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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

City council hears questions and answers about tax-increment financing, to be used at Midway Station

The Midway City Council heard a consultant for the plan to use tax-increment financing to develop Midway Station answer a series of written questions from a likely council member Monday night.

After the council disposed of several largely routine items of business, John Harris of Commonwealth Economics answered six questions posed by Libby Warfield, one of six candidates for the six council seats in the Nov. 4 election. He distributed written responses to the council, then elaborated on them. A PDF with Warfield's questions and Harris's responses can be downloaded here.

Asked by the Messenger if she was satisfied with the answers she received, Warfield said she would have to check with her son, Matt, a former council member who worked for the state Revenue Cabinet and compiled the questions.

Tax-increment financing uses extra tax revenue generated by a development to pay for the public infrastructure associated with the development.

Council Member Grayson Vandegrift, a candidate for mayor, asked Harris, "What would you say in a nutshell are the biggest risks the city takes?" Harris said that since the city isn't being asked to guarantee any bonds, its risk would be to its reputation if the proposed industrial, commercial and residential development fails.

"Versailles took the reputational risk" with a redevelopment project that was delayed for years, Harris said. "I don't think it's a big risk at all." Later, he noted that the state TIF law requires a development to start within four years and "another couple of years" to reach the $20 million minimum investment.

"These are all really very good questions," said Harris, who was the last secretary of finance for the administration of Gov. Ernie Flecther in 2007. "It took me three or four years to understand the statute I helped write." He said the state's interpretation of the law has evolved.

In a related matter, the council gave first reading to an ordinance rezoning a 38-acre tract on Georgetown Road that would be added to Midway Station, presumably for a prospective industry.

The Woodford County Economic Development Authority, which asked for the rezoning and owns Midway Station, will hold its monthly meeting at 8 a.m. Friday, Oct. 24 in the Anne Hart Raymond Center at Midway College.

In another matter involving Warfield, the council denied her request for reimbursement of $2,330 for a water line her father installed in 1989, on grounds that the reimbursement ordinance has a 10-year limit. Warfield told the council that the line "will now be used by entire west side of town. . . . I just thought out of fairness I should ask. Now I can tell my father that I tried."

In other business, the council voted to schedule trick or treat for Friday, Oct. 31 from 6 to 8 p.m.; authorized Bozarth to execute a new franchise agreement with Kentucky Utilities; and decided to seek a neutral site for a meeting with the Woodford County Fiscal Court to discuss the dispute over financing of emergency management services.

The court had proposed that the meeting be held in conjunction with its regular meeting on Nov. 25, but Mayor Tom Bozarth said, "I think our meeting should be held at a place like KCTCS or Midway College, in a more inviting environment, where we can all sit down at the table and have a conversation instead of sitting in the courtroom and being in the audience."

UPDATE: Wednesday morning, a special meeting was announced for the council's special emergency-management committee from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 23 at the Woodford County Chamber of Commerce office in Versailles. The meeting will also include representatives from the Versailles City Council, which is also at odds with the county about emergency-management funding.

Regarding another meeting, Bozarth noted that the state Transportation Cabinet will hold a public hearing from 5 to 7 p.m.Oct. 30 on the corridor for the proposed Versailles bypass, which could route more traffic onto narrow US 62. "It's very critical for both Versailles and probably Midway to see exactly what's going on," he said.

Bozarth also announced that Habitat for Humanity will hold an open house Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. at its recently built home on North Winter Street, and that bids for reconstruction of water lines on Higgins Street will be opened Nov. 6.

Council Member Sharon Turner, the other mayoral candidate, announced that the Cemetery Committee would meet Oct. 27 at 4:30 p.m. to discuss a proposed mausoleum and landscaping, and the Blighted Property Committee would meet Oct. 28 28 at 8:30 a.m. to continue its discussions about individual properties.

