When Mary Helen Crook was faced with moving her custom framing and art studio business, the historic downtown Lawrenceburg area in Indiana was not on her list of possible new locations.
But a call to Lawrenceburg Mayor Kelly Mollaun soon convinced her that the historic downtown Lawrenceburg business district was exactly where her store, The Framery, needed to move.
“They’ve been wonderful to work with,” Crook says of Mollaun and Bryan Messmore, the city’s redevelopment director and city coordinator. “Had Lawrenceburg not dealt with us the way they had I’m sure we would not have moved downtown.”
Crook says she’s glad she moved the business to historic downtown Lawrenceburg at 84 E. High St. because of all the activity. “The Lawrenceburg Main Street Association is very helpful to the businesses,” she says. “They bring in a lot of people downtown.”
Crook says she is impressed with the direction downtown Lawrenceburg is headed. “They have fixed it up quite a bit.” But it’s not just Crook who has noticed an improvement in the downtown business district.
She says many of her customers from her former location had never been to the downtown business district. “So many of our customers that we have had said, ‘We had no idea Lawrenceburg was so nice and had so much to offer,’” Crook says. “We’re hearing that from a lot of our old customers. They would never come downtown. It’s come a long way.”
That’s music to Messmore’s ears. It’s one of his jobs to revitalize the downtown district and convince business owners to locate in downtown. The Framery is the perfect fit for downtown, he says.
“They have classes and custom framery and it’s just a neat fit to the downtown area,” Messmore says. “We’ve already got some boutique shops in the downtown area and it was a good match.”
The downtown area has all the ingredients for a successful revitalization, Messmore says, including some good anchor businesses such as Hollywood Casino, Lawrenceburg Event Center and Ivy Tech Community College. “That can support the local community and local businesses,” he says.
Messmore says city officials are encouraging people to invest in the historic downtown district. “If we can find ways to help leverage their investment with some support from the community we’re open to those kinds of ideas and we’ve done that on a number of occasions in the past year,” he says.
In addition to the city’s efforts to revitalize the historic business district, officials are also working on a plan to connect its downtown to the riverfront. The challenge with connecting the downtown district to the river is the 30-foot-tall levee that protects the city from floods, says Messmore.
To overcome that challenge, city officials are considering a plan that would build a “grand staircase” to the top of the city’s parking garage and top of the levee, he says. That staircase would connect at the bottom of the levee with a greenspace area that could be constructed on a parking lot where the city now conducts its Thursday night music concerts, Messmore says.
On the river side of the levee, the city is considering a plan that would expand the walking trail in some areas so there’s more of a plaza feel, he says. “People could step off the trail and sit down on a swing like at [Cincinnati’s] Smale Park,” Messmore says.
Another feature that may be similar to Cincinnati’s riverfront could be a large concrete structure similar to the Queen City’s Serpentine Wall, he says. That area now is just rip rap, Messmore says, so there’s no place to congregate.
In addition, city officials would like to expand the existing dock system and attract another floating restaurant, he says. An expanded dock system could also be used to attract boaters who would then visit the downtown businesses, Messmore says. “We’re just trying to find a way to both draw from the river and bring people downtown to the river,” he says.
One of the most exciting proposals for economic development, however, is the possible construction of a port at the site of the decommissioned coal-fired electric generating station at Tanners Creek, Messmore says.
A brownfield redevelopment company would demolish the buildings and clean up the materials on the site, he says. “The current plan is that the Ports of Indiana would then acquire that property from the cleanup company and build a port,” he says.
That would be a huge economic driver, not only for the city of Lawrenceburg, but the surrounding communities as well, Messmore says. The port would draw manufacturing companies to locate adjacent to the port or nearby, he says.
The typical model for a port would be that a load of steel would be transported by barge, taken off the barge to a manufacturing facility where it would turned into a finished product, such as a car door, Messmore says. That finished product could then be transported to its final destination either via barge, rail or truck, he says.
“That’s the value-added opportunities that exist at the port,” Messmore says. “There is certainly a huge opportunity from a jobs perspective.”
That plan may take more time, however, because state and government approval would be needed, he says.
But it’s not just jobs and economic development that Lawrenceburg city officials are pursuing. Recreational opportunities for residents are also part of the plan, says Messmore.
A paved, multiuse trail that runs along the top of the levee from Greendale to Lawrenceburg to Aurora has some gaps that city officials would like to complete, he says. “Right now you have to exit the trail and work your way through town and then back up on the trail,” Messmore says.
“So we’re trying to connect that trail,” he says. “That’s been something we’re trying to work out with the Army Corps of Engineers.”
With all the planning and hard work city officials have put in so far in, the future of Lawrenceburg looks bright. And that’s music to Crook’s ears.
“I like the way Lawrenceburg is headed,” she says.