News and Tribune

February 16, 2014

BRIDGING THE FUTURE: Examining the Ohio River Bridges impact on Charlestown

By GARY POPP
gary.popp@newsandtribune.com

CHARLESTOWN — Drew Salamone spends his days preparing slow-smoked ribs and brisket, but in the back of his mind is the prospect of Charlestown undergoing significant growth that will broaden his customer base at Bare Shoulder BBQ restaurant in the city’s downtown square.

Salamone and his brother opened the Cross Street barbecue joint last year, and they are looking forward to the completion of the east-end bridge project and the continued development of River Ridge Commerce Center changing the face of eastern Clark County’s largest community in the next decade.

“From my point of view, it is definitely a positive, bringing more people this way,” Salamone said of the expected growth in the wake of the bridge. “I think it is going to bring a lot of money to the area.”

Business owners, community members and city leaders have already seen Charlestown develop with the recent addition of businesses and increased home construction, and the growth is expected to continue in the shadow of the $763 million east-end bridge project that will connect Prospect, Ky., to Utica by 2016, and the expanding River Ridge Commerce Center on Ind. 62.

Charlestown, with its proximity to River Ridge and being nestled near Ind. 62 at the confluence of Ind. 3 and County Road 403 — not to mention being a short drive from Louisville — holds its fate in its own hands.

“What I see changing ... is that the east-end bridge is going to add the convenience of a new part of the city of Louisville,” said Wendy Dant Chesser, CEO of One Southern Indiana, “and people who decide they want to be close to that or have that accessibility are now going to see Charlestown in a whole new light for what it has to offer.”



POTENTIAL FOR GROWTH

Salamone sees a bright future.

He moved to Charlestown eight months ago from West Lafayette where he was employed by Purdue University. He has been in the restaurant industry since he was 16 years old and recently decided it was time to have his own restaurant.

Salamone said when he and his family opened the business they were betting that the east-end bridge project and River Ridge would eventually have a positive affect on the restaurant.

“We knew it was coming when we picked this spot,” he said. “We also knew it would be a few years out. Even in Charlestown, we were looking at a few different locations, but we chose to be closer to [Ind.] 62 because that is kind of where the growth is happening.”

Salamone said he thinks Charlestown will become an outer suburb of Louisville that will be appealing to those looking for a semi-rural home.

“You have a lot of people who don’t want to live in a packed city who will move out this way. You get a little more space. You get a little more land,” he said. “You get a better value, and it’s a nice, quiet area.”

Several doors down from Bare Shoulder BBQ, business owner Melissa DuVall offers stylish cuts and hair treatments at Absolutely You Salon. DuVall opened the business four years ago, after working for 26 years at another hair salon on the same block.

She is a proud Charlestown resident excited about the city progressing in the coming years.

“I think we are going to have a lot of growth, a tremendous amount of growth,” DuVall said. “Once they open up that east-end bridge in Louisville, I think it is going to bring a lot of people to this area.”

She said her hair salon has already felt the effects of River Ridge and she welcomes the commercial development and new residents that bridge might bring.

“It is already growing. It is already coming up [Ind.] 62 where the ammunition plant had been, so we are already getting new businesses. There is a lot industry there,” she said. “If you are business owner, you do want to have more people. In order to get more people, you need more people to live here.”

DuVall said she thinks the business interest Charlestown has already begun to attract will result in more people relocating to the city.

“We do need a lot of areas expanded on for those people. I think it will make for a better housing market. With all the factory work that is coming, it will make for more restaurants, more retail,” she said.

What kind of retail is the question.

Dant Chesser said businesses — from major fast-food franchises to mom-and-pop operations — are expected to eventually set up between the bridge and the city, which will add to the amenities and marketability that Charlestown has to offer.

“It is just going to make it easier for people to get to there and add to the potential,” she said of the bridge. “The amount of traffic that is going to be driving by these sites is going to change.”

She said it will likely take time for large franchises to come to Charlestown, but that allows small businesses the opportunity to take advantage of the anticipated development.

“When you are talking about national chains or franchises, so much of what they do is based on population numbers and traffic counts. Charlestown is not going to have an immediate impact in those two categories,” she said. “It will over time, so the question is, who is going to be more interested in seeing that long-term potential? It is typically not going to be the franchises or the nationals chains. It is going to be the folks who are willing to put their stake in the sand and say, ‘I got here first.’

“If I owned one of those companies, Charlestown is a place I would definitely be interested in.”

DuVall said she thinks Charlestown can absorb businesses and new residents without putting its small-town appeal in jeopardy.

“I think it is going to modernize us,” DuVall said of the city’s anticipated growth. “We want to stay little and quaint, but at the same time you can’t become backward and stagnant. We go so far out into the country that I think the quaintness will stay.”



