Most of you all know me as president/executive director of the Grand Theatre with its ticket office at 312 W. Main St. Over the last 10 years I have spent several thousand hours walking to the Grand on Main Street from my Washington Street office.
Some of you may also know I purchased (with partner Joe Johnson) the city’s 1867 firehouse at 307/309 W. Main St. to restore this great building. I work full time on these projects to create attractions that grow Frankfort’s downtown. I have made no money, only invested my own in these efforts.
Most of you who come downtown know the role the Grand provides in our community. Almost 18,000 people attended 134 events in the Grand in our most recent year, which ended May 31. More than 3,500 people came from outside Franklin County to attend live shows. Many locals who used to go out of town for entertainment now spend their money at home. Our shows fill our restaurants and bars, sell hotel rooms and make many of our lives better.
My historic firehouse venture with Joe will be a new attraction. People everywhere love restored firehouses with their brewpubs and restaurants around the country selling plastic fire hats to kids and T-shirts to everyone. Our firehouse will reestablish itself as a downtown landmark in a couple of years.
I think I have proven my contributions to downtown over the past 13 years. I don’t know who else has recently done and will do more.
Over the past three years, I have represented many in our community speaking out against two-way traffice on West Main Street. Currently, the city plans to move forward on the conversion spurred by City Visions’ Barry Alberts and contained in the Downtown Master Plan. This is a bad decision for downtown, Main Street customers in particular.
A few two-way conversions have benefited cities like West Palm Beach, Florida, and Greensboro, North Carolina, where a sequence of green traffic lights allowed drivers to rush through downtown at 50 mph speeds. Frankfort’s Main Street is the opposite situation as it runs only three blocks in the downtown broken by stop signs, generally ending at Wilkinson Boulevard, where you then turn left or right. Those three blocks consist primarily of government services — county judge and clerk and professional offices. Even if the firehouse becomes a restaurant, bar and coffee shop, it along with B’s Bakery, Hoggy’s and Nitro would generate less daytime traffic than those primary users.
Main Street’s three downtown blocks allow food and beverage supply and repair trucks to double-park making deliveries. One-way Main lets vehicles go around the stopped vehicles. Due to Main Street’s narrow and tight 220-year-old layout, two engineering firms (Integrated and Vaughn & Melton) employed by the city along with the former city engineer concluded two-way cost to be more than $200,000 to implement, while also causing the loss of 10 parking spaces (the firehouse will need these, as do everyone else).
The city commission, to avoid the high cost of conversion and damaging loss of parking, is paying $5,000 to Vaughn & Melton to tell it how little it can spend to make the conversion. Please remember that the earlier necessary parking loss and curb cuts were to make two-way safe for us! Two-way necessitates creating sight lines coming out of alleys, allowing fire trucks and delivery vehicles to make turns right or left on St. Clair Street. Nothing, of course, can pay for the dangerous bottleneck backups from stopped vehicles and constant road repairs our aging infrastructure requires.
There is still time to stop two-way Main. Talk to your commission members and the mayor. If they remain determined to convert to two-way, make sure they spend the money and make the curb cuts, which eliminate parking to implement. Insist upon testimony from our police and fire departments on the subject. We can’t make it such that fire trucks can’t get to a fire like the one that wracked St. Clair Street 12 years ago due to traffic backup or too tight a turn.
Our mayor and commission hopefully won’t cut corners, but they should be personally liable if they do.
Speak out against a bad decision and bad public policy.
Bill Cull, of Frankfort, is president and executive director of the Grand Theatre. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.