News and Tribune

Bridges Project

April 26, 2014

Jeffersonville’s changing landscape

JEFFERSONVILLE — When the Kennedy Bridge was constructed in the early 1960s, Jeffersonville was very different than it is today. And another bridge nearby was still in use.

The Big Four Bridge, at the time, was still used as a railroad span. The railroad river crossing has long-since ceased operations, but is tied to the construction of the new bridge work because it is providing pedestrian access to area residents.

“I remember as a little kid, I saw trains going over it,” said Jack Vissing, Jeffersonville attorney and member of the city’s redevelopment commission, of the Big Four Bridge.

In the late 1960s the trusses were removed and the bridge became inactive, until recently when Louisville opened its access to the bridge.

Early plans for a new downtown Interstate 65 span called for a pedestrian walkway, as required by the Federal Highway Administration. However, because plans were in the works to convert the former “bridge to nowhere” into a bicycle and pedestrian crossing, it allowed bridge planners to cut the pedestrian access out of the new downtown corridor. Pedestrian access is still required, and is still part of the plan for the east-end bridge.

That railroad and the interstate bridge running through downtown made Jeffersonville a different place than what exists now.

Vissing said the location of the Mountjoy, Chilton, Medley LLP — the former McCauley Nichols building — off of Court Avenue, between the Clark Memorial Bridge and I-65 was a railroad yard where the cars were switched out.

“It was a nasty, noisy dirty kind of place down there,” Vissing said. “It was really an industrial site. It was an undesirable place to live.”

The residents in the area, comprised largely of low-income and minority populations, were displaced when the I-65 bridge was built.

With many residents displaced near the riverfront, the area remained largely an industrial center and the population of city moved farther away from the river and bridges.

“As late as the ’70s and early-’80s there was an industrial boom going on down there,” Vissing said of the Jeffersonville riverfront near I-65.

FUTURE OF DOWNTOWN

The future for historic downtown Jeffersonville, which formerly served as an industrial and transportation hub, is that it could become a center for arts and entertainment.

Coupled with the move to urban renewal, a major factor is likely to be the Big Four Bridge.

Vissing said he believes the area will attract residents who want to live a more active, urban lifestyle, including empty nesters and young professionals.

“I think there is a demand for housing in the downtown area,” he said.

Vissing sees the potential for downtown Jeffersonville as an arts and cultural district that could be an attracting force for visitors.

He said the location of the Vintage Fire Museum and Safety Education Center and Clark County Museum in city-owned properties near Spring Street could be a catalyst for future arts development and local art vendors that could sell goods near the walking bridge.

“It would be like a permanent art fair,” Vissing said. “That’s a real opportunity that would bring people from all directions.”

Jim Benton, owner of Benton’s Fine Jewelry along Court Avenue, said he is pleased with the transition and feels like the area downtown is in need of a facelift.

“When you get some new buildings and some fresh people in, I think that’s a positive,” Benton said. “It’s a hard sell for a lot of people, but I’m excited about it,” he said of a potential arts district. “When you go into downtown Indy or other places that have those areas, there’s a lot of people walking around at night, it helps. Overall, the sense is, it just cleans things up.”

The changing face of Jeffersonville, post bridges construction, state Sen. Ron Grooms, R-Jeffersonville, who has lived in Jeffersonville for more than 40 years and worked as a pharmacist in the city for 37 years, believes will offer more diversity and choices.

“I think you’ll see an increase in median income, I think you’ll see an increase in graduation rates from high school and an increase in performance in area schools,” he said. “I see a population that will now be intermingled from folks from two different states, to grow a corridor into a community that will be much better for having come together.”

“It will be a new community,” Grooms said. “What hopefully will come from that is a stronger, better paid, more educated workforce and society.”

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