CLARKSVILLE — Clarksville is taking steps to transform large parts of unused or outdated commercial space into modern areas that are relevant in the age of internet shopping.

At its regular meeting Tuesday, the Clarksville Redevelopment Commission approved a contract with Indianapolis-based design firm Rundell Ernstberger Associates (REA) to help guide the town's vision in recreating Lewis and Clark Parkway, Ring Road and parts of the Broadway District, which includes roughly 65 acres of the River Falls Mall the town will be purchasing in October.

The vote to approve the design team to help create the Lewis and Clark/Broadway District Master Plan comes after a months-long selection process from a national pool of bids. In total there were 16 received, including from San Diego and New York. The contract is for 12 months, with a cost not to exceed $350,000 and will include four phases — three months of data collection, two months of preliminary planning, five months to create the draft and final plan and two months for its adoption.

Clarksville Redevelopment President A.D. Stonecipher said the firm rose to the top based on the expertise it will bring to the table — urban designers, building engineers, researchers and advisors. The four-phase plan is expected to kick off in September and include multiple community input sessions. The final plan is expected to be ready within 10 to 12 months, according to a news release.

Clarksville, and likely other municipalities across the U.S., have already seen the effects of consumer shifts to online shopping. At the Green Tree Mall on Lewis and Clark Parkway, the wing that once housed the Sears department store has sat empty for two years. Down the road, a building bearing the faint outlines of what once read Hobby Lobby remains unused.

Stonecipher said the purpose of teaming up with REA to help create a redevelopment plan is to keep the commercial areas relevant amid changing shopping habits.

"We're trying to set the stage for the next 50 years of commercial use in Clarksville," Stonecipher said. "No one has a crystal ball but clearly as more and more commerce moves to digital and mobile, the typical box store, the typical mall like River Falls Mall, built in the early 1990s, those are likely going to be a thing of the past.

"From all the data we are reviewing, it looks as if the future is headed toward a place where we're going to be doing a majority of shopping online. There will still be stores, obviously, but they'll be more experiential-based shopping."

What that means is businesses that would work better for customers to shop in person, such as an electronics store or boutique, although Stonecipher said it is too early in the process to know which businesses might be located in the area.

While the plan is in its infancy, Stonecipher said it will allow for more integrated zoning, and could potentially include things such as mixed-use spaces, such as commercial units on lower floors with townhomes above.

"[We want to] include in those developments greenspace infrastructure, creating a sense of beauty and opportunities for social interaction within those," he said.

He added that among the first things he'll be looking for are recommendations from the firm on infrastructure — not just roads, but also looking at improvements in things such as stormwater drainage, which he said will become a bigger issue as climate change unfolds over the coming decades.

"We're looking at what we can do road-wise, what we can do sewer-wise and tying that all into the bigger vision of living, working and playing in Clarksville," he said.

REA has included in its portfolio such projects as the Monon Trail — a 23-mile stretch of mixed use path along what was formerly the Monon Railroad through central and northern Indiana. They are also involved in local projects such as the revitalization of Jeffersonville's 10th Street and the River Heritage Conservancy.

"They've done big and small projects across the United States," Stonecipher said. "So we're very happy to be bringing them on."

Cynthia A. Bowen, FAICP, Project Manager and Principal at REA stated in a news release that the company is excited to be part of the master plan for this area.

"This process will provide recommendations for reactivating an underutilized and auto dominated area by providing a strong, market-based, visionary, and implementable redevelopment strategy that expands on the local business base and creates more housing choices," she stated. "Given the transformational impact on the Town, public engagement will be the cornerstone of this process, and occur at every phase of the project to ensure a transparent process.”

The redevelopment president said the model for the redevelopment plan will closely resemble what the town and firm MKSK put together with the creation of the South Clarksville Redevelopment plan, completed in 2015.

Aprile Rickert is the crime and courts reporter at the News and Tribune. Contact her via email at aprile.rickert@newsandtribune.com or by phone at 812-206-2115. Follow her on Twitter: @Aperoll27.

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