PINEVILLE, Ky. – Sometimes things just fall into place.
Just ask Jacob Roan.
When Roan left Lexington, where he attended the University of Kentucky, he wanted to return home to Pineville.
It was all about timing. And, when he did, he positioned himself to make an impact.
Five years ago, Roan took over as the Main Street director for the city of Pineville, the county seat of Bell County.
“I came into this knowing that I had a lot to learn,” said Roan, pointing to a stack of studies and infographics that had been compiled on the region. “At the time, the Main Street organization was centered on event planning, and I wanted to somehow blend that with the work of economic development, specifically in the downtown business district of Pineville.”
Shortly after he started, Roan connected with the Community and Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky (CEDIK) at the University of Kentucky to help draft a five-year plan for the city. CEDIK is a Blueprint Partner of Shaping Our Appalachian Region, Inc. (SOAR).
“CEDIK was and continues to be a great resource for us,” said Roan. “They helped us not only establish a plan but provided an outline for dialogue and engagement for the people of Pineville.”
Roan listened, and he learned that residents of Pineville wanted to see a downtown revitalization.
This idea is not unique to many small communities in Appalachia Kentucky, but this idea was organic.
“We quickly realized that the people of Pineville did not want just any downtown resurgence, they wanted something homegrown,” added Roan. “This led to continued conversations, and ideas started emerging on ways to reinvent downtown with the aspirations and dreams of those who call or once called Pineville home.”
Roan worked with Mayor Scott Madon, who was elected in 2014 and served on the Pineville Main Street board of directors, to develop a strategy to target the courthouse square of Pineville.
Five years ago, the square, which surrounds the beautiful Bell County Courthouse, was the home of many dilapidated buildings. Only 20% of the buildings were occupied. Roan said the Courthouse Square was a great place to focus attention because it was a focal point of the community and once was home to a thriving downtown district.
Fast forward a few years, and it is thriving once again. The Courthouse Square district in Pineville has 100% occupancy rates. New businesses have opened, and other buildings are being remodeled to provide business and rental opportunities. Roan says the results are truly remarkable – 200 jobs created and more than $8 million in public and private investments made to downtown Pineville.
How did this happen?
Roan is quick to note the collaboration of Mayor Madon, the city council, the city’s business leaders, and ordinary citizens who worked tirelessly to accomplish what many thought was impossible.
The revitalization of Pineville’s Courthouse Square was a direct result of a local incentive package created by Roan and approved by Madon and the city council. The package included ways to help those investing in buildings and businesses a way to lessen the burden of remodeling and costs of opening a business.
A five-year tax moratorium for those purchasing buildings in downtown Pineville. The city and Bell County Fiscal Court adopted an incentive that allowed those purchasing and renovating structures in downtown Pineville to pay taxes on the assessed value of the property when it was sold for the first five years. This incentivized owners and developers to renovate structures for optimal growth and help recoup some of those costs for the first five years.
A waiving of water tap fees from the Pineville Utilities Commission. During renovations, the commission also provided the first 20,000 of water free to those who qualified for the incentives.
The city’s garbage contractor, Poff Carting, waived hauling fees and provided a dumpster during renovations (up to 90 days).
Josh Howard, a local attorney, and his wife, Whitney Gooch Howard, used the incentive package to open several new businesses, including the Old City Loft, City Salon, Council Chamber Cigars, and Ol’ Bootleggers Spirit Shoppe. He is also in the process of opening The Butcher’s Pub.
“When I returned home from Pineville after attending law school, I opened my law practice, and I quickly realized that I needed to do something more than just be an attorney,” he said. “My education allowed me to learn about other cultures and experience different things. These things were always available, but they were in Knoxville, Lexington, and other places. The town I grew up in was struggling, and I wanted to do something to make a difference. I was always taught that ‘No one else is going to do it for you,’ and the rest is history.”
Josh and Whitney’s first investment was the purchasing of the old Pineville City Hall. It now is home to the Howard Law Firm, boutique shop, hair salon, cigar shop, and massage parlor. He went on to purchase another building the Courthouse Square which is now home to more retail establishments, including Sauced, a craft pizza shop, Sauced, owned by Mike and Gina Wilson, and loft-style apartments.
“The incentive package put forth by the city with support of the county put our investments on a faster track because we were able to save money and reinvest it back into the community quicker,” said Josh. “This is an exciting time to be in Pineville, and we are building our city to be a destination for those who visit and a great place to live and raise a family for those who call it home.”
The Wilsons’ investment in Pineville is a story in itself. They had lived in Lexington for more than 20 years and thought about moving to an outlying county to develop a craft pizza store concept they had created. The more they looked at locations and evaluated start-up costs, Pineville became more of a possibility.
“Mike and I felt like we wanted to be a part of something greater,” Gina said. Mike is originally from Bell County, and Gina spent most of her childhood in Laurel County. “The city of Pineville had a plan, and that was very compelling for us. Some of our friends thought we were crazy. Our faith is important to us, and we had faith that if we built our business in Pineville, people would come.”
And they have.
Sauced just celebrated its one-year anniversary, and the business continues to grow.
“I can honestly say without a shadow of a doubt the move to Pineville was one of the best decisions we have ever made,” Gina continued. “Appalachia Kentucky is not only aesthetically beautiful, but the heart of the people in this region is something special.”
Roan said a key element to the success of Pineville’s downtown efforts is the existing business community, especially the banks that serve Pineville and Bell County.
“Our financial institutions immediately bought into this effort,” Roan continued. “That was – and still is – a critical part of our success. The banks understand that the majority of the people investing in downtown are people from the region, and the new businesses created are creating jobs and bringing new money into the economy.”
Roan and his team are now shifting its focus to the Pine Street area adjacent to the Courthouse Square. He said the continued growth of Pineville’s downtown complements many of the efforts taking place around the city, including the construction of the Appalachian Wildlife Center just outside of town.
“We feel that the Wildlife Center and the fact that we are located on Route 25E, which is a major thoroughfare for those visiting Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, provide so many opportunities for us to become a destination location,” said Roan. “We are working to build off of our success and enhance the downtown experience for those who call Pineville home and for those who visit.”
The city is also home to the Kentucky Mountain Laurel Festival, which just completed its 88th annual event. Roan was the general chairman of this year’s festival, the third generation of his family to serve in this capacity.
Roan said organizations, like SOAR, helping connect the dreams and aspirations of people and communities with the resources to make them a reality.
“One of the first meetings I attended when I started was a SOAR meeting,” Roan recalled. “I met Jared (Arnett), and we immediately started to talk about the future of the region and the future of Pineville.”
That meeting was the beginning of the formation of SOAR’s Regional Blueprint, a plan for Appalachia Kentucky that was created by the people of the region. One of the goals is to make Appalachia Kentucky a destination. Another goal is the establishment of small businesses and assisting entrepreneurs.
“Both of that is taking place in Pineville,” said Roan. “We believe we are creating a best practice for other communities to follow.”
What does the future hold for Pineville?
“We are in the planning stages of a remarkable streetscape project that will make our downtown more inviting to those who visit,” said Roan. “We also plan to continue to renovate the historic Bell Theater and continue to promote it as an arts, entertainment, community, and educational venue.”
To learn more about SOAR’s Regional Blueprint and Blueprint Partnership program, visit https://www.thereisafuture.org/get-involved. To learn more about Pineville’s Main Street program, visit https://www.facebook.com/MainStreetPineville/.