New economic development plan for downtown Middlesboro

By Angela Sparkman | 

MIDDLESBORO, Ky. (WYMT) - Some Middlesboro business leaders and others in the city want to create one thousand new jobs in the town in the next five years. That is just one of the goals listed in Discover Downtown Middlesboro's five year plan that was released this week.

Lori Lawson has lived in Middlesboro her whole life and works at Book Haven in town. She sees the city's economic struggles firsthand.

"The need for jobs in this area is so great and you can see it everyday when people ask, 'are you hiring?'" she said.

A new five year plan includes creating one thousand new jobs in Middlesboro by 2018.

"The economy needs a boost here in this area. Anything that can boost our economy will help our local businesses," Lawson said.

An ARC grant funded the project that led to the plan. Discover Downtown Middlesboro members and LMU business students spent months crafting it.

The jobs plan includes filling many of the vacant buildings in downtown and renovating the old Elks Home for new use.

"We want to continue to do the work we're doing to restore the wonderful infrastructure, the old infrastructure, we have here in Middlesboro," said Keith Nagle, President of Discover Downtown Middlesboro.

The report says, "Options for dining and retail are limited in downtown Middlesborough at present. The vacancy rate in this area is hovering around 15%. There is a natural connection between entrepreneurs looking for space to start their business and vacant buildings downtown. Physical improvements to the exterior and interior of downtown buildings need to be made in order to attract new businesses. Efforts to improve the streets and sidewalks and to create a clean, attractive, and walkable environment downtown will help retain quality existing businesses while attracting new businesses appropriate for the downtown."

They believe filling up the empty buildings with new retail and restaurants will lead to more people downtown and more money spent.

Lawson said that would also help Book Haven.

"People are going to be making more money, They're going to have more expendable income, and that's going to translate to our local businesses thriving," she said.

Organizers believe they can accomplish these goals by 2018.

"I think all of these are do-able in five years," Nagle said.

Another part of the plan includes building a trail system to connect downtown Middlesboro to the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said the grant application for this has been approved.

Nagle already has a vision for what Middlesboro might look like in 2018.

"I would love to see our Elks Home restored, getting our businesses improved with more tenants, and the trail system," he said.

Discover Downtown Middlesboro members hope to start implementing the plan in 2014.

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