Paducah mayor: TIF redevelopment is an opportunity worth seizing

Brandi Harless

Vision. Do we have it? What does it mean? When you travel, do you pay attention to the community features that you like? Have you ever thought to yourself, "I wish Paducah could have that"? I often see innovative or creative aspects of communities I visit, and when I can, I try to find what they attribute to their success. It always begins with vision.

For decades, city government has hired consultants and experts to create plans for the riverfront/ downtown area. When I took office I found at least five plans that had been created with beautiful layouts of walkways, play areas, stages for entertainment, an enhanced farmer's market area, and the list goes on. They're still on paper. And there are probably many reasons why. But my focus is not what "might have been" but what can be now and into our future.

As I have always believed, we must honor our past to create our future. There has been significant investment in our downtown. So many people believe in the potential and put their money where their mouth is. But as always, we have more work to do. The vision for the riverfront/downtown has continuously evolved since the master plans were created many years ago. We didn't start from scratch this time. We took those plans and community feedback and direction, adjusted the details and created a strategic funding approach to accomplish the vision.

I would like to take a moment to paint that vision for all of us. Please keep in mind, this is not my vision. This is the vision of a community that has been begging for growth for decades.

Imagine starting your Saturday at a cafe overlooking the river while in the next room, a large convention with river views is underway. Imagine walking next door to spend the morning at a museum/play center with your kids or grandkids. After that, you walk, bike, or scoot along the Greenway Trail with open playing fields on one side and the Ohio River on the other. You stop and sit on a bench or swing for a moment to enjoy the boats coming and going from the transient dock. You notice the convention guests coming and going from two hotels situated side by side to support the convention center business.

You continue walking the Greenway Trail along the river and end up near the foot of Broadway. There you see steamboat guests walking from the new hotel onto the newly created steamboat launch area to take off on their cruise. They are walking along the designated safe platform -- not the steep boat ramp -- and are greeted by the Paducah Ambassadors. You walk through the floodwall towards downtown and are greeted by others sitting along the newly created public open space at the edge of Water Street between Broadway and Jefferson. You see kids playing, parents sipping coffee, you hear music playing from one of the gazebos. You see people renting kayaks, walking in and out of shops. You see hotel guests coming and going, walking towards the businesses downtown to see what Paducah has to offer.

You keep walking through the parking lot and notice another area along Second Street where people are sitting in conversation, browsing the art a la carts, or just simply people-watching. You then head downtown where you shop for a bit in the boutiques, have an ice cream, or sip some bourbon. You see residents leaving their apartments and condos. You see people of all ages coming and going supporting a vibrant historic downtown that has the charm of a truly unique historic river city.

You might be asking yourself, "Is this realistic?" Without creative funding mechanisms, no, it's not. And we can't simply rely on grants to fund all of this. It must be a true creative financial approach with a combination of grants, public/private partnerships, and the Tax Increment Financing that gets us there. We are often more sophisticated than we think we are. We can create this vision. And here's the good news: Once we do it here, we can do it anywhere in the city. Think Southside TIF redevelopment. Think Northside TIF redevelopment.

But here's the thing. I am not interested in waiting on us to finish this TIF before we start thinking about our other neighborhoods. We have already begun work with interested neighbors to imagine a vision for other areas of our city, too. But that's a different column. Stay tuned.

It is time to grow. We cannot grow without vision and taking some chances.

Please join us in the vision. I ask you to be open minded but also feel free to ask questions along the way. I know there are concerns. There will always be concerns when we try something new. We are committed to working through the issues to create a successful project.

If you want to be a part of the TIF district and you have a project that can take one of our historic buildings or vacant lots and turn them into something viable, please let us know. Or if you like the idea of the new development and want to start a business in one of the new retail spaces, let us know that, too.

There is opportunity. Let's seize it. As George Bernard Shaw said, "Don't wait for the right opportunity: create it."

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