Downtown Paducah and the riverfront could look dramatically different in coming years via redevelopment through the proposed Tax Increment Finance district.
"I think it's really important for us to go back to the purpose and the goals of this entire process," Mayor Brandi Harless said. "There's three really important goals that we'd established for the TIF district."
• Creating economic viability for small businesses.
• Establishing a vibrant neighborhood that meets the needs of Paducah's changing population, such as diverse housing options downtown.
• Expanding a destination that celebrates the city's history and creativity.
To get there, significant changes could be on the horizon.
Downtown parking is one such major change. The parking lot and gazebo at Second and Broadway streets could be converted to the proposed City Block project with Louisville-based Weyland Ventures, involving a boutique hotel, town square area, parking and mixed residential and commercial space. The riverfront is also slated for enhancement through a $10.4 million federal grant, potentially making Paducah a bigger destination for riverboats.
That's just scratching the surface of the city's long-term vision for the TIF district. Local leaders also envision hotels, retail space, residential housing, infrastructure projects and streetscape improvements. They're hoping for redevelopment of the former Showroom Lounge and new construction at the Kresge site to name two potential projects.
However, new business growth requires parking, a top concern for many residents, especially with the City Block project taking up a public lot that has 214 spots. The project is expected to maintain off-street parking, but the exact number of spots is not finalized at this time.
"There's no doubt that in downtown Paducah, sometime in the next five to 10 years, there will need to be a parking structure," Harless said. "If we want our community to grow, we have to be planning for what happens when it does grow.
"The good news is that with the TIF district being established, we will then have funds to pay for a parking structure. That is part of that TIF district goal -- to make sure we have funds to pay for the public infrastructure that's necessary to support growth in the downtown and riverfront area."
A parking assessment is in the works, and the city plans to improve mobility and access for people visiting downtown. In January, residents should expect to see on-street accessible parking for people with disabilities, along with improved signage to public parking lots.
Katie Axt, the city's downtown development specialist, said a lot of the questions, concerns and experiences city officials have heard weren't so much about available parking, but rather mobility challenges of getting around downtown.
"We're not very good with our signage," she said. "We don't really inform people that we have more than one parking lot. There's poor wayfinding. There's poor lighting, and we don't have handicapped parking throughout downtown. Those are real challenges for our population today and, also, our population is aging."
The city hopes to have the parking assessment done early next year.
As for the gazebo and town square aspect of the City Block project, the city is talking about requiring Weyland Ventures to do "design charrette" -- host public meetings where people could give conceptual ideas.
"I think that's a really great way to do that," Harless said. "It would give our community a chance to be involved in the process of how we design that public space, so I'm looking forward and hoping we keep that as part of our negotiation."
Harless said the gazebo concept is going to be in the design.
"I can't tell you where it's going to land by the end," she said. "That's a decision for a lot more people than just me."
Meanwhile, another impact related to downtown growth comes from the river.
An excursion pier and plaza is planned that will allow large riverboats to dock and provide a better experience for passengers. It will be several times bigger than the transient boat dock, city planning director Tammara Tracy said. The transient boat dock can't hold these type of boats.
The pier and plaza is an example of how the TIF district and the $10.4 million Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant can come together.
"If we build the excursion dock, which we got out of BUILD, and we have a hotel that is located in downtown, that opens up more port calls," Axt said. "That opens up longer stays and it has the opportunity to open up Paducah becoming a (port of call), so that not only are people from across the country and internationally coming, but people from Paducah get to leave from Paducah on these cruises."
Harless also said the city reached out to several riverboat companies when writing the BUILD grant. The city included letters of support from the companies in the grant to the Department of Transportation, and companies indicated they were building new ships.
"They're going to add to the marketplace over the next several years," she said. "They were enthusiastic about us upgrading the experience that their passengers will have in Paducah, so they said to us that if you are able to move with this project, we want to be a close partner."
She hopes riverboat visits double in coming years with new vessels coming online.