ACCEPTING THE PAST, EMBRACING THE FUTURE

Charlestown Mayor Bob Hall said the development stemming from the east-end bridge project and River Ridge is line with his vision for the city.

“We want Charlestown to become the best community to live and raise a family,” Hall said, adding that he believes the city offers quality infrastructure, high-achieving schools, attractive parks and family-themed activities.

“I don’t think you can look at the bridge as a single entity of the impact of Clark County,” Hall said. “I think you need to look at River Ridge and the bridge together as the impact that is going to happen over the next 15, 20 years.”

Hall said Charlestown will continue to be an attractive site for businesses, but he doesn’t foresee the city becoming congested with commercial structures.

“The business that will come here, I believe, will be more of the shopping convenience and the small support businesses, perhaps, that will find locations here to be able to support the industry inside the River Ridge complex,” he said. “Charlestown has made no bones about the fact that our hopes and our directions don’t include growing into a large retail mecca, like Clarksville. We are happy Clarksville has chosen that. It’s good for the region. They fit the niche.”

Hall said it’s appropriate to look into Charleston’s past while planning for its future. He said the boom of the ammunition complex nearly 70 years ago has similarities to the development of River Ridge and the east-end bridge today.

“In August of 1940, Charlestown had 965 residents; by October of the same year, it had 13,000 and was unprepared for that type of growth,” he said. “We had tent cities put up, the creek was the sanitation [and] sewer system. They were renting out chicken coops for eight-hour shifts. They were sleeping in the area.”

He said people from around the region were drawn to Charlestown for jobs.

“It brought in all the workers, of course, and Dupont came in and to build the [former Indiana Army Ammunition] plant,” Hall said. “We were in war time and an [population] explosion just happened, and Charlestown was a boom town. The town exploded.”

Hall said the U.S. Army designated a town manager, who hurriedly installed an infrastructure, which wasn’t intended for long-term use. The sewer lines and other utility hardware stayed in place, Hall said, long after the ammunition plant stopped operation.

“As the plant closed and they left, Charlestown became a bust town. From boom to bust. And from the ’70s to now, we have been dealing with the glut of housing that was left behind,” Hall said. “All the housing that was built, which was supposed to be 10-year housing, was left. We really had to rebuild Charlestown to overcome the economic boom the town had and then the bust.”

Hall said at the peak of the ammunition plant’s production in the early 1940s, the area offered nearly 29,000 jobs.

“It was the largest employer in Clark County, Jefferson County, Scott County and Floyd County,” Hall said. “It was truly a regional plant.”

He said he is anticipating Charlestown and its surrounding area will provide similar employment opportunities.

“I believe with the impact of the bridge and River Ridge, we are going see that job base return, again, only fortunately this time, it will be over a slower period of time,” Hall said.

The slow rate of development is what Hall and others see as a big bonus for city leaders.

“Over the next 10 years, Charlestown is going to grow whether we want it to or not,” Hall said. “The real question is, what are we going to grow into? And, that is the same for Clark County and the region. We are going to grow, but when we get done, are we going to look at it and say, ‘Are we glad we grew into that?’”



POUNCING ON OPPORTUNITY

Dant Chesser said Charlestown leaders have a great perspective to see the growth approaching and to plan for their needs and interests.

The head of the largest economic development organization for Clark and Floyd counties said it is difficult for her to project how Charlestown’s population will be affected, but said the better prepared the city is to welcome new residents, the more significant the increase of people who call Charlestown home.

Dant Chesser said people considering a move to Charlestown will be asking themselves, “What are the schools like? What are the neighborhoods like? Can I find a house that I like in my price range? Are there sidewalks? Are there community parks? Are there activities in town that are going to make me happy that I choose to live there?”

She said the city’s festivals, including the Christmas-inspired Light Up Charlestown, the Family Activities Center and other recreational attractions, like Charlestown State Park, will make the city appealing to new residents.

“You are adding a quality of place to a community that has been pretty much under the radar screen, and they have great opportunities to build on that,” she said.

Dant Chesser said the east-end bridge project and River Ridge will likely attract not only people, but business.

“Some of the River Ridge area that is Charlestown proper is going to have a Charlestown address and, therefore, people are going to identify with Charlestown in a new way because of the business’ addresses,” she said.

Dant Chesser said Charlestown’s expected development will continue to creep from River Ridge along Ind. 62 and on County Road 403.

She said the development along Ind. 62 will be an incentive for additional retailers.

“On the other end of Charlestown, the entry into Charlestown on [County Road] 403 coming from Sellersburg, there is so much residential growth in that area with many new subdivisions. You really have growth coming into Charlestown from two directions. Industrially on [Ind.] 62, and residentially on [County Road] 403,” she said.

“With all communities, the future can happen to you or it can happen with you,” she added. “Charlestown is probably best positioned to have the future happen with them.”