Though local officials are pleased with the progress of the Capital Plaza redevelopment project, at least one believes things would be easier if the city alone were responsible for its implementation.
Mayor Bill May said the process thus far would be less complicated if city and county governments hadn’t both been involved. Some county officials have been reluctant to proceed with the project, May said.
Though May declined to specify to whom he was referring, three magistrates — Fred Goins, Scotty Tracy and Marti Booth — voted against entering into a contract with the city to secure the services of CityVisions, the consulting firm responsible for community engagement related to the redevelopment of the Capital Plaza and riverfront areas and the downtown master plan.
“I’m not criticizing the county, but we have to go through two government entities (for approval),” May said following a Monday meeting between The State Journal’s editorial board and members of the Capital Plaza Working Group, which has been responsible for shepherding the master plan toward completion. “I said from the beginning I didn’t think we should let another government entity be involved in what happens in the city.”
May added that he’s been grateful for the county’s support. The agreement with the state requires the cooperation of both the city and county, as laid out by Finance and Administration Cabinet Secretary William Landrum in the letter that accompanied the state’s revised memorandum of agreement.
“This MOA formalizes our respective roles and responsibilities — this is a partnership,” Landrum wrote.
CityVisions released the master plan at a public meeting early last month and is working to finalize a report that will be sent to both government entities for adoption. May’s statement comes as that plan is expected to be presented to the Fiscal Court and City Commission this month.
Included in the master plan is a recommendation that Parcel B, the 6.4 acres of former Capital Plaza property where the Frankfort Convention Center and supporting infrastructure once sat, be mostly converted into residential units.
Not stressed enough thus far is that the units are to be located above businesses like retail shops and restaurants, City Manager Cindy Steinhauser said during Monday’s meeting.
“We’ve had quite a bit of interest from developers wanting to build multi-family housing,” said Terri Bradshaw, executive director of Kentucky Capital Development Corp. and a member of the working group.
Currently, downtown residential rental occupancy is near 100 percent, Bradshaw explained. She believes the capital city would support high-end rental housing downtown.
“If we build it, they will come,” she said.
Kelly Everman, executive director of Downtown Frankfort Inc., agreed with Bradshaw.
“It’s really difficult trying to find something that lives up to professional standards,” she said. “If we could introduce new residential units, people would flock to them.”
The big bang theory
Everman said the implosion of the Capital Plaza Tower sparked more interest in the redevelopment project.
“It rocked all levels of Frankfort. That implosion has opened new ideas,” she said. “Everything was ‘concretized’ (previously) — it was a whole lot of stuck possibilities. It’s holistic now.”
One topic officials broached was the need for meeting space, but conversations don’t involve building another 5,000-seat convention center.
“It needs to be said, ‘A convention center is hugely costly,’” Bradshaw said, adding that a new one would come with a $20 million to $30 million price tag and that the old one was empty 300 days a year.
Others in Monday’s meeting agreed that the destruction of the convention center tugged a heartstring for many residents, even though the facility cost $1 million a year to operate.
The master plan calls for a smaller conference center attached to a hotel on land now occupied by the Franklin County Farmers Market.
A city vision
While embracing community change, leaders hope the master plan, put together after months of public input, provides for a robust, walkable city.
May wants the nostalgia of downtown to return.
“I hope we can restore that feeling, that sense that downtown is where you wanted to go and hang out,” he said.
Franklin County Judge-Executive Huston Wells said he would like to see more activity on the river, such as a riverwalk, which would include a lighted sidewalk where residents could walk along the Kentucky River.
Wells added that recent and planned additions to the community such as West Sixth Farm and Goodwood Brewing Tap Room will bring more young people to the area.
Another demographic leaders are hoping to tap into is the growing number of empty-nesters, Baby Boomers who want walkable options for dining, shopping and entertainment.
“People know change is going to happen for good,” Bradshaw said. “We are looking for people willing to invest early and take the risk.”