CLARKSVILLE — The Town of Clarksville is set to start the new decade with some new faces on the town council and major headway on a series of redevelopment projects.
In 2016, Clarksville made history by voting in a 5-2 Republican-led council for the first time, but it was a group that Democratic councilman John Gilkey said worked well together, transcending party lines to do what was in the best interest of residents. In January, the newly-elected, Democratic-led council will be seated, but Gilkey said he hopes the same nonpartisan work can be done.
"We have been able to take off our political helmets and hang them at the door and sit down and work together for the benefit of the town," Gilkey said. "And I have every expectation that the incoming council will be able to do the same thing."
Newly elected are Democrats Ryan Ramsey, Mike Mustain and Karen Henderson. Democratic incumbent Gilkey and Republican incumbents Tim Hauber, AD Stonecipher and Jennifer Voignier will remain on the council.
"I think it's going to be a pretty smooth transition," Town Manager Kevin Baity said. "Of course the three new ones that are coming in have not served in an elected capacity before so there's always a learning curve."
At a reorganizational meeting planned for Jan. 7, the council will select who the new president, vice president and secretary will be, along with a slew of appointments to boards. This includes the redevelopment commission, which has several seats for council members.
But even if the reorganization brings in brand new faces to the five-seat redevelopment commission, Baity doesn't see the members deviating from projects the current commission has already committed to.
"We tried to get buy-in early from the newly elected council members and involve them in the process because once you start a project and get a couple million dollars into it, you really don't want to halt and go do something else," Baity said.
"But in talking with these three, they've been watching what was going on and they just want to be a part of [the progress] and continue the process...I don't think we're going to see a lot of changes [to redevelopment projects.]"
The coming year is expected to bring substantial progress or completion to several major projects already in motion. In south Clarksville, the Woerner Avenue reconstruction is slated to be finished by fall 2020, which will set the stage for development of a walkable, mixed-use town center which Clarksville has long lacked.
Foundation work has recently begun by a private developer on an adjacent $20 million multi-story building which will house residential units in the upper floors and retail and office space in the ground floor. At the head of the street, the former Colgate building is being redeveloped to house an Aloft Hotel, redevelopment for which is slated to start in the second quarter of the year.
Much attention is also being paid to Clarksville's multiple retail districts, revitalization of the older areas that fell into decay when retail moved to new areas of town.
The oldest of these is Eastern Boulevard, the town's first commercial district. That lost steam by the later development of Lewis and Clark Parkway, which in turn lost some luster when development boomed on Veterans Parkway.
Gilkey said redevelopment efforts need to not only reinvigorate the older spots, but town representatives should be proactive in keeping it from happening in the future.
"Clarksville has historically moved in and created new retail districts...creating a system in which you have a loss to the last major retailer," he said. "It's great to bring in new retail development, but it's equally important to support what you have in place and make sure they remain viable in the broader scope of economic development within the town."
On Eastern Boulevard, Gateway Commons — a mix residential/retail area in front of Strike and Spare — is under construction and is expected to be ready for residential occupancy within the year, although the retailers will likely come after that. Demolition is underway at the former America's Best Inns and Suites; the town purchased the hotel and its land this year for $4.8 million to redevelop into a southeastern gateway into town.
The plan is to lease the property to a developer who wants to build a strong project that will be attractive and beneficial to the town, and Clarksville leaders had initially sought to develop the site as an indoor youth sports complex and sent out requests for proposals in October.
But after no contractors responded to the call, officials are revising the plan. At the start of the year, a new request will be sent out, not limited by only the prospect of a sports complex there but opening it up to other things such as a hotel, office space or restaurants.
Town planners are similarly reinvesting in the Lewis and Clark Parkway area, which has fallen into disrepair in parts as bigger box stores relocated or fell by the wayside as retail moves more to online sales.
After a nationwide search, Clarksville selected Rundell Ernstberger Associates to conduct a year-long study to look at how to move forward with the area. Public input sessions are expected to start in January, including a week-long event in which residents can visit engineers at a location on Lewis and Clark Parkway and learn more about the project and offer feedback.
"This will be a week of [talking about] what people think the corridor will look like — whether that's repurposing existing buildings or taking those down and putting new ones in their place," Baity said.
The town is also working on plans for a stormwater retention basin at the River Falls Mall property, which Clarksville is finalizing the purchase of.
"I would say we have done our own internal due diligence and determined where we need to make investments both in our utilities and our streets and now that those projects are underway, developers are seeing that as a potential hotspot for development," he said. "A lot of developers are waiting to see us make the municipal investment and then they'll make the private investment."