Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

October 9, 2012

Back on track?

Melody Mountain project would be positive for region

The Independent

ASHLAND — Last week’s announcement by the developers of Melody Mountain of a planned $10 million addition in 2013 provides real promise of being a major economic shot in the arm that will benefit the entire community.

We are excited and greatly encouraged with the announcement by RG Properties about plans for a 120,000-square-foot development that will include at least five retail stores, including two large anchor stores. However, we will be even more excited when construction actually begins on the project.

This is not the first time ambitious plans have been announced for the property between Walmart and O’Charley’s. Soon after construction of the new Walmart was announced, developers said Home Depot would build next to the large retailer that was moving from the Ashland Town Center into a much larger space that included a supermarket. When Home Depot pulled out of the project, it was announced Kohl’s would be in a new building on the property.

Plans for Home Depot and Kohl’s were nixed because of the onset of what is now known as the Great Recession, the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The Melody Mountain projects were hardly the only ones put in the deep freezer as retailers across the nation saw sales decline and many canceled or postponed plans for expansion.

Last week’s announcement by Bo Gunlock, vice president of retail management for RG Properties, is a positive sign the worst of a recession that hit this community hard is behind us and retailers again are willing to invest in this region. It has been too long since a major new retail store has opened in this community, and our hope is the new construction on Melody Mountain will encourage other businesses to invest in this region.

The Great Recession did not just slow development of Melody Mountain. It also has prevented Russell and the portion of Boyd County outside of the Ashland precincts that have been “wet” for more than 30 years from realizing the full economic benefits of voters agreeing to go “moist”  by allowing the sale of alcohol by the drink in large restaurants.

Gunlock admits Melody Mountain has taken longer to develop than the company hoped it would.

“The economy got in the way, but we’re happy to be one of the first projects coming out as the economy starts to improve a bit,” Gunlock said in announcing  RG Properties plans for Melody Mountain. “We’ve been working very hard at this ... It’s been a long time coming, but we’re obviously very excited by it.” 

Among the side benefits of the new development are the completion of the sidewalk along Riverhill Drive and improvements to the busy intersection of U.S. 23 and Riverhill Drive. To its credit, the city of Ashland has completed most of the sidewalk on Riverhill Drive to Sixth Street, but the portion of the sidewalk along  Riverhill Drive outside Ashland city limits remains undone. Ashland’s work has improved the safety of the many who walk to Walmart from the Hillcrest and Bruce apartments and other nearby residences, but for the trek on foot to and from Walmart to be truly safe, the entire sidewalk needs to be completed.

However, the greatest benefit of the new project is the approximately 300 new jobs the businesses on Melody Mountain are expected to create. While some dismiss that as mostly low-paying retail jobs, they are jobs for which most area residents are well-qualified and jobs that put food on the family table and turn tax-users into taxpayers by taking people off the welfare rolls.

Just as important, the revival of construction on Melody Mountain will be a positive sign developers and retailers still believe this is a good community in which to invest. Instead of becoming just another promise of development never fulfilled, we hope last week’s announcement will usher in a new construction boom throughout the entire area.