Phase two of downtown Bowling Green renovations are in a holding pattern amid financial uncertainty caused by the coronavirus-fueled economic slowdown.
Last year, the city unveiled the completion of phase one of the renovations centered around Fountain Square Park. The roughly $4 million project included new sidewalks, crosswalks, light poles, bike lanes and street fixtures, as well as eliminating an interior turn lane allowing for an expansion and “squaring off” of Fountain Square Park. Morris and Capitol alleys were also renovated.
When the renovations were unveiled last winter with the cutting of a 900-foot ribbon around Fountain Square Park, it was full-speed ahead on phase two.
In November, the city commission approved a $264,972 contract with Vaughn & Melton Consulting Engineers of Lexington, the same firm that designed phase one of the project, to design, plan and coordinate the next phase of the project.
Phase two would extend many of the same sidewalk and other improvements to the downtown streets adjacent to Fountain Square Park, including down College and State streets to East Sixth Avenue and along East Main to Chestnut Street and Center Street.
But then the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic struck, and with it came a slimmed-down city budget.
“We’re still working on design and engineering (of phase two). The cost and desire” to proceed will determine what happens next, City Neighborhood and Community Services Director Brent Childers said.
About $500,000 has been set aside in the current fiscal year for phase two, but that won’t cover the entire project, so only parts of phase two may be undertaken this year.
“These are some decisions we can make when we have better cost estimates,” Childers said.
As with any capitol improvement project, it’s a question of finances.
“We try to budget like people do at home,” Bowling Green Mayor Bruce Wilkerson said – only spending money that is on hand.
“It’s one of the projects that will be out there until we have the funds,” he said.
Whether those funds will be there is unknown at this point.
The city last month approved a budget that estimates city revenue will be about $12 million less than the previous fiscal year. City spending is likewise budgeted to decrease from $124.6 million to $114.2 million.
The great unknown is the trajectory of the pandemic and the resulting impact on city finances.
“Our budget is a guess – a very, very educated guess,” he said.
As for perhaps doing only part of phase two, “it’s too early to make that call,” the mayor said.
Another unknown is related to the November election, where 10 candidates (including all four incumbents) are running for four commission seats.
“You can never forecast what the next commission will see as a priority,” said Wilkerson, who is also facing challenger Todd Alcott in the mayoral race.
But for the current and past commissions, “a vibrant downtown has always been a priority,” he said.