Monday, October 20, 2014

American Farmland Trust is holding its national conference in Lexington and the Bluegrass this week

The American Farmland Trust is holding its annual conference, "Farmland, Food and Livable Communities," in Lexington and the Bluegrass today through Wednesday, Oct. 22. Bus tours this morning viewed Lexington’s mixed-use and re-use development and urban agriculture and went to Dixiana Farm, Darby Dan Farm, Brookfield Farm, the Kentucky Horse Park and the Grimes Mill Winery. One of the guides for the latter tour was Billy Van Pelt, CEO of Woodford Forward Inc., based in Midway. He will be on a Wednesday panel, "Comprehensive Approaches to Local Farmland Protection." For the full schedule, click here. Walk-in registration is available at the Lexington Hilton Downtown.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Restaurateur Ouita Michel made it to Midway on her pluck, luck, skill and vision for local food

By Brian Bouhl
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

It’s hard to imagine where Ouita Michel would be today if she hadn’t told a lie about herself.

The nationally prominent matriarch of Bluegrass cuisine, Michel almost lost one of her first cooking jobs in New York City because she let her ambition overcome her honesty.

“I worked for a really nice seafood restaurant called John Clancy’s and I told the chef I knew how to filet a fish and I had never really filleted a fish in my life,” Michel recalled. “I basically just cried the first day, and to this day I have no idea why she didn’t fire my ass.”

Decades later, Michel sits in the bar area of the Holly Hill Inn, crown jewel of her mini-empire of food in the central Bluegrass region. The charming Greek Revival home, built about 1845, oozes Southern charm, from the shelves of bourbon on the wall, to the immaculate foyer and the kitchen that could very well be Mom’s or Grandma’s.

Michel moved to New York after graduating from the University of Kentucky, but returned to Lexington in 1993 once she married her husband Chris Michel (pronounced "Michael"), whom she met at the Culinary Institute of America on the first day of school. “I originally just came back to Lexington to get married,” she said. “I moved down here to plan the wedding with my mom and I got home and I just didn’t want to go back to New York.”

After jumping around jobs in Lexington in the mid-1990s, Michel opened up her first restaurant with Joe and Elizabeth Coons: Emmett’s, on Tates Creek Road. Michel credits the restaurant, “a fantastic experience,” for teaching her about Southern cooking and traditional Bluegrass dishes. But the 350-seat, fine-dining restaurant had its downsides, especially the stressful 80-hour workweeks, and Michel always wanted something smaller.

Little to her knowledge, fate was on her side, and one conversation with just the right person led to the acquisition of the centerpiece of her culinary family.

Michel was giving a tour of Emmett’s to Midway food writer Bob Rouse one night and the two were wrapping up their interview. She recalls it this way:

“You must love this place, you’ll never leave it,” said Rouse.

“Well, I do love it,” said Michel. “But I’d only ever leave it for the Holly Hill Inn in Midway.”

“Well, I own that with my dad,” said Rouse.

“If you ever want to sell it,” Michel replied, “call me.”

Unbeknown to her, Rouse and his family had started talking that week about how they needed to sell the Inn.  He eventually called, Michel and her husband came and looked at the property, and the rest was history.

Rouse confirmed Michel's account. "I consider that the greatest thing I've ever done for this community," he said. "They have been remarkable assets to the community."

Owning and operating the Inn since 2001, the Michels have called Midway home ever since, living in a cottage on the same property.

Though she wanted something smaller than Emmett’s 13 years ago, Michel now owns four other restaurants in Central Kentucky: Wallace Station Deli and Bakery on Old Frankfort Pike, Midway School Bakery at the south edge of town, and Windy Corner Market and Smithtown Seafood in Lexington. Adding to her tower of hats, she is also the chef-in-residence at Woodford Reserve Distillery, which has a new visitors’ center.

But Holly Hill is still home, and it’s where her mission started. “I think every business needs a mission beyond the bottom line, she said. “Our mission is to express the culture of Midway and of Central Kentucky through its food and to move it forward, not just continuously expressing the past but saying this is what we can do here.”

