Frankfort banking leaders have penned an open letter to community leaders and citizens alike urging them to “stay the course” on Capital Plaza redevelopment.
What does the message mean?
Based on what Whitaker Bank Frankfort Area President Rodney Williams told the Frankfort City Commission Monday, that message essentially boils down to “seize the day.”
“Our message to you as well as the (Franklin County) Fiscal Court as well as the (Frankfort-Franklin County) Planning Commission as well as to other organizations within our community: Recognize the opportunity, seize this moment — moments, years, decades to come — and do what is necessary from a governmental standpoint, from a regulatory standpoint to help us make this happen,” Williams told the commission.
“We, as lending institutions, recognize this as a unique opportunity. When I say ‘unique opportunity, (it’s) probably the greatest opportunity that we’ve had for economic development and investment for the last 40 or 50 years.”
Williams, who headed the collaboration among the 10 area lenders who signed the open letter, stressed the importance of financing’s role in this development. As stated in the letter, bankers are evaluating the roles each institution could play in the process, from Whitaker Bank to Frankfort’s newest institution, WesBanco, and everything in between.
“The expression ‘time is money’ takes on a particularly important meaning as we compete with cities across Kentucky and the nation to recruit investment, developers, outside funding and a capable workforce,” the letter states.
After hearing area bankers’ charge, Commissioner Scott Tippett said nearby Georgetown in Scott County has been “booming” of late and asked Williams what needed to happen in Frankfort to have that sort of development occur here.
Noting that Scott County has the fastest-growing population in the commonwealth, Williams said the investment in developing a community must coincide with enhanced public infrastructure and jobs coming into the community.
On Wednesday, Williams said the letter circulating to all of the county’s influencers and citizens is meant to not only charge everyone with remaining diligent but also to inform the public that local lenders are already looking to work together for a better future in Frankfort.
“It’s worth mentioning that the signers of that letter … are folks that every day compete vigorously with each other for opportunities,” Williams told The State Journal. “But we’re definitely on the same page in doing what we can to help the community move forward.”
Looking ahead, he noted the threat of a stagnant population and how that would likely prevent the community from ultimately thriving. To stimulate development, Williams said securing a large-scale project that can serve as a “jumping-off point” is crucial for future development.
Specifically, he said attracting private equity is a must.
City Manager Cindy Steinhauser agreed with what the letter had to say about financing and said she is encouraged to see lenders show solidarity.
“I think they all get it and are coming to the table with such willingness and interest to figure out how to make it all happen,” Steinhauser said.
Another section of the letter emphasized the need to implement a “professional regulatory process” that avoids the pitfalls of delays to projects or funding.
Regarding the Capital Plaza redevelopment, the project has seen its share of delays because of back-and-forth negotiations between local and state governments as they tried to work out a deal for a preferred development method.
With the next big deadline set at Oct. 31, when a development advisory committee is supposed to recommend a plan to the city and county, Steinhauser said she feels confident about keeping the timeline. A downtown master plan from consultant CityVisions is also set to be unveiled in October.
Williams said he is “cautiously optimistic” about the future, while work remains to be done.
“Well, if there is previous criticism of our community’s willingness to take advantage of opportunities, maybe it is partly in the planning process and planning and zoning and all the things that go with it,” Williams said. “But my opinion is it takes a great deal more than that — it takes attracting private capital.”
Recently appointed Director of Planning and Community Development Eric Cockley said his department is “making headway” in regards to develop a proper zoning tool that will both enable mixed use in the former Capital Plaza area while also meshing well with the adjacent historic portion of downtown. The Board of Zoning Adjustment is set to take up the issue 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 4 at City Hall.