Is the future for Somerset as bright as the lights that will shine in downtown’s streets on New Year’s Eve? Mayor Alan Keck seems to think so.
Even looking back on 2021, Keck reflected that the changes, improvements and goals set by city government paint Somerset as having a promising future.
That means economically – seeing $300 million in newly-committed business despite the pandemic raging into its second year – and in terms of community projects such as the ongoing renovation of the Virginia Theater.
“I couldn’t be happier with the year we’ve had and the incredible amount we’ve accomplished,” Keck said. “But I always think about the future, about ways we can build on our vision for lighting up Somerset and making it a place for all generations. We’ve come a long way in realizing that vision. But we can always do more.”
A couple of highly anticipated projects – the sidewalk project and an ice skating rink to be installed at SomerSplash waterpark – have been delayed for one reason or another, but Keck explained that both are still moving in the right direction.
The idea of putting sidewalks along Monticello Street all the way to Somerset Community College’s campus was first brought up by Keck in April of 2019. While grants have been secured and plans on the move, there has been little end-project work seen.
Keck said despite the slow-going, the project still has legs.
“We have completed the first two phases, and final project design is 80 percent complete,” he said. “We now await the state’s approval on right-of-way acquisition. Once rights-of-way are approved, we’ll move into the construction phase, which we anticipate will go quickly. Despite the delay in this phase of the project, all other phases have been on track, even through COVID.”
The possibility of the city’s summer-use-only waterpark seeing some wintertime attractions was also a project that many anticipated.
It’s true that Somerset got at least one skating rink, courtesy of the 2019 Leadership Lake Cumberland Class and in the form of a synthetic surface that could be popped up and dismantled quickly.
But Keck and SomerSplash Director Stephen Sims had discussed in the spring about bringing another rink, this one to the waterpark – a more permanent style ice rink that would use real ice and be used on a more permanent basis.
However, it turns out that the synthetic rink the showed up at the Judicial Center Plaza had no competition, as supply chain delays prevented the waterpark’s version from being installed before the New Year.
“We’ve faced some unfortunate supply chain and shipping challenges with this project that have put it behind schedule,” Keck explained. “But we’re hopeful that we’ll open the SomerSplash ice rink in early 2022, giving the community plenty of time to enjoy this new attraction. We appreciate the community’s patience as we navigate issues that are out of our control. Watch the city’s social media channels for updates on when this will open.”
Looking back over the things that did happen in 2021, Keck said that the collaboration among city government, county government and the Somerset-Pulaski Economic Development Authority (SPEDA) was cause for celebration.
“As a result of that collaboration, Somerset and Pulaski County enjoyed significant growth and change in 2021. We had $300 million in newly committed business investment this year, in addition to more than $30 million in existing business expansion. That is incredible. Our interlocal agreements with county government are another example of this cooperation. We are committed to serving in a manner that allows everyone involved to share in the credit, and leading in a way that truly improves the quality of life in Somerset,” he said.
Keck noted that the city saw “another record year” of raising revenue without raising taxes, and the city underwent a clean audit the proved its finances are in order.
“We’ve maintained and increased our investment in our first responders and that is something I will always champion and carry as a source of pride for our city government,” he added.
As far as 2022 is concerned, Keck said he plans on keeping busy.
“I still have my eye on several initiatives that could build an even better Somerset. As our downtown continues to grow and flourish, it’s imperative that we work toward finding a viable transportation option that connects our tourism and our lake economy with our downtown,” he said.
“It’s also imperative we study ways that sports tourism can boost our local economy — we’re missing a significant opportunity here to attract new visitors and support tourism during the winter months.
“And finally, as our community continues to grow, we must diversify housing options for people who want to live here. We need new, improved and more affordable options for young families, young professionals and retirees who choose to call this region home.”