The outcome of Tuesday’s gubernatorial election and another delay in the state’s decision on the future of the former Frankfort Convention Center land raises the valid question of whether the matter would benefit from fresh eyes.
Now’s the only chance to hit the pause button.
The controversial decision to tear down the convention center and adjacent infrastructure as part of the removal of the Capital Plaza Tower was the Bevin administration’s alone. Community leaders went along with it because they felt powerless to stop the state’s handling of state-owned property. They wisely surmised that a Democratic town held little influence with a Republican administration, so they might as well play nice and hope for the best.
Indeed, the process has played out reasonably well to date, with the land now clear for redevelopment in accordance with the community’s wishes but no final verdict having been rendered.
Might community leaders now reasonably make a case to Col. William Landrum, Gov. Matt Bevin’s Finance and Administration Cabinet secretary, that a lame-duck administration shouldn’t make the final call on a project that could shape Downtown Frankfort's economy for decades?
This columnist, like many people in Frankfort, would love to see Hazard developer Marty Johnson pull off his and the Downtown Master Plan’s vision of vibrant mixed-use commercial and residential redevelopment on the dozen or so acres in the core of the central business district.
But the odds are tall.
That Johnson alone bothered to submit a bid on the land when the state cast a wide net for potential developers speaks to the riskiness of the project.
A Plan B gets much harder to explore and implement once the property is privately owned.
The state’s choice now is to accept or reject Johnson’s bid of $1,000, a decision now twice delayed, most recently on Friday. A third option would be to delay the decision until after next month’s inauguration, when Gov.-elect Andy Beshear will be sworn in barring an unexpected reversal of his 5,000-vote margin on Tuesday.
The decision is entirely Landrum’s, it should be noted, despite conspiracy theorists’ assertion that Bevin himself has used the Capital Plaza property to stick it in the eye of a town that opposed him at the ballot box. It says here that the governor has bigger things on his mind right now. By law, Landrum certainly can plow ahead and give the land to Johnson in the final few weeks of the Bevin administration. Unlike his boss, however, the respected military man doesn’t seem like the vindictive type.
If Mayor Bill May and Judge-Executive Huston Wells ask him to hold off and let the new administration take a fresh look at the project, he just might do it out of respect for two men who have been very respectful of the colonel and his handling of Capital Plaza redevelopment.
Steve Stewart is publisher of The State Journal. His email address is email@example.com.