• Dave McGuire

Reinvestment is Needed in North Clarksville

The Clarksvillian

With 77,168 people, 37042 is Tennessee's 2nd most populated zip code of the 615 established in the state.

The factors forcing change and evolution of neighborhoods can be as long as your arm. The wild west style growth of Clarksville has been exceptional by any means of measurement, but it hasn't been without challenges. During the past several years, one of the most dramatic shifts has occurred within business activities and customer patterns along one of the city’s historical corridors. What happened to Fort Campbell and New Providence Boulevards?

The modern chokehold of Fort Campbell Boulevard through New Providence Boulevard has happened for 3 primary reasons:

1. Relocation of retail from Riverside Drive to Exit 4

2. Opening of 101st Parkway

3. Growth of the Tiny Town Road area

In the same way as redirected rain spouts, each of those areas diverted traffic flows from the previously mentioned historical commercial areas. The large commercial streets of any city are, for a viewer, among the most important visual elements in an urban environment. The indifference to the aesthetics from Fort Campbell into downtown is ignored or not prioritized by local leadership.

The residential and commercial development of Clarksville continues to sprawl further south into the county – taking tax dollars with them. Creative options of relocating households or businesses to North Clarksville may not be as readily available in the form of incentives as in other areas. The potential return on investment is high within these areas, but the amenities aren't enough to bait the hook for relocation. The question then turns to the city’s plans for growth and future development. Has that growth plan been consistently effective in all areas of the city? A simple drive through New Providence Boulevard clearly shows growth opportunities have not been pursued. It's status quo for the city council's 6th Ward. As a friend says, "6th Ward residents on the wrong side of the river just don't matter."

The case of New Providence Boulevard is upfront with its strongest asset being proximity to a developing downtown area and APSU campus. Often overlooked because of the rock-star impact Fort Campbell has on our community, Clarksville is extremely fortunate to have a local university continuing to grow enrollment year-over-year. An amazing stat of the day? APSU is the only university in Tennessee to have growth of enrollment the last four years. No others – just APSU.

In these escalating times of real estate value in Clarksville, New Providence Boulevard maintains affordable pricing and strong availability while also maintaining a prime geographic location. Prime location, you ask? Without traffic, the center of New Providence Boulevard is 1.8 miles from the Austin Peay campus with a commute time of approximately 3 minutes. In similar communities, a targeted development focuses on college age demographics by maximizing tax breaks, incentives and rezonings. When was the last time you heard a mayor or city council member publicly discuss New Providence Boulevard's potential? I have a fairly good memory, but not great. For many neglected areas, such as New Providence Boulevard, development and vision represent needed investment. Residents and businesses would welcome a revival of this long neglected and disinvested area. It's unfortunate when unofficial community leaders are the only voices pushing local politicians to find capital investments, provide better services, increase job opportunities, improve business options and ultimately increase the quality of life.

At the moment, investment from "Boot Hill" through "The Triangle" appears to be sporadic with existing businesses struggling to lure customers from outside their immediate area. Many of these businesses are just not scalable for multiple reasons. Challenges related to amenities, dining, crime, real estate values and other quality of life bottlenecks are the obstacles facing potential development projects year-over-year.

The New Providence Boulevard strip is a prototype location for business incubators to seed the extended commute into the downtown district. A more openly developed narrative for city leaders, knowing residents aren’t as well-to-do as the residents in nearby areas, may include - "Welcome. We’re a place where everyone. Whether you’re a young family, recent immigrants or you recently bought your grandparents’ house built here in the ‘60s — you have an opportunity to live in an affordable community and build something out of nothing for yourself. You can start a small business in a much more cost friendly space than you’d find in other areas of Clarksville. And we'll limit the red tape along the way. We're a place where the American dream is alive.”

South Fort Campbell Boulevard

The importance of this stretch has substantially lessened over the years due to expansion in areas and not-so-smart growth planning in others. Even with reduced traffic flow, the boulevard remains one of Clarksville’s more densely populated commercial areas. Does the area need to be reinvented, or would a project task force to increase developments of retail and/or F&B options be more appropriate? Are the zoning incentives advertised effectively for both relocation and new construction?

So where is the balance point for these two areas? On one hand, direct community investment produces positive outcomes such as refurbishing buildings, generating sales dollars from all sides of the county, re-stimulating the economy and creating unique environments conducive to small-business growth. It will inevitably lead to some displacement of local populations and send them into a tough local real estate market.

Has the 6th Ward been neglected north of the Cumberland River? It's a historical fact - the only debate is "why". There needs to be hands-on solutions rather than continuations of failed policies related to this area. Perhaps the time is right to consider dividing the disproportionally large 6th Ward territory into two distinctly different wards and allowing proper representation of the New Providence residents and businesses. Expectations point toward downtown and riverside growth requiring heavy engagement by city council in the coming years. Do city leaders believe residents will have confidence in New Providence and Fort Campbell Boulevards receiving fair planning prioritizations?

There is substantial opportunity stretching from Fort Campbell Boulevard through New Providence Boulevard into emptying into the city. Do we have the creativity in leadership to organically develop areas of the community or should we quietly expect the same old same old?