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Southern Indiana mayors outline priorities as regional growth continues

Charlestown Democratic Mayor Treva Hodges
Aprile Rickert
/
LPM
Charlestown Democratic Mayor Treva Hodges

Southern Indiana is seeing a boom in new housing and commercial developments, jobs and recreational offerings. LPM News talked with three mayors in Southern Indiana cities about how they’ll manage that growth in their new term.

Charlestown

It’s the small-town feel and local pride that Charlestown Democratic Mayor Treva Hodges says gives the city its character.

There are festivals, pop-up markets and a holiday display that brings visitors from around Southern Indiana. New residents get a hand-written letter from Hodges welcoming them.

This sense of community is something she says is important to maintain, even as city leaders plan for the regional growth spurred by development at the River Ridge Commerce Center. Hodges was recently named president of the River Ridge Development Authority board.

“I may be one of the only mayors that I've ever talked to that thinks that you don't have to be growing to be successful. As long as your people are happy and connected, and you have a strong community, a sense of pride, that's okay,” she said. “But when growth is coming your way, you need to be strategic about that growth. And that's where we are.”

Hodges’ first term saw the challenges of a global pandemic, but she said city leadership was still able to address some big infrastructure issues — like getting a new wastewater treatment plant off the ground; construction is now underway.

With some of those big needs addressed, Hodges said she’s turned her focus to improving quality of life for Charlestown residents.

She hopes to see the first phase kick off this year at the Shadow Lake Park development, a planned 70-acre park on land donated to the city in 2022. The initial phase includes a walking trail, with the buildout of a new amphitheater and civic center over the next few years.

Charlestown is also planning for upgrades at Greenway Park and the Family Activities Park.

River Ridge, the roughly 6,000-acre business with land in Charlestown and Jeffersonville, continues to be a major economic driver in the area. Leaders have recently announced production facilities for The Cheesecake Factory and Canadian Solar, Inc. Last month, Meta Platforms, Inc. — the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp — confirmed it would build a large-scale data center in the Jeffersonville portion.

“So my biggest challenge right now is how do we provide the workforce that these places are going to need when they make their announcements about coming to the Charlestown end of the River Ridge Commerce Center?” Hodges said.

As a former educator, Hodges is committed to highlighting higher education opportunities available to children, through programs like Read Across America, in partnership with Ivy Tech and IU Southeast.

“So we're planting those seeds really early with them,” she said.

Jeffersonville

Jeffersonville Republican Mayor Mike Moore took office for his fourth term at the start of the year. He’s learned throughout his tenure that progress comes in incremental steps, and that having a strong partnership with the city council is key to getting improvements rolling.

“When you're running a city, it doesn't matter your national views,” he said. “People want the roads paved, their trash picked up [and] their neighborhoods safe. And I think if you acknowledge that you can address those issues, you can make people happy.”

Jeffersonville Republican Mayor Mike Moore
Aprile Rickert
/
LPM
Jeffersonville Republican Mayor Mike Moore

This year, the city is planning for more than $5 million in road paving, mostly for residential areas. The project is funded by a mix of city and grant funding.

“It’s always nice to be able to do a big infrastructure project on a main road,” he said. “But…for the families that live in the neighborhoods and subdivisions throughout the city, they want to make sure the taxes that they're paying are being used for good reason as well.”

One of those larger projects will make headway this year too, with construction expected to start on the roughly $20 million Charlestown Pike road widening and improvements.

Moore said it’s been a priority of his for several years to make the road more accessible for new development, as River Ridge brings in new residents to staff new businesses and those people need a place to live.

He said construction is expected to start this year on around 800 new homes in that area.

“It all comes into play — your infrastructure improvements bring new housing, your creation of new jobs brings new families, beautifying your parks not only brings new companies, it brings new families.”

All eyes are also on the upcoming redevelopment of the former JeffBoat shipyard. More said he expects movement on infrastructure work over the next two years, with things starting to move upward in 2026. Full buildout will happen in phases over the next two decades.

Jeffersonville has also seen a revitalization in the downtown area over the past few years, which has coincided with the completion of the recreational Big Four Bridge between Louisville and Jeffersonville. The Southern Indiana connection was finished in 2014.

“It needed a shot in the arm, and we've done that,” Moore said, about the downtown improvements. “We've turned downtown Jeff into a tourist attraction, one of the most desirable places to come in the Midwest.”

Moore also wants to see the city invest in better salaries to retain police officers, and continue the focus on schools and education.

Jeffersonville’s Promise, which helps provide free tuition to Jeffersonville High School students to attend Ivy Tech, kicked off several years ago.

Recently, the city bought a new charter bus for Jeffersonville High School activities, and announced a $1 million contribution to help pay for a new natatorium.

“We're always looking for improvements, things that make families want to say ‘I want to move to Jeff,’” he said. “That's probably my biggest motivator.”

New Albany

New Albany Democratic Mayor Jeff Gahan, elected to a fourth term in November, said he’s proud of the progress the city has made in recent years and wants to keep going.

In September, city leaders celebrated the completion of a multi-year project to revitalize Main Street. Work included new sidewalks, roadways and benches. Gahan said he’s also proud of the work the city has put into renovating parks, and the focus on historic preservation, including renovating a downtown building and relocating city offices there.

Downtown New Albany — which previously held sparsely used buildings, many in need of repair, has seen a major revitalization over the past two decades and is now a shopping and dining spot for people across Southern Indiana and its Louisville neighbors.

Gahan pointed to other finished or ongoing projects he said will add to the city’s draw — like the buildout of New Albany’s shoreline, including the River Recreation Site and boat ramp. The city also started construction last year on a new standalone police headquarters.

“A lot of folks inside City Hall [and] a lot of folks outside City Hall have really, really worked hard to make some improvements,” Gahan said.

New Albany Democratic Mayor Jeff Gahan
Aprile Rickert
/
LPM
New Albany Democratic Mayor Jeff Gahan

Gahan expects phase 2 of the Mount Tabor Road project, aimed at making the road safer for pedestrians and drivers, to get underway this term. It’s part of continued road investments.

“We've taken on a number of infrastructure improvement projects and they're always messy…they're dusty,” Gahan said. “But when you're a city 200 years old, we cannot afford to get behind on the infrastructure investment.”

The public funding has also come with private dollars too.

“It's a much more thriving community than it was a short time ago,” Gahan said. “People have noticed that New Albany is a good place to be, a really, really great place to live. That's key — making sure that the residents that live here that have chosen to live here, that [they are] getting good value for their tax dollars.”

Other projects are in the works. Plans are expected to start rolling soon on New Albany’s portion of the Monon South Trail — the city is a trailhead for the more than 60-mile rails-to-trails project spanning five counties.

The city council also recently approved a moratorium of up to a year on new multi-family housing.

That followed a study done with the University of Louisville that showed New Albany’s home ownership rate of 54.5% is lower than other cities, “particularly its local peers,” according to the report. The study also shows more than half the housing built in the city since 1980 has been multi-family.

City leaders say they want to bring more balance to the housing stock, and help promote home ownership opportunities.

Plans are also underway for renovation of the historic Elsby Building downtown into a hotel with an adjacent events center.

Gahan said the work in New Albany and other surrounding municipalities makes for a good overall region. But each is unique, he said, with its own things to offer.

“And the trick is celebrating those differences.”

Coverage of Southern Indiana is funded, in part, by Samtec Inc., the Hazel & Walter T. Bales Foundation, and the Caesars Foundation of Floyd County.

Aprile Rickert is LPM's Southern Indiana reporter. Email Aprile at arickert@lpm.org.