, it’s just five blocks down Capital Avenue from the state Capitol, the city’s top tourist attraction. Nearby is the Gooch House, an early 20th century residence that was beautifully restored as Frankfort’s tourist center. And a local task force is looking into regulatory changes to make Second Street a more attractive venue both for residential and business development.
The tourism director envisions the lumberyard conversion supporting a variety of activities. On the ground level there’d be a parking lot. The second floor would include offices, a nice restaurant and shopping. Topping it all off is a third level of condominiums.
The residential component is crucial not only to spur riverfront development but to enhance downtown as a whole. One of the reasons big retail deserted the central business district for the suburbs was to reach customers who’d already moved out themselves – people who were less inclined to go downtown and hunt a parking place when they could conveniently patronize stores nearer home.
The older part of town won’t regain the commercial preeminence it once enjoyed, but close-in housing could help, especially if merchants respond by bringing back the basic services essential to downtown living. Flood protection has made the river less of a liability. Now attention should turn to making the waterfront a more appealing destination.