Michel is a leader of the farm-to-table movement that has taken off in Central Kentucky and many other parts of the nation. She is often asked to appear at culinary events around the state, and she is nationally recognized as a chef and leader in the local-food movement. And that helps make a civic and business leader in Midway and the Bluegrass.

That status wasn’t something planned, she said, but something she needed as a person.

“It’s nothing I set out to accomplish. I didn’t wake up one night and say I want to be a community leader. I want to be a community leader because I want my community to be great,” said Michel.  “I don’t want to just brainlessly make grits every day. I want to see the beauty in those grits because they come from Weisenberger Mill. I want to share that with the people who come to Midway.”

Being a leader to Michel also means supporting her employees, which number around 100.

“I want to change my community from the ground up. I want to support the people and encourage the people that are working for me in my businesses instead of always marching out front,” Michel said. “I want my young chefs to get more exposure. That is one reason I’ve tried to change my role. I’m not really the chef anymore at the Holly Hill Inn. I have all these fabulous people who I want to push forward.”

Despite her rise in stature since her move to Midway, Michel doesn’t see herself becoming a regional or national figure, because of guidance from her stepfather, the late Robert Sexton, longtime executive director of the statewide Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.

“He was very influential in my life in terms of focusing me away from chasing this national Food Network-style fame,” said Michel. “It was more, ’Hey, I’m in Kentucky, I’m the Kentucky chef and I want to be the best. I want to change the way we think about food in Kentucky. I want to impact it, I want to develop it, I want to be a part of it. So Kentucky would always be my top priority because it’s my community.”

Pictures, awards and newspaper clips adorn the walls of the bar at Holly Hill. But outside of her five James Beard Foundation nominations for best chef in the Southeast, there seem to be three constant words: local, community, and leader.

“I moved back to Kentucky to feed a community,” Michel said. She’s done that and much more from her base on North  Winter Street. She’s changed the landscape of food in the Bluegrass for the present and future.

Luckily for Midway and Central Kentucky, that chef in Manhattan didn’t fire her all those years ago.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Planners OK industrial zone for tract next to Station, clear way for hearing on financing; Anderson confident

By Sarah Brookbank
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Midway was a hot topic at the Versailles-Midway-Woodford County Planning and Zoning Commission meeting on Thursday. Three items focused on Midway Station, the long-planned development north of Interstate 64.

Many changes for Midway Station have been planned over the years but not much has happened at the site since its development in the 1990s. That might be changing soon, the prospective developer's construction of a McDonald’s and a Shell station underway on the southeast corner of the interchange, and there are rumblings of more development to come, such as a Midway Station factory.

The first item on the docket was the rezoning of an area adjoining Midway Station and Georgetown Road. On Sept. 11 the commission held a hearing to rezone 37.111 acres from A-1 agricultural and R-3 residential to I-1 light industrial. The area was considered an extension of the already I-1 industrial zoned area that is Midway Station.
Area recommended for industrial zoning is white outlined in purple. Area recently rezoned industrial for prospective factory is mainly yellow outlined in purple. Area in solid purple has been zoned industrial since original development of Midway Station.
The commission did not take action to recommend rezoning of the area until Thursday. Tim Butler, the attorney for the commission, said after Thursday's meeting that the members wanted time to read a substantial amount of paperwork before voting.

The rezoning of the area attached to Midway Station was recommended without dissent. If approved by the county, it will add 38.22 gross acres to the industrial area of Midway Station, which is to be a mixed-use development. The commission also approved the initial development plan.

According to the commission’s findings of fact, the development “will promote the goal of industrial development by increasing the amount of I-1 land available… [and] promotes employment by providing additional work place opportunities for Woodford countians seeking employment.”

Redevelopment of Midway Station has been very slow in coming, and one item on the docket showed that very well.

