Clarksville isn’t a dying city by any means.
The small town, sandwiched between Jeffersonville and New Albany in Southern Indiana, has a few vibrant strips of restaurants and retail including East Lewis and Clark and Veterans parkways. Clarksville’s side of Veterans Parkway developed, filling with shopping centers and big name chains, well before the Jeffersonville side, which is still underdevelopment.
Still, Clarksville hasn’t become a destination similar to Jeffersonville and New Albany because it lacks a walkable mixed-use development — and more importantly, a downtown.
“They’ve had the existing buildings to be able to rehabilitate. Clarksville lacks a downtown, a historic downtown,” said Dylan Fisher, the city’s redevelopment director, comparing Clarksville to the other two cities. “We are in a sense trying to provide a town center for us to produce the same amenities for our residents.”
Both Jeffersonville and New Albany have distinct downtowns that have experienced increased development during the last couple years, attracting Indiana and Louisville residents. Both downtowns promote walking and feature multiple breweries and about a dozen local restaurants.
Jeffersonville also has the walking bridge and the RiverStage, an outdoor entertainment venue. New Albany has an amphitheater — though it’s underutilized.
Clarksville is the home of the Falls of the Ohio State Park, but there is very little development that takes advantage of the town’s scenic views of the Ohio River and Louisville. With help, the city recently created a 15-year blueprint for the creation of a mixed-use development and town center.
Last week, the Clarksville Planning Commission unanimously agreed to send the plan on to the Town Council for final approvals. As of Tuesday, the South Clarksville Redevelopment Plan was not on the agenda for the Town Council’s Feb. 15 meeting.
The South Clarksville Redevelopment Plan is the amalgamation of the types of development city leaders and residents envision for 320 acres of property near the riverfront, a.k.a. South Clarksville. It points to Newport on the Levee near Cincinnati and former steel mill development Southside Works in Pittsburgh as examples to follow.
The plan calls for the construction of nearly 800 apartments, a 150-room full-service hotel, 17.3-acres of waterfront park, about 3,400 parking spaces, and 280,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space. Possible tenants listed include Dave and Buster’s, Hofbräuhaus, Bar Louie, McCormick & Schmick’s, and Peet’s Coffee & Tea.
A movie theater, science center, museum and casino also are listed as possible desired South Clarksville tenants.
Columbus, Ohio-based landscape architecture and urban design firm MKSK created the plan. The same company is working with Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government to expand Waterfront Park into the West End.
The plan establishes eight goals:
- capitalize on the views of Louisville and the river;
- preserve and celebrate Clarksville’s historic assets and heritage;
- improve access to the Ohio River Greenway and area parks;
- remediate and redevelop abandoned industrial brownfield sites;
- create a balance of jobs and homes;
- integrate shopping, dining and entertainment/cultural venues;
- improve the physical infrastructure;
- identify catalytic opportunities and a strategy for phased implementation of the plan.
The redevelopment of South Clarksville revolves mostly around three properties — the Colgate-Palmolive building, the Marathon Petroleum Oil Terminal and Water Tower Square.
The more than 40-acre Colgate-Palmolive property has sat vacant since the consumer products company left Clarksville in 2007. Two years after that, Marathon left another 20 acres in Clarksville empty.
The town attempted to buy Marathon’s land, but the company has retained ownership and not given much indication about how and when it could be redeveloped. The Colgate-Palmolive property has changed hands a couple times but has not been repurposed.
As for the final property, the 28-acre Water Tower Square has slowly developed into a mixed-use space with Kye’s and Kye’s II event venues, offices, and Orange Clover Kitchen & More restaurant. However, it still has about 18,500 square feet of available space left, according to Water Tower Square’s website.
As part of the planning process, preliminary environmental studies were done on properties in South Clarksville, but Fisher said the city will need to get permission from private commercial property owners to test the soil at former industrial sites and identify necessary mitigation efforts prior to redevelopment.
The majority of the redevelopment plan relies on private investment but the creation of a 17.3-acre waterfront park and the completion of the Ohio River Greenway that connects Jeffersonville to New Albany will require public dollars. The plan suggests looking for federal and state grants as well as the implementation of a supplemental tax.
If all the pieces line up, the plan represents a potential for $210 million in private investment, almost 650 new jobs, and more than $46 million in new tax revenues. Of course, developers need to come forward first.
An enticing factor is the existence of a tax increment financing (TIF) district that covers South Clarksville and doesn’t expire until 2038. TIF districts provide a tax break to developers over a set period of time.
Fisher said the simple creation of a redevelopment plan has attracted outside attention.
“I just don’t think people were aware of the opportunity. I think this process has brought light to the hidden treasure that is South Clarksville,” he said. “Doing this shows that the town is committed and interested in making the necessary improvements as well.”
Resident Mary Ann Crabtree, president of the homeowners’ association for Lakeshore Condominiums in South Clarksville, raised concerns about the need for infrastructure improvements to accommodate current and future development at a recent Clarksville Planning Commission meeting.
During a heavy rainstorm back in June, she recounted wastewater backed up into condos at Lakeshore. The incident resulted in a lawsuit against the city of Clarksville.
“Believe me, no one wants to live in fear (that) with every rain cloud there will be backwash of raw sewage come either inside their homes or onto their property,” said Crabtree, who also was a member of the steering committee for the redevelopment plan.
In her comments, Crabtree also stated that “the plan seems to me to have lofty goals” that fit “perfect world scenarios.”
Planning Commission member Tim Hauber noted that infrastructure will be a top priority whenever a developer comes forward with plans for South Clarksville.
“When something of this size is done, the infrastructure is one of the first things considered,” he said.
The South Clarksville Redevelopment Plan calls for the city to use tax revenue from retail development along East Lewis and Clark and Veterans parkways to help cover the cost of infrastructure improvements.
Hauber also indicated the plan should reflect the best-case scenario for redevelopment.
“This is a pie-in-the-sky plan,” he said. “We’ve got a tremendous asset in our riverfront, and we want to make it even better.”
To review the full South Clarksville Redevelopment Plan, click here.