On Tuesday, the Elkhorn City Council received a presentation from a new firm that hopes to work with the city to help generate tourism for the area.
During Tuesday’s meeting of the Elkhorn City Council, officials heard a presentation from Mountain Resource Management Group LLC, which is a new firm with hopes of developing a regional trail system in the area. The firm, which was represented by two of their investors, pitched the city council on working together to help better generate tourism for the city. According to MRMG, once construction of the 460 Corridor is complete officials will “need to give people a reason to stop in Elkhorn City.”
“My number one goal in whatever I get into, is the economic impact to rural Appalachia,” Erik Hubbard of MRMG said. “I care about the local communities, as I’m from a place where we have zero progress for anything.
“I see the bridge coming along and I know what happens with that,” he added.
Hubbard said he’s seen the impact that can be caused to a city such as Elkhorn by the construction of highways such as the new 460. With that, Hubbard said, he was asked to be a part of a new “guild” which has been months in the making and is working on developing regional trail systems. But at the same time he said, someone who can connect it into multiple areas, something that could help bring revenue to the city.
“It’s really simple,” Stephanie Stratton, of MRMG said. “The new four-lane is coming in and these people are going to have two options. They can come to Elkhorn City or they can go to Haysi (Virginia), because they’re going to get to the Breaks Interstate Park eventually.”
Stratton said the direct route is going to be through Haysi and officials need to give people a reason to come off 460 and stop in Elkhorn City.
“As we know tourism is the way for Eastern Kentucky,” Hubbard said. “If you don’t see that you should have went to the S.O.A.R. meeting Friday.
“$34 million for infrastructure, tourism, and job creations is what’s coming,” he added.
If Kentucky is going to move forward, Hubbard said, the area needs to start examining its options. According to him, coal is still the number one provider, medical is number two, but he said tourism is the infrastructure that can create sustainable income for the region.
Hubbard said infrastructure is very important to the future of the cities in the area and proceeded to ask the city council what their plan is for the next two to five years regarding tourism, which was answered with silence from the council.
Stratton said it’s not all about the proposed trail system, as MRMG wants to help work with towns to discover its identity.
“Each town needs its own identity to draw people to it,” Stratton said.
According to Stratton, MRMG has already met with officials from prospective cities, with plans to speak with other city officials in the upcoming weeks.
“We are so far behind the times on this, but we have a team together and everyone is onboard with making this happen.”
Stratton said the management firm has connections and wants to work with the city in possibly attracting prospective businesses to locate there, as if the council agrees to work with the firm, they are confident it can help generate more tourism to Elkhorn. One thing that could be impactful for the firms prospective plans is the upcoming wet/dry vote which is slated to be on the ballot in November.
According to Stratton, most franchises require at least the option to be able to sell alcohol “if they so choose to” before moving into a prospective location.
“It’s not about turning this into a drunk-fest or a party town or anything like that,” Stratton said. “We want to help Elkhorn City get to where it should be.
“You guys have so much and your town could be amazing for this,” she added.
The topic of prospective alcohol sales prompted Elkhorn City Mayor Mike Taylor to share his opinion on the matter as he said the topic is “where everything hits the wall.”
“I’ve not been for it and I’ll never be for it,” Taylor said.
Taylor shared personal experiences he’s had regarding losing loved ones or friends due to accidents involving drunk driving as the reason he “can’t be for it.”
“I love what you’re bringing forward and if it can come without alcohol, then I’m 100 percent for it,” Taylor said.
“Let me ask you a question, where does the money from this prospective alcohol sales go to?” Taylor asked before answering the question.
According to Taylor, the city is told how to spend any prospective money that could come to city from potential alcohol sales. Taylor said that if any of “his” officers goes out to a call dealing with alcohol, that officer is required to time how long it take to handle the situation. Taylor said that is how the money gets allocated to the Police Department.
“Alcohol is already here,” said Hubbard. “I can count the beer cans on the side of the road.”
MRMG said it’s not about promoting the sale of alcohol, it’s about recruiting prospective businesses or motels, in which gives those who participate in the consumption of alcohol a “safe place to be or stay” if they so choose.
“It’s safer to keep them on-site, as opposed to out running the roads,” Stratton said. “Alcohol isn’t the complete answer but it’s a step towards the answer.”
That answer, according to Hubbard, is tourism, but with tourism he said working with dry towns or counties “makes it harder.”
Taylor said if alcohol is what it takes to bring tourism in then he doesn’t support it.
“But don’t get me wrong, I’m for tourism,” Taylor added.
Stratton said that the city could have so much potential but as someone drives by, they see houses and building that are abandoned and “rotting to the ground.” She added that it was the city council’s responsibility to decide what their legacy wanted to be.
Elkhorn City Council member Roxanne Blankenship spoke up and said that Elkhorn City could have a beautiful campground, such as Haysi, but all it takes is someone to negotiate and “just let go a little bit.”
Taylor said that is “the thing” and Blankenship “hit the nail on the head” as “this is how the residents like it.”
“This is my other problem, where’s all this property in Elkhorn City for prospective business,” Taylor said.
According to Taylor, in the past officials were approached by a person about to prospect of putting a motel inside the city, another prospect MRMG proposes it can help attract. But according to Taylor, there wasn’t property available to get the deal done.
Taylor again mentioned alcohol sales and reiterated that he is for the prospect of tourism as long as it doesn’t involve bringing alcohol. That, MRMG officials said, doesn’t affect their interest in working with Elkhorn City whether the town becomes “wet” or “dry.”
Blankenship said she hates the fact that so much of the presentation and discussion had to be dominated by everyone’s opinions towards the sale of alcohol and that she was embarrassed the topic keeps getting brought up by the council, as she said there are special guests here who want to “help this town.”
“This presentation wasn’t about alcohol,” she said.
The discussion calmed down at that point, and after some more discussion the city council agreed to meet with MRMG again in the near future as they would like to hear more about the prospect of working together.