A representative of Anderson Communities, the prospective developer, asked for re-approval of the preliminary plat, a basic map and layout of the area that will be developed. Approval expires after one year, so re-approval was needed because construction had not begun within that time. Nothing about the plan has changed in the year, expect the additional area which had been approved earlier in the meeting.

The re-approval of construction shows that things have been slow going at Midway Station. According to the initial development plan, $30.7 million needs to be spent on infrastructure to turn what was an industrial park into a mixed-use development.

Anderson Communities plans to use tax-increment financing, which uses tax revenue from redevelopment to pay for necessary public infrastructure.

A necessary step for Anderson’s TIF was the last Midway Station item on the docket. Chris Westover, an attorney for Anderson Communities, asked the council to “certify that the Midway Station Mixed Use TIF Development Area complies with the 2011 Comprehensive Plan” adopted by the commission and local governments.

On Oct. 7 Dennis Anderson showed the Midway City Council his infrastructure plan, which amounts to $30.7 million in construction on roads and sidewalks, water and sanitation systems, electricity and other essential infrastructure, almost half the cost for parking spaces in the residential and commercial development.

A local planning commission must certify that the development plan fits within the local comprehensive plan before it moves up the ranks to the state. The commission adopted the certification without dissent.

Butler said the next step is a public hearing in Midway to determine support of the project. This hearing is scheduled for Nov. 3 at 6:30, immediately after the regular city council meeting. If the council approves the development plan for Midway Station, the project will move to the state for further approval. If the state approves the project, Anderson Communities will be allowed to use TIF funds to pay for the $30.7 million of infrastructure.

Westwood mentioned Midway Station’s long struggle for success, starting with its development by the Woodford County Economic Development Authority. “It was first zoned for industrial uses back in the 1990s and when the EDA acquired it they installed all the infrastructure but the development did not happen. Several years later there was a stockyard proposed and everything fell apart. After that Dennis Anderson worked out with the EDA to develop a mixed-use project.”

It looks like Anderson may finally get build on Midway Station, and for a long time. The development may take 20 years to complete. The only question now, along with the TIF, where will the initial funding come from?

“We will not have any trouble securing financing,” Anderson said after the meeting.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Council takes first move for tax-increment financing plan for mixed-use redevelopment of Midway Station

The Midway City Council voted Monday night to start the official process that could secure the financing for large, mixed-use development at Midway Station.

The council voted to schedule a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 3 on a plan for development that would be funded by tax-increment financing, a device that uses increased tax revenue from development to pay for the costs of public infrastructure in the development.

Table from Commonwealth Economics report
Lexington developer Dennis Anderson, who has an option to buy the largely vacant industrial park and has been paying the taxes and interest on the city and county debt for its creation, plans to use tax-increment financing to recoup the $30.7 million he plans to spend regrading the site; reworking its streets, sidewalks, utilities and drainage; and creating parking, the largest single cost.

The specific figures, and a forecast that the development would more than repay the TIF costs, were included in a report to the city by Commonwealth Economics, a consulting firm Anderson has hired.

John Harris of Commonwealth told the council that his firm has worked with more that 12 cities to get TIF projects approved by the state. He said it was founded in 2007, after he was finance secretary for Gov. Ernie Fletcher, when the current TIF law was written.

"If the developer takes the risk to put in the local public infrastructure, the state allows the local government . . . to reimburse the developer for the cost of the public infrastructure," using up to 80 percent of the incremental tax revenue generated by the project (except school and special-district taxes), Harris explained.

"You have to spend the money to actually received the funds back from the state, and they only come back as the taxes are created," Harris said. "As soon as the set infrastructure amount is paid for, the program ends. . . . The maximum it can take is 20 years." Anderson has said full development of Midway Station may take that long.

Anderson appears to have secured financing for the project, pending state approval of the TIF for it. "From the time the state approves your application you do have four years to start," Harris said.

