I’ve heard both positive and negative things said about the new bridge to be constructed across the North Fork of the Kentucky River near Home Lumber. On one side, there is a bridge already there and there’s no need to spend tax dollars on another bridge. On the other side, downtown Hazard is in need of some sort of revitalization and this project will bring about a new and better look for both the city’s residents and those looking to visit an eastern Kentucky site.
I first saw the plans for the new bridge in 2004 while speaking to Mayor Bill Gorman in his office in City Hall. I studied the aerial photograph fairly intently and pretty much instantly became enamored with the project. In my mind, it’s a much needed step up for the city’s downtown area.
When you look at photos of Main Street taken from the 1950s, its a totally different site than today. Through urban sprawl and continued expansion of business outside of the downtown area, Hazard’s Main Street gradually transformed to a much more barren expanse of city real estate than in previous years past. That’s not to say that people are no longer coming to Main Street, but not in the volume in years past.
But there is a question of what this new bridge will bring to Hazard? Will it bring more people to Main Street? In the short term, I would have to say no. In the long run, I estimate it will.
There’s a few reasons why I think something as simple as a new bridge will bring about a resurgence in Hazard. When outside business comes into an area, the first thing they are going to notice is how the area is kept up by its residents. Denny Ray Noble has made this statement before, and it just happens to be one I agree with. He was speaking about roadside litter and dumps, but it still rings true also for the buildings and shape our towns and neighborhoods are in.
If that outside business is interested in setting up shop in a certain area, the last thing they want to see is vacant buildings in our downtown area. This bridge will do away with three of those buildings, two of which have already been demolished in preparation for new construction. Prior to this happening, everyone I talked with about the downtown area spoke of what sort of shape the area is now in. Well, this bridge project will do much to alleviate that.
Additionally, if that outside business sees new construction rather than vacant buildings, a much more progressive outlook is given to the city. It shows them that the city is looking ahead rather than staying stagnant and satisfied with the status quo. Indeed, this is also true for outsiders looking for a tourist destination as well.
No one wants to visit a run down, tired looking town. They want to see a vibrant town full of people with business where they can sped their money they have been saving all year for a vacation. Pikeville has that in their downtown with the new Expo center and the adjoining park area around it. Hazard can begin to that have that same sort of vibrancy with this new bridge project.
People may complain that the bridge doesn't go anywhere, that it is merely replacing a bridge that there is nothing wrong with. I argue that the bridge does a little more than that. New landscaping will help beautify the immediate area, more parking will allow new downtown businesses, like RJ's, to become more accessible to the consumer. And the overall look should bring about a whole new feel to downtown. People have been asking for our leaders to do something with downtown for years. Well, they are doing that now, and hopefully it will be the first of many more projects to bring back a downtown that deserves a little sprucing up.