Henderson Mayor Brad Staton revealed for the first time a plan to create a local frontage road that would parallel the path of I-69, an idea with hopes of drawing national restaurants and retailers to locate here and then attracting passing motorists who see the businesses from the highway.
The local frontage road, a plan devised by City Manager William L. “Buzzy” Newman, would start near the intersection of Wathen Lane and U.S. 60 and then parallel the interstate to the area behind Balmoral subdivision, Staton said.
Staton spoke of the plan while addressing a group of city officials and staff at a special called work session to discuss the city’s planning for this year and ensuing years. Both elected officials and department heads discussed their goals at the meeting that was held at the Henderson County Extension Office.
Staton said the local frontage road is a plan to take advantage of 1-69 and attract higher-end national chain restaurants and hotels that desire to have the visibility of being seen from the highway.
“Hopefully the road will provide another economic corridor,” Staton said.
The lands on which the road would be located are currently private, Staton said.
Another possible positive of the frontage road is to provide a place for businesses on the 41-strip to relocate if economic factors are unfavorable once I-69 is open.
Current plans call for the closing of the southbound lanes on U.S. 41 once I-69 is open. Local officials are grappling with ideas to help businesses located there, if in fact the southbound lanes are closed, which could occur at the end of the current decade or the beginning of the next, Staton said.
The future of the strip was also a topic that other city commissioners were concerned about. In addition to Staton, commissioners Rodney Thomas and Austin Vowels mentioned it in the meeting. Vowels said the closure of the southbound bridge would be detrimental to the citizens, and he suggested that the city partner with Evansville to search for ways to keep it open.
Commissioners also listed inner city redevelopment, adding affordable housing and putting in place succession plans for a number of department heads who will retire from city government this year or early next year, among them Human Resources Director Connie Galloway, City Clerk Maree Collins and City Manager Buzzy Newman.
Making hires months before scheduled departures is key so that new employees can gain understanding of the job and the veterans’ institutional knowledge is not lost, they said.
One such hire has already occurred. Chelsea Mills was hired in December to replace Robert Gunter as the city’s finance director. Gunter, who has been with the city since 2004, will stay on until Feb. 29 helping Mills learn department procedures.
Newman said the city will advertise for the HR director position by the end of January and the city clerk position by March 1. He also said he hopes to have the assistant city manager position, which is currently empty, filled by March 1. Newman plans to retire in the first quarter of 2025, he said.
The following are highlights from staff department leaders:
- Trace Stevens, Parks and Recreation Director, said a recently approved 10-year master plan for the parks and recreation department should allow for guidance on facilities, programs, usage, staffing and possible acquisitions. He said he’s hopeful that the department’s 10-year plan proves as helpful as the Vision Plan has been for downtown Henderson.
Stevens said city leaders also need to begin discussions on the future of
Atkinson Park swimming pool. It was renovated in 1995. “I don’t know how many years it’s got left,” Stevens said.
- Henderson Police Chief Sean McKinney created a long list of 2024 goals. Among them, he wants to hire a victim advocate, hire a second public safety officers, add 8 more Flock cameras and work with Henderson County High School and Henderson Community College to create criminal justice curriculums to get more young people interested in law enforcement careers. He also said recruitment efforts are paying off, with two new lateral hires, two from a recent academy class, three graduating from the academy soon and three more attending the March academy class.
- Public Information Officer Holli Blanford said in the past year the city’s social media reach has increased exponentially. Additionally, the city will no longer publish its “42420” e-newsletter, which focuses on community happenings, but will now publish a newsletter that focuses more on the workings of city government, she said. It’s called “Our City at Work.” The city is also going to put out a monthly podcast starting February or March, Staton said.
- Brian Williams, the city’s public works director, said the city needs to start looking at places for a new landfill.
- Connie Galloway, the human resources director, said she’ll retire and would like to have a replacement by late February or March. She’d like the city to add a position to the HR staff that focuses on the recruitment and retention of public safety employees.
- Dylan Ward, city project manager, said the new sports complex will open in late spring. Additionally, construction for the new Fire Station #1 on Second Street should begin in late spring, he said. “We hope to begin that basically when school lets out,” he said. Ward also said that sidewalk work will occur on Mill Street, North Elm Street and connecting South Alves Street and Sand Lane.
Ward also said that Henderson Area Rapid Transit will obtain a mini-van, allowing employees with a regular driver’s license to transport people. Ward also said HART will buy a couple new buses and will paint the garage. Because HART has had the same lettering and colors for many years, he opined it might be time for a change in appearance. “Is it time to give HART a facelift?” Ward said.
- Jordan Webb, 911 director, said the communications center is now fully staffed at 15 employees. In October, Webb reported to the board of commissioners that the staffing was at 11 of 15.
- Josh Dixon, chief of Henderson Fire Department, said goals for the department in 2024 include relocating station #2, replace a pumper truck, add a deputy fire chief position, develop physical fitness standards for the department and establish a regional dive team, which would include other departments in the area.
- Maree Collins, the city clerk, said she will be retiring by the end of the year. She asked that an assistant city clerk position be created to help her replacement deal with the large workload.