(Editor's note: This editorial, which originally appeared in Sunday's edition, contained a formatting error. The corrected version is below.)
A new year is unlikely to quell talk on one of the most polarizing topics in Paducah in 2019 -- the proposed development of the downtown parking lot, a key in overall downtown redevelopment.
Ask around town and you're likely to find most everyone has an opinion -- almost all of them rigid -- on the project known as City Block and its companion piece, the Tax Increment Finance District. Those opinions were vehemently expressed, and often, in the winter months of last year, through private conversations, social media posts, or letters and guest columns on this very page.
The editorial board, however, has yet to land on such a definitive view. We met with an entourage of city leaders, including Mayor Brandi Harless and City Manager Jim Arndt, in November about downtown redevelopment through TIF, and the linchpin holding it together, City Block.
While they make a compelling case, it's simply far too soon for anyone to be certain how TIF and City Block will play out. As city leaders have said, it's a years-long process, and they concede there's leg work to be done in the meantime.
At this point, at least to the editorial board, there are far too many variables for anyone -- including us or the public -- to be convinced of the proposals' success or failure. We understand they're almost heretical words in the times we live in, but patience, reason and open-mindedness are what's required now, while city leaders meet their obligations of being transparent and thorough in developing the projects.
In other words, the city is giving the public the hard sell on these changes to a critical area, including a significant one to prime public property near the river, so to them we say: We're listening. Now prove it.
It's not an unreasonable request with what's at stake.
Nonetheless, the editorial board wholly agrees with one aspect of the city's motivation behind TIF and City Block -- the badly needed revitalization of historic downtown.
The problems downtown are well-established -- some businesses are struggling and some are leaving; some buildings are vacant and some are crumbling; and the residential component isn't what it should be. There's also a large building in a prominent location -- the former TTEC office -- that's vacant and might stay that way for an extended period. And it's looking less likely that GenCanna, with its mounting financial problems, will ever occupy the former AmerisourceBergen building.
So it may be cliche, but when it comes to downtown's future, it's entirely true: Nothing changes if nothing changes.
And downtown desperately needs new life through change.
No one should be sentimental or attached to the downtown parking lot. Developing the lot would certainly create issues with parking and public events, but they're not unsolvable.
That doesn't mean the lot needs to be given away for peanuts for a poorly-conceived project, and it doesn't mean TIF should be rubber-stamped without vetting or public scrutiny.
It means the city has a lot to do to convince residents and business leaders they're on the right track.
It means they need to prove it.