Anyone who’s been away from Bowling Green, KY for the last five years might not recognize it today, according to Bowling Green’s David Greenlee.
That’s because a wave of revitalization has swept through the downtown area, lifting up businesses, property values and the level of culture and night life available to residents. The downtown area was once rather humdrum, full of struggling businesses and underused commercial and residential spaces. In fact, for a long time, the main thing that put Bowling Green on the map at all was Western Kentucky University, the third biggest school in the state. Even the university campus was cut off from downtown by a section of run-down neighborhoods that few students bothered to venture into.
But all that is changing. Today, deteriorating neighborhoods have been revolutionized by new investment and construction, which have connected a flourishing university community with a central business district that’s now stronger—and more attractive—than ever before.
The cause for the change? According to Greenlee, it’s a three-way partnership between the university, local businesses and the city and county governments.
Local government wisely invested in the city’s future by declaring a 52-block special tax district around downtown to spur new business. The district ties taxes on new developments to increases in payroll, property value and sales, so that businesses can start with little tax burden and the city’s success is tied to theirs.
Business leaders have taken the incentive and worked together to rehabilitate historic buildings, add new developments and generally transform the area.
For Greenlee, a WKU alum and now a consultant in the energy industry, the University’s own work on the revitalization is what stands out. WKU officials worked closely with the surrounding neighborhoods and with developers to guide new development in a way that will be student-friendly. Effectively, the barrier between downtown and the campus area has been removed, and students are now flocking into the revitalized neighborhoods to become their newest residents. Combine that with substantial upgrades to the campus itself thanks to the support of alumni, and Greenlee says he’s proud of his alma mater.
Of course, the wave of development isn’t finished yet. The special tax district is slated to last until 2037, and numerous developments are still under construction. As is often the case with revitalization, one wave of success spurs another as more businesses are drawn to a booming area.
“I think we can look forward to a whole new era for Bowling Green,” David Greenlee said. “It’s become a metropolis.”