Henderson planners want a boat dock, parking garage, event center

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HENDERSON, Ky. (WEHT) – Development in downtown Henderson may come on land and water, but money to pay for it doesn’t grow on trees. One potential solution would break new ground for the city.

“We know we need strong retail options, strong restaurant options,” said Henderson Tourist Commission Executive Director, Abby Dixon.

She is part of a team that has been honing in on the Henderson master plan, which is more like a roadmap for future growth. It helps guide projects, so they don’t die on the vine.

The group has identified a new robust boat dock, a large-scale event space, and a parking garage at the primary targets for new development.

Excitement for growth downtown is evident in the delivery of Mayor Steve Austin at Thursday’s State of the City address.

“The renewed interest can be seen clearly in the evenings when, for Pete’s sake, we have a parking problem downtown!”

This realization has opened the door for the potential of big-time development, especially around Audubon Mill Park. Dixon believes it can be a destination for people up and down the Ohio River, and it could change the landscape of Henderson.

“You’re going down the river, you see this city on the hill, and there’s a restaurant and retail options, word of mouth spreads, ‘Have you been to Henderson?’”

Downtown Henderson Partnership Executive Director, Lindsay Locasto says these concepts could become reality if local policymakers consider it a priority.

It could be paid for with tax increment financing, or TIF. Henderson has never had a TIF, but Evansville and Vanderburgh County have several for different districts.

“They work well for some, they don’t work well for others,” said Planning Commission Director, Brian Bishop. “You have to have the demand and you have to have the driver.”

TIF works when a city bets on its own success. It is not a new tax; it pools money from new development and increased revenue to essentially have projects pay for itself.

“If an event center were to come down, you would see an increase in revenue via the restaurant tax, the occupational tax, or property tax because those property values go up,” Bishop added.

If local leaders want to attract even more people downtown, the city may need somewhere for them to park. That’s why a new parking garage is near the top of Bishop’s to-do list.

“Parking is getting to be an issue downtown, which is a great problem to have.”

Bishop admits, a full-scale garage may be too much too soon, but there are ideas to make existing lots more accessible and available to begin alleviating some parking issues during peak hours.

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This story was originally published on July 25, 2019

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