JEFFERSONVILLE — Last week, it was announced that an extensive housing development could change the face of Jeffersonville's riverfront.
Mike Kapfhammer and Wes Johnson of KJ Development — the team behind Buckhead Mountain Grill — have plans in the works to construct a 138-unit apartment complex on the site of one of their shuttered restaurants, Rocky's.
Early renderings have 16 two-story townhouses lining the banks of the Ohio River on Riverside Drive, with a majority of the units being a part of a building set to rise four stories above the flood wall across the street. Reactions to the project on social media were mixed, with some expressing excitement and others discontent over the prospect of the prime waterfront space becoming private housing.
City leaders, however, are saying the development is part of a broader initiative to attract residents to downtown, while also calling it a step in the right direction for the redevelopment of the area in the immediate vicinity of the Second Street Bridge.
According to director of planning Nathan Pruitt, the city conducted a study in 2016 to find out how much housing it needed to keep pace with the job growth in the area, due to factors such as River Ridge Commerce Center.
“At the end of the day, we found that we needed to target 4,700 housing units by 2022," Pruitt said. "Out of that, we said let's take about 15 percent and try to focus on downtown. We wanted to increase the downtown population and make it more vibrant. We’ve never really had a significant downtown population, and we want to make sure the commercial ventures are supported long-term."
That 15 percent rounds out to roughly 700 new units in the downtown area.
"The whole point of bringing people and families downtown is to create a permanent sales base, a permanent demand for supporting this businesses," Pruitt said. "The more people we can get living downtown, the better."
Now, a variety of new projects are pushing the city toward that goal. Between the 214-unit Walcott Jeffersonville being constructed at 222 W. Maple St., the 30 units at Colston Park next to Big Four Station park and the potential riverfront complex, Pruitt said about half of that figure will have been reached.
“We still want to double it," he said.
Aside from the overall increase in residents, Pruitt also noted that the development would add some life to oft-neglected corner of Jeffersonville.
“You have a major interstate that basically severed that section of the city off," Pruitt said. "That is a barrier. All of that is a little bit forgotten. What better way to stitch the neighborhood back together than to get people to live there again and create some energy?"
One of the businesses that could see some benefits from such development is the Widow's Walk Ice Creamery, run by Jill Dodson. Though technically in Clarksville, Jeffersonville plays a vital role in the business.
Dodson said patrons of Buckhead and other restaurants in the area often come to her shop for dessert. Of her 10,000 monthly customers during peak season, though, about 90 percent are tourists. More housing could boost her sales, she said, specifically by bringing more local people in.
"I can go into town to Walmart with my Widow's Walk shirt on and buy 20,000 bananas, and everybody's like, 'Do you own a monkey?'" Dodson said. "No, I own an ice cream shop down on the river. They've never heard of it, and they've lived here for 20 years. Yet I went up to New York City with my shirt on and had three people stop me and say they loved it. I like that there will be more locals."
Some in the city, however, have expressed concern over the project, such as views of the Louisville skyline and Ohio River being obstructed by buildings. Rita Fleming, president of the Jeffersonville Main Street board of directors, said it's important for the voices of long-time residents to be heard as the city develops.
“One thing we can’t do is make life inconvenient for folks who are long-time residents of downtown," Fleming said. "We have to respectful, when it comes to traffic and noise, to not leave them out of a conversation."
Additional housing, in her view, is a good thing, saying the permanent presence of residents is what "makes a city vibrant." As far easing those concerns about views goes, Fleming hinted at future projects potentially making other parts of the riverfront more accessible to the public.
“If you have a manufacturing plant or you have a business that doesn’t need water, perhaps it would be a good tradeoff to let that come to a reasonable agreement between parties to use the waterfront," Fleming said. "There’s only so much of it. We need to allow those industries that don’t depend on that to go elsewhere, but it definitely takes incentives."