Amphitheater

RIVERFRONT DEVELOPMENT PLANS COMING ALIVE

While the river was an enemy to Frankfort for generations, finally the right time for riverfront development came in 2005.  At the direction of the Frankfort/Franklin County Tourist Commission, The Riverfront Development Committee (RDC) was formed to discover how Frankfort could better utilize the asset of the Kentucky River as it runs beautifully through downtown Frankfort.  The leadership and vision of these two entities has proven to be a very positive presence in the future of Frankfort. 

The Riverfront Development Committee (RDC), appointed by the Tourist Commission consists of Rodney Simpson (Retired Frankfort Plant Board) and I (representing the Tourist Commission) and we serve yet today as co-chair of this committee; other members include: Todd Cassidy (Tourism, Arts, and Heritage Cabinet), Judge Executive Ted Collins (Franklin County Fiscal Court), Ed Councill (River Business – Canoe KY), Mayor Gippy Graham (City of Frankfort), Mr. Jerry Graves (Finance Cabinet - Executive Director of the Kentucky River Authority), Dr. Kimberly Holmes (KSU – Land Grant Program), Leslie Isaacs (River business - Buffalo Trace), Magistrate Phillip Kring (Fiscal Court, Downtown –Mitchell’s Clothing), Glen Mitchell (Retired Finance Cabinet) and Commissioner Sellus Wilder (City of Frankfort).  Very early in the planning, I recall a statement made by Howard Dawson, who was a Magistrate at the time, “The Kentucky River is more important to Frankfort than I-64.”  All of us sitting in the conference room of the Gooch House that day realized what an incredible statement that was. 

With the insight of the Tourist Commission, the leadership of the RDC, the support of State and local governments, input from the citizens of the community who attended multiple public meetings, and the expertise of a consulting firm, the Plan was developed over a period of more than a year.  Finally, the Riverfront Development Plan was unveiled nearly three years ago and the RDC has steadily continued to move forward with implementation.  The overarching theme of the development suggests more opportunities to allow people to find ways to be near the river and to actually get out on the river as well.  We want people to see the river from the land and the land from the river.  We no longer want to turn our back on the river.  It is not an enemy anymore; it is our greatest asset and we need to seize this moment in time.  However, none of this could have happened without the role of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.  Governor and Mrs. Steve Beshear and his administration, including Secretary of Tourism, Arts, and Heritage Cabinet, Marcheta Sparrow, and many members of the Finance Cabinet stepped forward to make the dream a reality.  They not only provided funding for the actual development plan, but have continued to support the project all along the way.

Some of the specific plans showcase a Kentucky State University (KSU) Science boat/lab to be docked at the Frankfort Boat Club and the on land component will be housed at the Old Federal Building; this project is moving forward.  It provides for more boat docks at Capital View Park; the plans have now been fleshed out and the RDC is moving forward with City Parks and Recreation to make this a reality.  Another part of the plan calls for River History Tours on the water and in its second season, the Nancy Wilkinson River Pontoon, is at capacity for each tour on the water.  In the master plan, there is a proposed mixed use development which will house ground level parking, a restaurant, shops and offices on the second level, and condos on the third level; at this time, the economy has delayed this activity.  Another segment of the Plan calls for a remake of the Old Lawrenceburg Road into a parkway, fitting for the entrance to the State Capitol Building and Governor’s Mansion. 

The entire Plan is exciting and yet, timing is everything and it is clear – this is Frankfort’s time for riverfront development.  Soon after the Plan was presented to the community, Kathy Carter, who served on the RDC in the beginning, was having lunch at the Country Club one day.  She ran into Bruce Brooks and he asked, “What are some of the ideas in the Riverfront Plan that excite you?”  One of the projects Ms. Carter mentioned was an amphitheatre on the river.  Mr. Brooks promptly spoke up, “Kathy, I think there is a fund at Farmer’s Bank for an amphitheatre.”  Immediately after that encounter, Ms. Carter called Mayor Graham and we moved quickly to find out about the possible funding source.  Within days, Mayor Graham and I met with Bill Johnson, John Avent, and Bill Sykes.  As we left the twenty minute meeting with these three gentlemen that day I said to the mayor, “I don’t know about you, Gippy, but that’s the quickest I ever raised $100,000 in my life!”  Just as Mr. Brooks had shared, there was a fund left by Mr. Ward Oates for exactly what the Plan proposed to build on the river.  It was Mr. Oates’ dream for this project and it was on the river that he wanted it built! 

After the funding was discovered, it was on to more detailed planning.  The Riverfront Development Committee (RDC) worked with City Parks, Recreation, and Historic Properties to make it happen.  Then we really went to work with the contracted planners; the City Parks and Recreation staff, including Jim Parrish, Jim McCarty, Nicky Hughes, and Russ Hatter; and as always the RDC members.  From that day at the Country Club until now, we have the Ward Oates Amphitheatre on the Kentucky River!  Our plans on the river become more and more a reality every day.  Judge Executive Ted Collins said, “We Kentuckians have taken something quite magnificent for granted for over 150 years, but that is not true today.  Our greatest asset is ready to be discovered.”  In closing, here is a statement from Mayor Gippy Graham, “This development of the riverfront has the support of our City, County, Kentucky State University, and the Commonwealth of Kentucky and we are poised to reconnect Kentuckians and visitors alike to our bounty along the Kentucky River.”