He said the report presumes that Woodford County will participated in the Midway project, just as it participated with Versailles in TIF that is being used for the new Kroger and associated development. He said the state will want to see some support from the county, thought it is not required, and both governments would pass a local participation agreement saying they will participate at a certain level before applying for state approval.

Anderson's plan calls for 221 singe-family homes and 139 "townhome units." Council Member Grayson Vandegrift, a candidate for mayor, asked Harris, "What if we didn't want that many homes built in that amount of time?"

Harris said a specific number can be part of the agreement with developer, but his associate, Casey Bolton, said "This is a 20-year build-out, so you're only talking about 11 homes a year."

The plan calls for 100,000 square feet of space for retail shops and restaurants, 183,000 square feet of leasable office space and 400,000 square feet of industrial space. For a PDF of the Commonwealth Economics report, click here.

Among other business at the meeting, the council approved a bid for replacing the firehouse roof and enacted a revised ordinance dealing with encroachments onto city property.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Candidates for mayor, council and judgeships face off

Story and photos by Tessa Lighty
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Against a seemingly boring blue background at the Anne Hart Raymond building at Midway College, candidates for office in Midway and the courts met in front of an audience Thursday night to discuss their stands on important matters in preparation for the election on November 4.

City Council Members Sharon Turner and Grayson Vandegrift were the concluding, main event, agreeing on the main issues in Midway, but offering different backgrounds and styles.

Turner has been on the council for almost eight years and her pitch has always been her background and experience, having lived in her native town for a long time, owning a small publishing business and running a beer distributors’ lobby in Frankfort.

“With a background in government relations,” she said, “I really feel like owning and operating a business gives me the skills to handle daily challenges and to problem-solve.” Turner took implicit partial credit for the city’s good financial condition: “Eight years ago … we had $40,000 in reserves. We now have that built up to $600,000 for rainy day funds, major projects.”

Vandegrift, in his second year on the council, is a restaurateur. “In running my family’s restaurant on Main Street for the last seven years, and, in guiding a small business through a massive recession, I was able to learn and hone skills that are valuable to any leadership position,” he said.

Also in his opening statement, Vandegrift said Midway's downtown is "in good shape," and citizens want to see the same attention given to the rest of the city.

Both candidates seemed in agreement on the big issues. They said the most important one is the city’s infrastructure: water and sewer lines, streets and sidewalks. Both said the city should start doing projects on the priority list of a task force that examined water and sewer issues, and said the city is expecting new revenue, presumably from development on both sides of the Interstate 64 interchange.
On the proposed Versailles-Midway-Woodford County government merger, both candidates said Midway needs its own government to maintain its identity, but combining services is still a beneficial idea. “We would lose our identity,” Turner said. “We have to fight for the identity we have now.”

Vandegrift shared those sentiments. “We would lose our voice as a city. We’re a small city but we have a big name," he said. “We would probably go from having eight representatives to having two, maybe three at best.”

Both candidates said Midway’s community spirit would serve it well as it remains independent.

“Together is the key word in all of this,” Vandegrift said. “If we work together as a united community we can achieve every one of our goals. We as Midway citizens are on the verge of being the envy of small cities all across Kentucky,” Vandegrift told the audience of about 50.

Turner said, “It’s a community of hard work and dedication and people do this because they love it. … And we all work together.”

Both candidates indicated that they would run an inclusive administration.

Asked what they hoped to be able to say after one term that would earn them a second, Vandegrift said he would want citizens to say “I felt like I had a voice, I felt like I had a seat at the table.”

Turner said she would want citizens to see that she had brought efficiencies, the right policies and procedures, and better services. She added, “It’s important to feel you’ve had a say.”

Asked to sum up first, Turner said, “I feel like I have the experience and the proven leadership to help serve all of Midway.” Vandegrift said, “It doesn’t matter who has the best idea, as long as we always go with the best idea.”

The city council forum, which preceded the one for mayor, was possibly the calmest of the five, perhaps because there are only six candidates for six seats. Newcomer Kaye Nita Gallagher wasn’t afraid to answer “I don’t know” to a question about the proposed merger.

