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1/2/2018 11:41:00 AM
Frankfort mayor has big hopes for downtown revitalization plan

Sharon Bardonner, Frankfort Times

When the Downtown Frankfort Revitalization Plan (DRP) was undertaken by Frankfort Mayor Chris McBarnes’ administration, one pledge made was that the study would not be shelved as many economic development and design proposals had been in the past.

The 177-page Downtown Revitalization Plan, put together by Rundell Ernstberger Associates and Strategic Development Group with input from city leaders, Frankfort Main Street and residents, included all aspects of Frankfort’s business center and advised ways to make it more resident- and business-friendly.

The study inventoried existing buildings and parks and considered open space and walkways.

One of the suggestions provided is the development Prairie Creek Park (PCP), an outdoor amphitheater located next to the waterway in the open space of the demolished Dorner property and the lot where a Frankfort Municipal Utilities’ water plant once resided. Today a $360,000 wall stands as the “first step of the first phase of Prairie Creek Park,” as described by McBarnes.

The mayor admits that the wall greatly exceeded any cost expectations he had but it stands as a symbol of the quality of enhancements he envisions for downtown.

He estimates the entire PCP project to cost about $2.9 million.

The DRP also called for a makeover of Veterans Park to make it more user-friendly and provide year-round entertainment options and proposed making Washington Street a major quality of life corridor linking Downtown Frankfort to McBarnes’ most ambitious proposal: Project Home Run, a multi-use baseball and softball recreational center on the city’s west side.

Although the first step of PCP has already been taken, it is Project Home Run that is McBarnes’ top priority. The mayor sees the development being realized much like the Ivy Tech campus was accomplished – as a public-private partnership using Tax Increment Financing funds administered by the Frankfort Redevelopment Commission to pay back bonds – along with support from private individuals, local industries and other stakeholders.

“I don’t want taxpayers to be burdened with the cost of this project,” he said.

As McBarnes demonstrated with the first city budget he prepared with Reedy Financial Group – breaking with the city’s previous use of Umbaugh and Associates, he is working to put together a detailed financing package before taking the plan public.

McBarnes said he been conducting a silent fundraising drive with private stakeholders for Project Home Run but will secure no concrete commitments until the package is ready to be rolled out.

At that time, McBarnes expects an event similar to the one orchestrated in August 2012 when members of the Ivy Tech Board of Trustees, the Clinton County Council, the Clinton County Commissioners and Council, and the Frankfort City Council assembled with McBarnes on the stage of the Skanta Theatre in the Frankfort Community Public Library to sign a “Declaration of Interest” to develop an Ivy Tech site in the former Frankfort Times building.

According to McBarnes, his work behind the scenes demonstrates his leadership style.

“I don’t have to be out selling my vision,” he said. However, he believes people in Frankfort are going to demand these kinds of amenities and his objective to avoid using tax dollars is what drives him to seek private funding. 

His goal is to secure $3 million in private commitments toward the forecasted $10 million cost of Project Home Run before making any sort of showy public reveal. The announcement would include revealing all of the renderings for the projects and holding a community discussion. 

He also noted that he has always been open to other ideas. 

“If not these projects, then what?” he asked as if addressing an assembly of Frankfort residents. “What is your idea, what is your vision?

“The Downtown Revitalization planning process called for these things to happen,” said McBarnes. “I am acting on those plans.”

He also commented that the millions of dollars he plans to secure from the RDC over several years for Project Home Run is a minute investment considering the stakes involved.

“For the RDC, this is small potatoes to help our community to survive.”

The mayor said he hopes to see Project Home Run under construction by late fall 2018.

Copyright 2018 The Frankfort Times

Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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