There was a good deal of spillover at the January meeting of the Whitesburg City Council that came from last Thursday’s informational meeting concerning the new entryway to the city. Kelvin Eldridge, owner of Bella Home Furnishings, located next door to the city fire station, told the council that while he was not at the meeting to advocate for one approach (roundabout or four-way stop) over the other, he did want to discuss the problem of empty store fronts and vacant businesses in the city. Eldridge said that regardless of which approach is eventually decided on, it will take cooperation among council members, downtown merchants and citizens’ groups to work toward attracting businesses and visitors into Whitesburg to increase busi- ness occupation.
Eldridge said he has done studies and looked at the city through “Gogle Earth,” as well as discussing the matter with other businessmen in the city, and while no one had a concrete solution, everyone agreed that something needs to be done.
Whitesburg Mayor James Wiley Craft told Eldridge he has done a good job of identifying the problem and asked if he had any solutions. Eldridge said that he thought that possible tax incentives for businesses willing to locate in the city might help, and that a negative tax incentive, to increase taxes for landlords who are willing to let buildings sit empty for long periods of time, could be useful.
Craft replied that the council passed an ordinance several years previously to penalize property owners who allow business property to sit idle for longer than six months, but it had little effect. Eldridge also suggested that in the case of a city-owned property like the old Daniel Boone Hotel it might work out if the city would offer the property to investors at no cost, if they were willing to agree to invest a substantial amount into it to return it to the city tax rolls.
Eldridge also suggested a downtown merchants association and Craft said that Kae Fisher of Railroad Street Mercantile instituted the Downtown Merchants Association last summer, and that he believes Eldridge is a member. Eldridge said that he is a member, and Craft urged the association to continue meeting, even in light of the fact that Mrs. Fisher’s landlord has informed her that the building Railroad Street Mercantile is located in is no longer available for rent. Craft said that he is willing to attend any meetings of the merchants’ group and he is sure that council members will be willing to attend as well.
Whitesburg dentist David Narramore also addressed the council and asked that it draft a resolution of support for the roundabout option for the new entryway. Craft said that he has no particular preference, but that he would like to wait and see what decision the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet arrives at when it finishes studying the matter. Narramore, who also chairs the Letcher County Tourism Commission, then asked that the council at least draft a resolution calling for the project to be fully funded. He said that at present $650,000 has been allotted and it may require additional funds. Craft said he will draft the resolution.
Leanne Mullins of the Mountain Heritage Festival Committee told the council that while she also supports the roundabout, several members of the committee want to wait and see the Transportation Cabinet’s final proposal. She said that before last Thursday’s meeting, the committee had been for the roundabout as a group, but that after hearing all the facts from the engineer who made the presentation, several wanted to postpone a decision.
Darrell Holbrook of the Veterans Museum told the council that the roundabout option would probably be less intrusive for the museum than the four-way stop, but that the museum will lose land and parking with either option. He said he hopes that the museum board will still be able to implement its plans to expand the site as well as make it more tourist friendly with picnic tables and flagpoles.
In the Mayor’s Report, Craft told the council that Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, who is a running as a Democratic candidate for governor, will be at Icing on the Cake in downtown Whitesburg at 4 p.m. on Wednesday to meet and greet
As the meeting was closing, newly elected Councilman Derek Barto made a motion that the council revisit the annexation of the Solomon Creek community. Barto said he has been contacted by several people who live in the un-annexed portion of Solomon, who have expressed a desire to join the city. Robin Bowen-Watco seconded the motion and it passed unanimously.
Craft said that the demographics in the area have change somewhat since the last attempt at annexation and it may be more feasible.
The council and citizens who attended the meeting were then treated to dinner, furnished compliments of “Vittles”, a restaurant located in West Whitesburg.