A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Chris Reinersman leads Kentucky’s 14th largest city which has a small-town feel

By Natalie Hamren
NKyTribune reporter

Part of an occasional series on NKY’s mayors.

Chris Reinersman was elected as Independence’s mayor in 2014. He ran his platform on three aspects: smart growth, new business and small-town appeal. Since then, he’s boosted the city’s growth and is looking forward to the future.

Chris Reinersman

Reinersman said the city has a major industrial development coming to town. He said he learned a long time ago that Independence is a bedroom community that relies on residential property tax, adding that it’s not a sustainable model. Reinersman said the city needed to diversify its revenue and bring in new employers.

In addition to needing more diverse revenue, Reinersman said he heard from residents that Independence needed more services in town.

“People generally agree we don’t want to be another Florence; we don’t want to have it everywhere. We’re okay leaving town for some things. But, you know, for the basic stuff — for groceries and for restaurants and things like that — we’d like to have more choices here in town,” Reinersman said.

Reinersman said this upcoming industrial park is expected to increase the city’s revenue by 10%. The industrial park will be on the west side of Independence with access to the interstate. The park will take 100 out of 500 acres of area that Reinersman said will have a limited impact on existing residential areas. In addition, the road will be widened.

“This is going to be the catalyst to kick off what could be the back corner of the city that will largely support the city and its services for decades to come,” Reinersman said.

Another upcoming project in Independence is a mixed-use development. Reinersman said the area will feature both residential and commercial properties. The area will feature 85 upscale rental patio homes with a clubhouse and a pool. There will be four commercial parcels — one with a fast-food restaurant, a gas station, a sitdown restaurant and a microbrewery. Also, there will be an outdoor music venue.

Reinersman said he’s heard from residents who want more sitdown dining available, as people are tired of having to drive to other cities to dine or hangout.

“We hear that too, ‘we’re tired of leaving independence when we want to go out.’ It’s going to have an outdoor music venue, so it’s a really cool mixed-use thing. It’s going to be modeled after a horse park. So, my point is, it’s just going to be a neat fit in this area,” Reinersman said.

Reinersman writes a column in a newsletter that goes out to the city three times a year where he talks directly to the residents. Despite being the 14th largest city in Kentucky, Reinersman said Independence still has a small-town feel. He said the city focuses on community events, like the Fourth of July or their Christmas Walk to stay in touch with the community.

“It’s somewhat of an oxymoron to say small-town appeal and smart growth in the same phrase, but it really is the goal,” Reinersman said. “That’s what I set out to do.”

Reinersman’s favorite part about his job is being able to help people. One time, a resident reached out to Reinersman about her health condition. Reinersman said the resident is allergic to the spray used for lawn care. If she inhales any of it, it affects her health. The resident lived next door to a business that is part of a national chain that uses the lawn spray the resident is allergic to.

The resident reached out to the company asking them to stop spraying, but she never heard anything back. She then reached out to Reinersman and he wrote to the company requesting they stop using the spray. The company wrote back immediately and amended what they were doing, Reinersman said.

Reinersman said what makes Independence so unique is its small-town feel while being a larger city that continues to grow and develop.

“It really does feel like a small town. And a lot of it’s the people. People are generally neighborly; we’re not perfect. This isn’t utopia. The people are generally very friendly and that’s really what drives it. We try to lay a foundation that continues to foster that as we grow,” Reinersman said.

Over the years, Reinersman said he’s watched Independence grow from a rural town to the city it is today. Although there’s part of the ruralness he misses, he knows the growth and change are for the better.

“I hope we can hold on to that because that really is so much what sets us apart,” Reinersman said. “But I am convinced we can by looking at the assets we have and maintaining some of that rural feel and finding ways to do it.”

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