Much like the mayoral candidates, newcomer Libby Warfield and Council Member Sara Hicks also opposed the merger but said they are open to the idea of merging services.

Much like the mayoral candidates, Warfield referenced the poor infrastructure of Midway. “I think that the sidewalk issue is an important safety issue that we have and that needs to be addressed,” she said, adding on another topic, ”I feel that we have begged and pleaded long enough for an ambulance hub close to Midway.” That is a decision of the county government.

Judicial races create a few sparks

The evening began with Circuit Court Judge Paul Isaacs and challenger Ethyle Noel, both of Georgetown. While they seemed cordial and Isaacs kept his calm demeanor, Noel said, “I decided to seek this position because we need a change.” Noel said.

Isaacs did not respond during the forum to Noel’s main charge, that he moves court cases too slowly. Asked about it afterward, he said, “I find it hard to respond to vague allegations.”

Isaacs has been circuit  judge for 15 years and referenced his experience on many issues. Noel said, “You heard my opponent say he’s been there 15 years and he still wants a chance to go to work every day and I admire that, by the way, happy belated 70th birthday, Judge Isaacs.”

Family Court Judge Tamra Gormley (left) of Versailles and challenger Lisa Hart Morgan (below) of Paris talked of community relations and the importance of knowing the families that judges serve in court. Gormley, however, said her seven and a half years as judge is more valuable to the community than Morgan’s practice of divorce cases and other family law.

Both Gormley and Morgan said the public needs to know more about what Family Court does. “We are under, at least, an ethical obligation to help the community understand the process and make sure that their rights are protected,” Morgan said. Gormley agreed, saying, “Family Court is a team approach.”

The last of the judge candidates were District Judge Vanessa Dickson (left) of Paris and challenger Chad Wells (below) of Versailles.

“If you believe that an incumbent should remain in office just for the fact that they are an incumbent, then I think you have an issue with the democratic process,” said Wells.

Dickson replied, “I’m not running on any expectation that you will elect me because I’ve been your judge. I’m running on an expectation that you will elect me because I’ve been a good judge for you.”

Dickson mentioned she has been an attorney for 32 years and judge for 12 years, implementing new programs such as Teen Court, a “peer sentencing program,” and expanding drug court to District Court.

Wells acknowledged Dickson’s experience and said, “I’m not going to sit here and tell you I know every facet of every field of law that would come before me in the first few months.”

The event was sponsored by the Woodford County Chamber of Commerce and the Midway Woman’s Club. Another forum will be held Oct. 16 for candidates for state representative and representative in Congress.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Fall Festival drew what looked like biggest crowd ever


Sam Said of Lexington worked at one of the many food booths.
Main Street in Midway was filled with people, dogs, farm animals and a lot more Saturday and Sunday for the 39th annual Midway Fall Festival. The event displayed local arts and crafts, food, and music. People from all over the area were invited to "an old-fashioned family festival, filled with small town hospitality." While adults shopped the white-top tents and open shops for crafts, clothes and more, the children could take a ride on a mini train, feed various goats and sheep, or careen down a bouncy obstacle course. Even away from Main Street, activity was everywhere. Churches and houses alike had yard sales set up out of their garages. People from all over Central Kentucky flocked to the streets of Midway to experience the weekend festival, and the weather cooperated. Woodford Sun correspondent John McDaniel estimated the two-day crowd at 17,000. Photos and text by Tessa Lighty, University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications
     Children and adults got around the crowded streets of Midway with the Choo-Choo.

    Addison Jarrard of Lawrenceburg performed with the Agility Gymnastics Academy.

     Jim Olive of Lexington played the banjo next to one of the stairs on East Main Street.

Ashlee Vanhoose, right, of Lexington, took a picture of her one-year-old, Casom, at the petting zoo.

     A wide selection of honey was on display at the 39th annual Midway Fall Festival on Sunday.