New Castle Main Street Program

Community development is director's focus

Smith says love of town got her involved

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

NEW CASTLE, Ky. (July 2004) – Karen Bess Smith wears many hats. Her concern for New Castle, Ky.’s fate has thrown her into the position of part-time Main Street Program manager.
Smith, 48, who farms with her husband in Trimble County, is involved in Louisville’s Glassworks project (an extension of the Farmer’s Market), and has her own landscaping business, Ground Works Design. As Main Street manager, she can incorporate her other job experiences into this job to develop the economic growth and aesthetic qualities of the community.

Karen Smith

Photo by Helen E. McKinney

Karen Smith is New Castle's new Main Street director.

As Main Street manager, she is involved in organizing projects, economic development, historic preservation and promoting and marketing New Castle. A native of Louisville, Smith said she has “always loved New Castle.” She is responsible for helping local businesses succeed and attracting new businesses to the area.
The Kentucky Main Street Program is an extension of the Kentucky Heritage Council, overseen by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The trust is a private, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to protecting the irreplaceable through leadership and education. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Kentucky Main Street Program, making it the oldest statewide program in the United States.
While in college, Smith’s career choice was influenced by her creative writing teacher, Wendell Berry. She had been headed to New York as a dancer, but Berry’s reading of his work, “The Unsettling of America,” had a profound effect on her. “It changed my whole mind about what to do with my life,” she said.
As a graduate of Centre College, Smith received her master’s degree in Landscape Planning and Design. She worked for the city of Louisville as a consultant under Louisville Metro Mayor Jerry Abramson’s first term in the mid-1980s. She learned how to get things done in a large city, and she brings this knowledge to New Castle to incorporate it into the city’s existing resources.
Smith said she loved her role as Assistant Director for Operation Brightside. She was responsible for coordinating efforts to develop programs and policies on how to deal with public rights of way, enhancement of the most visible spaces in a city such as downtown parks, maintaining exit ramps and cleaning up vacant city lots. Prior to 1986, there was no recycling program in the school system and no landfill space. She helped rectify this problem and believed that if recycling habits were begun in schools, children would naturally want to conserve their environment.
One of her short-term goals for New Castle is to enable the city to become more self reliant as a community. She plans to meet residents and learn from local merchants and property owners. “I want to know what people want” (for their community), Smith said. The community needs “to make full use of the space we already have.”
Smith plans to make use of the many empty second floor spaces found in most Main Street buildings. Marty Stahl, a member of the committee that chose Smith for the position, agrees with this idea. “We have many beautiful buildings with second floors that we need to take advantage of,” said Stahl.
Smith attended a quarterly Kentucky Main Street training session on June 9-11 in Paducah, Ky., with Eminence Tomorrow Director, Mary Jane Yates. Yates said participants toured many downtown areas to view first hand the city’s revitalization efforts in the areas of fund raising, parking and an artist relocation program. Paducah has also instituted an extensive upper floor-housing program, said Yates. The Main Street Program enables the downtown area to accomplish a great number of things in terms of revitalization, she said.
Stahl said Smith is organized and intelligent, and has good ideas and contacts. Ruth Ann Mills Moore was the city’s first part-time Main Street manager, but she resigned after six months.
Yates served as interim manager until Smith was hired.
Organizing all of the information she receives is Smith’s biggest job, said Stahl. Smith has one year to work toward her certification as a Main Street Manager. “We’re hoping for big things,” said Stahl.
The Main Street philosophy is that buildings, cultures, businesses and a town’s layout go hand-in-hand with the small town idea, and are qualities that need to be preserved. This concept can be thought of in the sense that these qualities are like a layer of topsoil that we need to preserve, said Smith. In nourishing the topsoil, plants (or cities like New Castle) can grow to fruition and expand economically.
Stahl compared New Castle to La Grange. There is a historical section of Main Street still intact and Stahl believes the community’s heritage deserves preservation. “It’s like a family heritage, but a bigger step. New Castle is as it was 100 years ago,” she said.

Contact Karen Bes Smith at (502) 845-0562. For more information on the Main Street Program, visit: www.nationaltrust.org.

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