Monday, July 24, 2000

Walton's a boom town

Fulfilling mayor's vision, it's 'the place to be'

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        WALTON — “The Place to Be.”

A town once home to a struggling business district, Walton's outlook appears to be changing.
(Enquirer photo)
| ZOOM |
        It's a slogan on T-shirts and mugs in this Kentucky town of only 2,500 people, but it seems to be the growing sentiment among townspeople and new business owners who have recently located there.

        Five years ago Main Street business was dwindling and the city's sewer system was in shambles.

        “What was there was the best they thought they were going to see,” said Mayor Phil Trzop of residents' attitudes. “Nothing was changing. How do you stop a town from disappearing?”

        All that seems to be changing. With a little creativity and planning, the city is slowly gaining an industrial base, has the beginnings of a revitalized Main Street and may soon have a new subdivision of 400 homes.

        While there is some criticism over the community's growth, some say Walton has set an example of how vision and careful planning can boost a city's vitality without losing its small-town character, a comfort that folks who've lived there all their lives want to maintain.

        Mr. Trzop, who has been instrumental in making these changes, has completed the dozen or so objectives he had when elected in 1994. After taking office he pulled out a five-year plan he wrote for the city even before he was mayor, a plan that was written for the certified city program developed by the League of Cities. In it he wrote that if all the objectives were accom plished the city would be “the place to be.”

        “If you keep building slowly it's going to get people's attention,” Mr. Trzop said. “If you do a little bit of planning and pique the intrigue maybe people will notice and come to the next meeting and ask, "Where are you going next?'”

        Mr. Trzop said he knew the city had to sell itself if it was to survive. But before that could happen Walton's sewer problems had to be fixed.

        “Walton was a little spot on the map,” he said. “The bigger the map the smaller the spot. You have to offer something to people. They don't want to hear you have water problems or sewer problems.”

        The city also needed the type of growth that wouldn't take up much sewer capacity. Until March the city had been sanctioned by the state because of sewer bypasses and was not permitted to

        extend any sewer lines. With each new project the mayor had to make a special request for an exemption.

        “The first order of business in the five-year plan was to try to entice industrial development,” he said. “Being under the agreed order, what would impact you the least?”

        More than a half-dozen industries have located in Walton since 1995. A second industrial park was developed two years ago and city officials are talking to another company about developing a third.

        Main Street growth started with Snappy Pizza in 1996.

        “It landed on Main Street when Main Street was dying,” Mr. Trzop said. “I think it was then that we set up the aggressive nature I wanted to pursue.”

        Now, the drug store, which is Main Street's anchor, is stable and other businesses are enjoying growth as well.

        To help bring these businesses in, the city made a risky decision. It dropped all licensing and other fees and left only property and intangible insurance premium taxes to run the city on.

        “It was more of a craps shoot,” Mr. Trzop said. “If you're wrong, you're a heel. If you're right, and it brings in business, who cares?”

        “It gives us one extra incentive when businesses are looking at us why to come here,” Mr. Trzop said. “They don't need all these other little taxes from the city.”

        The plan worked.

        “We're just leasing it right now but we're going to see how it grows in the second year,” said Janet Readnour, who opened Readnour's Main Street Cafe a year ago this month.

        “It's close to home and it's convenient. I think everybody's trying to support everybody.”

        Marsha Calhoun, who owns Walton Florist and Gifts, said the new companies and subdivisions have helped her business.

        “If you take a look at all the communities around here, Walton has been the last one to grow,” she said. “Finally we've gotten some of it.”

        To help teens gain part-time job opportunities the city also brought in a Dairy Queen that opened this year. A Waffle House is expected to open in August.

        Along with recruiting businesses, Walton has spent $1.5 million fixing the old sewage treatment plant and building another.

        “We've done enough so we'll never overflow again unless somebody does something dumb,” the mayor said.

        The city is also sprucing up Main Street. Officials have started to put cobblestone sidewalks in with community development block grant money. Eventually, city officials hope to have the ornamental walkways down both sides of Main Street from the railroad tracks to Depot Street.

        The city is working to put in more landscaping such as street trees and flower boxes.

        “It's more than we did have but I'd still like to see more family-style, locally-owned restaurants,” said longtime council member Sharon McDonald.

        While she has reservations about the 400-home subdivision, Ms. McDonald said she's pleased with the city's overall direction.

        “It still has the small-town atmosphere,” she said. “The indus try is not right downtown.”

        Now, the mayor is working to develop another five-year plan.

        “What I want to do is center ourselves for the future,” he said.

        That will likely include the construction of a third sewer plant. Preliminary engineering shows there is room on the same site with the first two.

        “I want to protect the residents of Walton from rate increases for the next 20 years,” he said.

        Mr. Trzop said other ideas include planting more trees at the city park and looking into the construction of an outdoor amphitheater there. He also wants to address the possibility of connecting Walton-Nicholson Road to U.S. 25 south of Walton. This could open up more land for development and provide residents with safer access to U.S. 25.

        He will likely present a full plan to council in January.

        “We've fixed yesteryear's problems,” he said. “Now it's time to look to the future.”


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- Walton's a boom town
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