Leaders dicuss local tourism, downtown revitalization

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Ashland hosts Tri-State SOAR summit

ASHLAND, Ky. — On Monday and Tuesday, tourism and economic development leaders from across Kentucky and portions of West Virginia and Ohio converged in Ashland, Kentucky for the SOAR Mini Summit, featuring speakers covering grant submissions, tourism economies, entrepreneurship, hospitality and more.

The summit featured panels comprised of speakers from neighboring Appalachian communities who utilized the history and assets their small towns had to offer to create a destination for travelers.

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“Tourism and downtown go hand in hand. Downtown is the heartbeat of our city. If we can’t keep our heartbeat going, the rest of the city suffers,” said panelist Maggy Monhollen, executive director of Corbin, Kentucky’s Tourism and Convention Commission.

Les Stapleton, mayor of Prestonsburg, Kentucky, talked about how “the uniqueness of your town will bring people in,” and how towns in different regions and of different sizes are “all facing the same problem – revitalizing downtowns.”

Bailey Richards, coordinator for the City of Hazard’s downtown, spoke of how they dealt with derelict properties taking up valuable space in their downtown.

“If a building is declared blighted or abandoned, it is put on a list, the owner is notified.”

She explained that if the code violations weren’t fixed within a year, the building owner would be subject to property taxes that increase by five times the amount.

“Blighted and abandoned property ordinances, you got to have that code violation,” Stapleton said.

Another feature of the summit was grant guidance from officials with the Abandoned Mine Lands Economic Revitalization (AMLER) Program, which is federally funded through fees paid by coal operators. Their organization is tasked with distributing revenue to communities impacted by the downturn of coal production, which primarily goes to grant applicants in the categories of tourism, infrastructure, industrial, job training, and more recently, even community wellness and agri-tech.

Speakers from AMLER shared stories of creative and diverse grant applications that allowed recipients to take these abandoned land mines and solve the problems there while creating tourism opportunities. For example, Prestonsburg, Kentucky used funding to create a Rails to Trails project, featuring an 8.2-mile trail complete with a unique bridge that is topped with a school bus.

Communities can view lands that are eligible for this fund by visiting a map provided by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement at https://amlis.osmre.gov/Map.aspx.

There are currently 16 unfunded problems in Lawrence County, with the total unfunded cost being $2,911,211 according to the abandoned mine land inventory system.

To learn more about SOAR, visit https://www.soar-ky.org/.