Frankfort residents on Tuesday made their pitch for how to revitalize the city’s downtown.
“These one-way streets have got to go,” read one tagline presented by Craig Potts, an attendee of a public meeting held by urban planning consultants soliciting input for a downtown redevelopment plan.
Fellow attendee Chris Schimmoeller summarized her pitch by saying, “Quit commuting and come live here.”
“Frankfort is a blossom beginning to open,” said attendee Jack Mazurak.
The pitches were part of a brainstorming exercise organized by consultants Barry Alberts of CityVisions and partner David Gamble of Gamble Associates, who asked a crowded room at the former T-Boat Marina Building on West Main Street to break into groups and prepare a sales pitch that would convince someone to live or open a business in downtown Frankfort.
“I’m absolutely thrilled that this conversation is taking place,” South Frankfort resident and business owner Mary Anna Rogers told The State Journal after giving her pitch to the group. “I think Frankfort is stagnant and I’m looking for some new life to be generated downtown — in the core of the city.”
Frankfort and Franklin County agreed in December to pay CityVisions $100,000 to gather public input and formulate a master plan for redeveloping downtown Frankfort. According to its one-year contract, CityVisions is tasked with engaging the public and crafting sub-plans for not only the Capital Plaza area but Frankfort’s West and South Riverfronts.
Tuesday represented the first of what CityVisions Managing Partner Alberts says will be three public gatherings before his master plan is due in September. The next public meeting will come in late April or early May, followed by a third this summer, Alberts told The State Journal.
Gamble, whose firm is conducting a circulation, parking and connectivity analysis and suggesting public design enhancements, told The State Journal he was impressed by the focus of attendees on Frankfort’s future.
“There’s a mood of optimism, which is really helpful,” said Gamble, noting that Tuesday’s meeting didn’t degenerate into negativity as such conversations often do.
An instant audience poll question asking what the biggest challenge to implementing a downtown redevelopment plan would be elicited an overwhelming 62 percent response of “City/County leadership,” prompting laughter and applause.
Nevertheless, Gamble described the city as being at an inflection point from which it can begin capitalizing on its existing assets.
Describing downtown as a gem that the Capital Plaza complex has hidden from view, CityVisions’ Alberts made the case that Frankfort already possesses many of the characteristics of a healthy small downtown, including “historic fabric” and “active programming.” The city currently lacks on-street activity, a residential population and strong first-floor retail, among other characteristics, he said.
Attendee Jeff Bradshaw agreed with the need to draw more downtown residents.
“I think it’s all about housing,” Bradshaw told The State Journal. “If we implement more housing and have a guided process for that, retail businesses and everything else will follow. We have to increase the capacity for housing downtown.”
An electronic poll of Tuesday’s audience showed that 41 percent of the approximately 150 attendees picked “more people/housing” as downtown’s primary need. Some 56 percent of the attendees said they already lived downtown, with 4 percent saying they were between 18 and 29 years old, 29 percent between 30 and 45, another 29 percent between 46 and 60 and 39 percent over 60.
Not everyone was convinced of housing’s primacy. Jeff Jagnow was among the 13 percent who selected “more parking” as downtown’s biggest need.
“This is not Chicago, where I’ve lived, or New York — you need a car,” the Chicago native and longtime Frankfort resident told The State Journal. “If they don’t have adequate parking, you can’t live down here and I think that’s really critical.”