Last week I was talking to a long-time resident about the articles I’ve been writing on behalf of DFI (Downtown Frankfort, Inc.). Suddenly she said, “I’ll bet a lot of Frankfort residents don’t know what DFI is, or what it does. “I’ll bet you’re right,” I replied. With that in mind I asked DFI Executive Director Kim Strohmeier to answer the questions I figure most people would want answered about the organization.
When he’s talking about DFI Strohmeier’s enthusiasm is contagious. A big part of that enthusiasm is because of a personal connection.
“This isn’t just a job, this is a passion of mine,” says Strohmeier. “This is where I’m from; it’s my community; it’s my history. My grandparents are buried on a hill overlooking the city. My uncle was active in the arts community. My mother moved here in 1955 as a beautician in the little green gingerbread-style house on the corner of High & W. Main. My dad has been active in the farming and the tourism business all his life in this community. It’s my home.”
DFI was started in 1986 to expand the economic base of the downtown commercial district, preserve its historic character, and encourage people to support the local business owners. But Strohmeier sees the purpose of DFI as more far reaching.
“The downtown area is the heart and soul of any community. A healthy, prosperous, attractive downtown sets the standard for an entire community,” Strohmeier says. He adds, “My ultimate goal would be to have every single resident of greater Frankfort and all of Franklin County think of downtown Frankfort as THEIR downtown, someplace they are proud of, someplace that they want to take visitors.”
Strohmeier is quick to note he’s standing on the shoulders of others. “Over the years, there’ve been a number of people who’ve had a lot of foresight as to what downtown can become. We’re just building on past leadership.” He cited Granville Coblin, John Gray, and the late Bob Polsgrove as early driving forces behind DFI.
While some are aware that DFI is behind the summer concert series, the Art Walks, and the Candlelight Event that kicks off the Christmas season downtown, I asked Strohemeier if he thinks the average Frankfort resident knows what DFI does.
“I don’t think many people are aware of the economic development and preservation efforts that DFI has been involved with over the years. Just recently, we’ve helped promote and implement the city’s Rehabilitation grants, which provided $50,000 for twelve downtown property owners to improve their buildings!”
DFI is also updating and improving the downtown building inventory system, which helps potential businesses know what space is available to them.
“People see a lot of empty storefronts. They stand out, and logically, people want to see them filled. What many don’t recognize is that downtown had a net gain of four new businesses last year.”
Strohmeier has an ambitious, but entirely accomplishable goal for downtown. “Long-term, I envision a vibrant downtown, full of thriving businesses, that makes full use of the resources we have – the river, the bourbon industry, the beautiful architecture, the history, the art, and most of all, our people.”
Of course, people are the most important part of making this all happen.
“We have a volunteer committee promoting coordination with local distilleries for a better connection with downtown. Another group of volunteers is making a concerted effort toward a “cleaner” downtown. Yet another is working to increase downtown activity on Sundays, making us more attractive to weekend visitors.”
“I think we need to recognize just what an impressive city we enjoy. To strive toward this long-term vision, we need members who are willing to show their support of downtown financially, but maybe more importantly, we need people willing to give some time and effort.”