Meadors addresses Chamber of Commerce about city

Published 3:26 pm Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Harlan Mayor Joseph Meadors addressed the Harlan Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 9 about a number of things taking place in the city to keep the area maintained and presentable. Meadors also spoke on the future of Harlan, noting coal won’t always be a driving force.

“Let me tell you the primary reason I ran for mayor. I’ve always lived in the city of Harlan, except when I went away to school,” Meadors said. “When I was a child, downtown Harlan was different than it is now and different than it will ever be. It will never be what it was like back in those days. In the early 1950s, you could go downtown to Harlan on Fridays and Saturdays and every store front was occupied. There was so many people shopping downtown that they actually had to walk out in the road because the sidewalks weren’t wide enough”

Meadors said Harlan was known as a retail and trade center in southeastern Kentucky ahead of Hazard or Middlesboro, bringing in people from Leslie and Bell counties to do their shopping.

“I hate to say it, but it will never be back that way again. All I want is Harlan to be the best Harlan it can be, whatever that may be. I don’t have any idea what it looks like,” Meadors said.

Meadors also said, in moving forward and looking to Harlan’s future, residents must invest their time into diversifying the region away from focusing only on coal, adding “we can’t survive the way we always have.”

“It will never be on the scale that it has been in the past. Those who are lucky enough to have jobs in the coal industry will still be well paid, but it’s not going to be what drives this county,” Meadors said. “That’s one of the reasons I feel like there is some small movement downtown. That’s the reason I’m so encouraged by some of the new property owners in downtown.”

Meadors told the chamber members that he was driving through downtown Harlan one night with his dog when he noticed an employee sweeping the sidewalk in front of The Portal.

“I haven’t seen that since I was a kid,” Meadors said. “When I was a kid, every merchant in town did that. They didn’t expect city government to hire someone to come down every day to clean in front of their business.”

Meadors said among the many challenges facing the city of Harlan is trying to get people to change mindsets and the way they view their county. Instead of focusing on what Harlan isn’t, Meadors talked of all the possibilities in downtown Harlan, including a new coffee shop set to open in the coming weeks and other revitalization efforts taking place to make the area more appealing to the modern-day consumer.

“One of the things people told me when I was running for office was that you’re not going to get people to invest money in downtown until you make believers out of some people,” Meadors said. “People just think they’re going to let their property sit there and not take care of it or clean it up. A guy told me he wasn’t going to do anything with his property until I assured him that his neighbor on the right and the left are cleaning their property, too.”

Meadors added the city has worked tirelessly to clean the downtown area and promote more business activity, as well as encouraging tourism. He also spoke briefly of the different parts of city government and how they each work together to ensure the wealth and safety of the city of Harlan.

The chamber also:

• approved the minutes of the September regular scheduled meeting;

• conducted an election of board members (the results will be announced during the November meeting);

• heard an update on the annual gala, which will take place Oct. 24 at 6 p.m. in the Harlan Center;

• heard an update on bicentennial events from Brandon Pennington;

• heard an update from the Powers and Horton building owners, who say they’d like to create a “hang out for the younger generation” complete with an ice cream shop inside the building;

• heard an update from COAP Executive Director Mike King on the old Belk building roofing project, which will eventually be utilized as an arts and education space. King added the group was also gifted two buildings in downtown Harlan that might be able to be turned into more apartments;

• announced State Senator Johnny Ray Turner as the November regular scheduled meeting guest speaker.