Whitesburg KY

Residents, officials meet to discuss future of Jenkins

The City of Jenkins and the Kentucky League of Cities held a Community Listening and Design Session at the Jenkins High School cafeteria last week to discuss possibilities for Jenkins’s future as part of a $10,000 planning grant the city received from the Center for Rural Development in Somerset.

A crowd of around 50 citizens attended the June 21 meeting and a number of ideas were floated for developing Jenkins to allow the city to progress in postindustrial America.

City Attorney Randall Tackett reminded the group that the city underwent a similar process, although one with a good deal more funding, in the form of a Community Development Initiative Grant through then-Governor Paul Patton in 1998. At that time Jenkins and Hindman both received CDI grants and were given the option of choosing their own path to the future. Hindman took one oriented toward a cultural and educational path that resulted in the Hindman Artisan Center and an extension of the Hazard Branch of Kentucky Community and Technical College. Jenkins chose the more traditional industrial path that resulted in development of the Gateway Industrial Park. The grant also resulted in the streetscape project that installed flower pots and kiosks in downtown Jenkins and called for a new entryway into the city. The entryway project has been funded and is included in the Kentucky Department of Transportation’s current Six Year Plan.

Tackett told the group that the earlier city planning sessions had resulted in many of the same ideas brought up in last week’s session, but they ended up in a sealed box in City Hall because the plans were not followed up. He said the infl ux of ideas will not do the city any good unless they are acted on and urged the participants to begin to take action soon in an organized plan. Tackett also reminded them that in order to grow, the city will have to negotiate with TECO, which holds property that hems the city in on three sides with Pine Mountain and the state line on the other.

“If you want to break out you will have to bust out,” said Tackett. “You will have to take on TECO.”

Mayor G.C. Kincer also alluded to problems the city has in obtaining land that is owned by TECO that borders much of the US 23 bypass, saying in a half joking manner that he has been to TECO’s offices so much to ask it to part with some of its land that it locks the door when it sees him coming. But Kincer told the audience the city will not allow TECO to dictate their future much longer.

“We’ve tried to work with TECO,” said Kincer. “But they can tell you no in the nicest way.”

Kincer said he has repeatedly asked TECO to cede the land around Raven Rock to the city to develop as a tourist asset but was recently told by TECO that the company sees Raven Rock as a “great asset and one we cherish.”

“The city has the power to condemn,” said Kincer. “But when you do, you have to be ready to write a check.”

The meeting was conducted by Bonnie Bryant and Tad Long of Kentucky League of Cities and was broken into several parts. The first was a break-out session with people gathered at individual tables who were all given the opportunity to identify the city’s strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for the future. The second was a graphic session when each table was given maps and graphics to use to identify specific opportunities for the city.

Strengths were identifi ed in usual ways for many small towns, including the city’s history, the people, location, and others, as well as assets specific to Jenkins such as the lake, the independent school system, the Dave Zegeer Coal and Railroad Museum, the Little Shepherd Amphitheatre, and the city’s location on US 23. Weaknesses were identified as a mindset of poverty, lack of hotels, lack of restaurants, and lack of zoning. However, Steve Litts of Lakeside reminded the group that weaknesses are also opportunities and said the city must begin to use the assets it has in place if it wants overcome its perceived weaknesses.

A number of threats to the city’s future were also identified, including drugs. Other threats included a lack of vision, high property taxes, the possibility that no action would be taken to follow up the planning session, and a lack of local participation.

Specific plans included development of the softball fields along with the recreation complex that is currently under development on the old Bert Fields property below the Jenkins High School football field, a lake walk that is planned by the city council, and a new entrance to the city from US 23. Other ideas included a farmers’ market, housing, turning the old Golden Years Rest Home into a bed and breakfast, recreational development including horse and all-terrain vehicle trails, conducting outdoor concerts at the Little Shepherd Amphitheatre, and the development of shopping centers along US 23 bypass. The renovation of the old Jenkins High School for a senior living facility has been funded and construction will begin this year.

The downtown area was also an area of concern with ideas to transform downtown including putting small businesses such as bakeries and other shops there and creating opportunities to attract the traffic passing the city by on US 23 into the city. Mayor Kincer said the new entrance to the city at the Dunham exit will help and City Attorney Tackett added that there are approximate 12,000 cars a day that drive by Jenkins without anything to attract them into the downtown area. Ideas to attract visitors included an emphasis on arts and cultural aspects of the city, including quilts, the mining history, and other aspects as well as signage.

The meeting closed with a group discussion as Long and Bryant told the audience the plans and graphics from the session will be written up and turned into a presentation that will be available on the KLC website at www.klc.org within two weeks. The atmosphere as the meeting closed was positive, but several who spoke reminded the others that it would take a city-wide effort to make anything happen and that planning and organization would be vital if the city is to prosper and make progress.

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