CLARKSVILLE, IN (July 22, 2022) – If you take a drive down Lewis and Clark Parkway in central Clarksville, you may notice a common theme. Several buildings and former shopping centers sit empty, slowly decaying from lack of maintenance.
This is not unique to Clarksville. Clarksville officials say one of the reasons is the move to online shopping which has affected communities all over the country. The other is the age and condition of many of the properties on Lewis and Clark Boulevard, which has prompted retailers to move to newer facilities.
“What many people don’t understand is that the majority of retail businesses don’t own their buildings,” said Clarksville Redevelopment Director Nic Langford. “Normally a developer will build and attract a retailer to sign a long-term lease with multiple lease extensions to use the space.”
Langford says once those leases come to an end, Class-A retailers will typically search for a newer building in the same market area with new tax incentives, and leave behind an empty box for a Class-B retailer or a vacancy. That was the case for many of the now empty retail locations along Lewis and Clark Parkway.
In anticipation of this problem, the Town of Clarksville has been working for years on a plan to reuse and redevelop central Clarksville. Working with landscape architecture firm Rundell Ernstberger Associates, the Town of Clarksville created the award-winning 3C Master Plan. The 30-year plan gives the Town a guide for revitalizing central Clarksville with new developments, trails, parks, public spaces, and increased walkability.
“The 3C Master Plan is the culmination of years of research and community surveys to figure out the best way to help central Clarksville thrive in the new economy,” said Langford. “Our goal is to make central Clarksville a better place for our residents to live, work, and play.”
One of the most recent efforts in central Clarksville is to redevelop the shopping center which served as the former home to Hobby Lobby. The Clarksville Redevelopment Commission purchased the building with the intent of redeveloping the space in accordance with the 3C Master Plan.
After looking at ways to improve the dilapidated building, Town officials learned that it would require hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs to meet today’s codes and standards. It was then determined that it would be best to demolish the building and start from scratch. That meant finding a new home for the only remaining tenant, Harbor Freight.
For over two years Clarksville Redevelopment officials have been working to help Harbor Freight find a suitable new home in Clarksville. Despite pointing and incentivizing the business to move to several adequate locations within Clarksville, Harbor Freight hasn’t made the move.
“The challenge is that Harbor Freight had several lease extensions on their existing below-market rate deal before the Redevelopment Commission purchased the property,” said Clarksville Town Councilman and RDC President A.D. Stonecipher. “Although we have found them several great options for their relocation, they don’t want to give up that deal. Meanwhile, maintaining the property is costing local taxpayers $116,000 each year in insurance, utility, and maintenance fees without producing any tax revenue. Our acquisition has turned into a subsidy.”
The Town Council voted on Tuesday to use eminent domain to purchase Harbor Freight’s leasehold rights and remove them from the location. Town Council members say they always prefer not to use eminent domain; but, with negotiations stalled, an eminent domain resolution will likely bring all parties back to the negotiating table.
“The 3C Master Plan is a brilliant document with public and economic input for improving central Clarksville, and we want to start using it right away,” said Stonecipher. “In order to make Clarksville a stronger community, we occasionally need individual businesses to give a little toward the common good. Community requires a common unity and willingness to make each other whole.”
Clarksville Redevelopment Director Nic Langford says he hopes this latest action by the Town Council will encourage Harbor Freight to accept one of the many relocation options that the Redevelopment Department has found for the company. If that were to happen, Langford says all action regarding the eminent domain proceedings will cease.
“We all have the same goal in this situation,” said Langford. “We want our retail businesses to succeed and Clarksville to continue to be a shopping destination. We will continue to hold discussions with Harbor Freight and try and keep them in Clarksville, but ultimately if those conversations fail then eminent domain will come into play. We can’t afford to hemorrhage public dollars just to keep one company happy, that’s not fair to anyone.”