CLARKSVILLE — It's common consensus in the region that some of the best views of the Louisville skyline are from Clarksville.

The Falls of the Ohio and Ashland Park open to unparallelled panoramas of the Ohio River glinting in the sun during the day and reflecting the long beams of light from Louisville's skyscrapers at night.

But Clarksville's waterfront still has a long way to go.

Just blocks away from these popular attractions are acres of abandoned industrial sites, rusted fuel storage silos.

The South Clarksville Redevelopment Plan seeks to change that.

The project will improve the roads and shoreline access, positioning private investors to flock to the underdeveloped waterfront with blueprints and stuffed wallets to finally give Clarksville its very own downtown center.

In 23 years, South Clarksville could boast a waterfront park, downtown shops and restaurants, apartments and even a museum or aquarium. Imagine Woerner Avenue as the town's Main Street, and the Colgate clock, larger than London's Big Ben, as the signature landmark.

"I think for a lot of years, not only Clarksville but Louisville as well has just completely ignored the riverfront," Cory Hoehn, owner of Water Tower Square, said. "It's the greatest asset of our community."

THE PLAN

Town officials are cracking into the 23-year, $93 million plan now.

Engineers with MKSK are developing three alternative design plans for four major infrastructure projects — the expansion of Ashland Park, improvements to Woerner Avenue and Riverside Drive and floodwall improvements.

The designs are the first step in determining which construction projects should happen first.

"Right now, we are focusing on the waterfront," Clarksville Redevelopment Director Dylan Fisher said. "The waterfront is a big thing for us because we think it's not only a leverage point for development activity ... but preserving our waterfront and improving our waterfront was a big thing for the public."

A waterfront park would have a raised walking platform, fountain and three catwalks out to old fuel storage tanks that could be converted into piers. Along Riverside Drive, Fisher envisions restaurants and a hotel. More gates could be installed in the floodwall to make way for additional roads that will make access to the shore easier.

Fisher argues its the missing piece of Southern Indiana.

"With the completion of the [Ohio River Greenway trail], resident from New Albany and Jeff and Clarksville, they can go all the way through two counties and potentially hit three major areas," he said.

Once more people begin visiting the waterfront, private developers will begin to notice the demand for retail and residential properties, Fisher said.

"We know that there's already the demand and interest from the private real estate side and development side to be able to facilitate a majority of this development," he said. "They just need the infrastructure there so they can actually do the projects."

The South Clarksville redevelopment plan is more than just the riverfront, though. It encompasses a 320-acre area, most of which is north of the floodwall.

A market analysis shows South Clarksville has a 10-12 year demand pool of 420-630 housing units, up to 30,000 square feet of waterfront restaurants, up to 300,000 square feet of town center retail, between 450,000 and 580,000 square feet of office space, 100-150 hotel room and 300,000 square feet worth of tourism attractions.

It could result in $210 million in private investment.

"That's going to really diversify Clarksville specifically," Jim Epperson, executive director of the Clark-Floyd Counties Convention and Tourism said. "And it will give us one more arrow in the quiver."

More foot traffic will only help the tourist attractions already in the South Clarksville area.

"I think any time we reinvest in a part of our river town, it's a great investment," Bekki Jo Schneider, owner and producer of Derby Dinner Playhouse, said. "I think it is a huge undertaking to be able to create a downtown where's there not [already] a governmental unit, where there's not shopping."

HURDLES

Big goals often come with some hurdles. Largely, cleanup of old industrial sites must occur before the town center can grow.

Colgate-Palmolive, originally the state's first penitentiary, began operations in 1924 producing soap and toothpaste products. It closed its Clarksville operations in 2007, shipping its jobs to Mexico and Tennessee.

Two years later, Marathon closed its fuel storage facility right next door.

The two make up more than 60 acres of post-industrial land.

A private developer now owns the Colgate site, and a few offices have located within the space.

Hoehn and his family have spent the last 40 years redeveloping Water Tower Square, a former trucking facility when they took it over. Its trajectory bodes well for the Colgate site, especially if more people frequent the area.

"People do flock to water, naturally," Epperson said . " ... All you have to do is figure out how to take advantage of it."

Elizabeth is the Southern Indiana government reporter for the News and Tribune. She is a Louisville, Ky. native and graduate of Western Kentucky University. Follow her on Twitter at @EMBeilman.

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