The panel for the discussion included Samuel Coleman, Jr. (director of Small Business Development for Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College), Rob Lincks (executive director of the Bell County Chamber of Commerce), and Casey Thomas (President of Discover Downtown Middlesboro).
These individuals were chosen to be on the panel because of their connections and responsibilities to downtown.
Coleman’s job is to help new businesses start in the area. He helps find prospective new business owners the best possible financial arrangement.
Lincks’ job is to help perpetuate the local economy in a positive direction. Thomas helps to market the downtown area through her position. She host several events to help bring more people downtown.
One issue that was addressed at the roundtable was the problem of empty store fronts in downtown Middlesboro. Thomas reported that there were about six or seven empty store fronts on Cumberland Avenue.
The discussion of empty store fronts brought up the issue of the cost of rent.
“It would take a doctor or a lawyer to put businesses in some of those buildings that you see,” said Thomas.
There has been communication with some of the property owners, but there can be no power executed over the property owners to make them lower the rent prices.
It was also stated that some of the property owners live in other states, which makes it harder to communicate with them.
“It’s just hard to make people who own those buildings do something,” stated Lincks in reference to the property owners filling the vacant buildings.
Richard Tamer, who ran and owed a building in downtown Middlesboro for years says his building has been vacant for about a year now. He claims that one of the reasons that downtown storefronts are vacant is because business owners are enticed by foot traffic at the mall.
“People don’t want to pay the rent property downtown, yet they go to the mall or a shopping center and they will pay three times what I would ask for it,” said Tamer. “I can rent cheaper than the people out there, but then people tell me that they want to be up there [mall and shopping centers] and not down here [downtown].”
Another issue that was presented was the traffic speed and flow of the downtown area. It was said that people have a tendency of speeding, regardless of the speed limit in the area.
This makes it hard for people to walk across the crosswalks out of fear of getting hit by a vehicle crossing Cumberland Avenue. Lincks discussed the possibility of raised crosswalks in the downtown area.
“With the raised crosswalks, I promise you, they will slow it down,” said Lincks.
There was also discussion about what has already been done to help attract people downtown. Several murals were recently erected on the sides of several buildings, and a mural attached to the overpass greets those traveling downtown. The mural project was funded by a grant, and that grant money can only be used for certain projects, which Thomas explained.
“That money is directed to certain things, and we have to follow those rules,” said Thomas. There are also fountains and flowers located downtown that have been purchased with grant money.
There is a grant that the city has been awarded that may allow for the planting of flowers that stay colorful all year round in the downtown area.
“We get a lot of tourist about this time of year when our mountains start turning colors, so why not bring some of that color downtown,” said Thomas.
There have also been events that were hosted downtown, such as the block party, that have been successful in drawing people downtown.
There are plans to have more events like this in the future, such as the “Nightmare on 20th Street” event and the Christmas parade that will be coming up.
Anthony Cloud is a staff writer for the Middlesboro Daily News. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.