WHAT WE THINK: Shelbyville has a burning case of opportunity

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Fire has eaten a hole in Shelbyville, but it has left an opportunity for improvement.

Even the most optimistic among us is fretting now about what will happen to the fire-gashed hole on the southwest side of Main Street in Shelbyville’s business district.

Public officials were as distraught as residents of the four-block incineration were relieved Wednesday morning, following the horrible blaze that erupted. And both groups had real validation for those feelings.

Four men escaped the blaze, thanks to good work by landlords and aggressive police officer Kelly Malone, who deserves our praise as well.

Shelbyville’s leaders spoke with solemn sadness in observing the scene and its potential impact of the fire.

But we like the approach taken by Fred Rogers, the Shelby County Historical District coordinator, who suggested in so many words that this is a horrible loss to the past but an opportunity for the future.

First, to be sure, we embrace the historic district’s oversight of our precious and wonderful old buildings. We love those buildings and wish each could be just as wonderful as the next. But the reality is that the cost of remodeling and maintaining those pieces of history also can be impediments to improvement. You can invest hundreds of thousands of dollars just getting a building sufficient for your business, which creates a cash-flow that can choke out your potential.

So now we have a 4-building opportunity to create the best of situations – new buildings that connect both aesthetically and technically – and perhaps even directly through the use of design and bricks – with our history while also providing cost-effective spaces for new businesses.

We believe that, with careful oversight from those who care most about Shelbyville and history, new investors might seize these spaces and construct new buildings and store fronts that create opportunity, sort of like Bob Andriot did when he built a complex in the next block west of site of the fires.

Yes a beloved and expanding restaurant is no more. A valuable counseling service is displaced. A couple of slices of history have to be bulldozed. The price of this fire could have been much worse.

But in the sunlight that followed the gray clouds of smoke emerged hope that Shelbyville Mayor Tom Hardesty’s decades-long mission of revitalizing downtown will get new and wonderful partners in hope and opportunity.

This block of downtown Shelbyville will re-emerge even better than ever, just as a another block did more than a century ago. The new history of Shelbyville will be as good as the old.