Thursday, November 27, 2014

Still successful at Heirloom, restaurateur and chef Mark Wombles opens Distilled at Gratz Park in Lexington

Wombles in Distilled at Gratz Park
Story and photos by Paige Mullen
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Midway restaurateur and chef Mark Wombles has opened a new restaurant on the edge of downtown Lexington and hired a new chef for his Heirloom restaurant in Midway.

Gratz Park Inn, the small boutique hotel at 120 West Second St., has replaced the previous restaurant, Jonathan at Gratz Park, with  Distilled at Gratz Park.

While Heirloom is California style, the menu for the new restaurant is “contemporary Southern,” Wombles said in an interview at his new location. “No one here is doing it well or really doing it right now at all, so that is what we want to capitalize on.”

He said Distilled is similar to Husk in Charleston, South Carolina, and Nashville. Both Husk and Distilled place a modern twist on Southern cuisine. Husk has an award winning chef, Sean Brock, who grew up just across the Kentucky border in Virginia, 45 miles from Hazard, Ky., where Wombles’ family once lived.

Wombles spoke highly of the new chef taking over at Heirloom in Midway, Cameron Roszkowski.

"He is great,” Wombles gushed. “He came from a really great restaurant,” at the Blackberry Farm Resort in Townsend, Tennessee, “and I am really happy with Heirloom and everything that is going on so far.

Wombles said he is making sure that his ingredients at Distilled are fresh, and worked with executive chef Jeremy Simpson, who came from Heirloom, to come up with the new menu.

The Distilled menu features a tasting of country ham on the appetizer list, as well as a roasted autumn squash salad. Entrees on the dinner menu include short-rib ragu and shrimp and grits, a dish that was on Jonathan’s menu and remains on Heirloom’s, albeit with different recipes.

The interior of Distilled at Gratz Park, former site of Jonathan
While the interior of the restaurant has elegant touches, Wombles said he wants to make sure that the d├ęcor is not overbearing. He said that there is a clean and soft feel that he believes will allow the focus to be more on the food.

"What we plan on doing is take all of the non- essential elements out of fine dining,” he said before the restaurant opened. “So there are no white table cloths, there is not fancy attire, the servers are going to wear pink-and-white-striped Oxford buttondowns with dark denim blue jeans and black Chuck Taylor shoes."

Wombles said he wants an atmosphere with some fun, and an experience that is not "cookie cutter fine dining." He added, “I have never wanted to go with the flow.”

Wombles opened the Heirloom restaurant in the heart of downtown Midway in 2006 with help from his father, Henry Wombles. It is the top-rated restaurant on OpenTable.com in the Lexington area, but Wombles said he wanted to be in the city itself.

“Heirloom has done so well and I have always wanted to have a restaurant in Lexington and the opportunity arose,” he said. “The owners of the hotel contacted us and we were actually looking for a place in Lexington at the same time."

The Gratz Park Inn is at 120 West Second Street in Lexington
He has a new partner and investor for Distilled but declined to say who it is.

At this writing, Heirloom was number one on Opentable for best overall restaurant in the Lexington area, with 4.7 on a 5-point scale, just ahead of Coles 735 Main, Dudley’s on Short and the Merrick Inn, all at 4.6.

Wombles said that because Heirloom is small, it has been and will be able to take care of its customers differently than larger restaurants. Also, he said that Heirloom will continue to try to keep everything local as much as possible, especially during the warmer months.

Wombles was born in Winter Park, Florida, moved with his family to Lexington when he was 5, and attended Sayre School.

Before opening the Heirloom he was a cook at the Merrick Inn in Lexington and realized that was what he wanted to do. He moved to San Francisco and trained at the California Culinary Academy, now known as Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in San Francisco. Upon returning to Kentucky he worked at the fabulous but now defunct Maisonette in Cincinnati, as well as various restaurants in Lexington before opening his award winning Midway restaurant.

Mayor-elect and Midway restaurateur Grayson Vandegrift said he is impressed with what Wombles has done at Heirloom.

“He is a very good chef and everyone knows that,” Vandegrift said. “I think what he has done with Heirloom has been terrific; I think he will do well in Lexington.

Is there potential to open more restaurants? “There has been talk about opening another restaurant in two years,” Wombles said. “If this one does well then maybe in another city, like Louisville.”

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Quilt show raises money for needy residents of The Homeplace at Midway, and provides bus tours of facility

Story and photos by Sarah Brookbank
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Old and new came together this weekend at The Homeplace at Midway Quilt Show, which showcased quilts from Woodford County to benefit The Homeplace at Midway Benevolent Fund.

The show at Midway College featured vendors, music and quilt exhibits from local community members and historical societies to add to the fund set up to help Midway residents who face financial struggles while they live at the long-awaited elder-care facility. Bus tours of the construction site of the Homeplace, across Stephens Street from the college, ran on Saturday.

The Homeplace has been a long time coming. The Midway Nursing Home Task Force has worked for almost 16 years to bring a care facility to Midway so that Midwegians can stay close to home while getting the help they need. The Homeplace is being built and operated by Christian Care Communities, the largest private, faith-based provider of elder care in Kentucky.

One of the draws of the show was the quilt registry, which is an online archive of quilts from Kentucky. The quilts are photographed and added to the archive that is hosted by the Folk Life Archives of the Kentucky Museum at Western Kentucky University. The Heritage Quilt Society registered quilts on Friday and Saturday.

The show was held at Anne Hart Raymond Building and featured more than 100 quilts. Members of the Nursing Home Task force worked until 8 p.m. setting up the display and working with The Kentucky Heritage Quilt Society, said Helen Rentch, who organized the show.

Rentch, a longtime leader of the task force, encouraged members of the community to take the tours of the Homeplace, asking them about their plans and if they would be interested in living there, calling to them as they looked at quilts.

Rentch explained the long process of trying to get the Homeplace off the ground and the work that went into funding the project.

“When we started doing it, we wanted a small, community-sized facility,” she said. "In the industry, the principle is that you have to have at least 60 beds in the building or it’s not going to be financially feasible. And we didn’t want a facility like that, we couldn’t get that many beds licensed anyway, and consequently, we couldn’t find anybody who would agree to help finance or take over management. 
Even though there are thousands of companies out there doing it, they want it to be profitable.”

After five years of struggling to find a way to make the project come to life, the task force decided to work with a non-profit organization. Rentch said that after that decision was made, finding a non-profit with enough experience and credibility was difficult. After a few more years they found Christian Care, which runs 30 to 40 facilities across the state.

“They still didn’t think that it was financially feasible,” Rentch said. “So it took a number of more years before they would agree to agree to build the small houses that we wanted. Now that idea has become popular.” 

The Homeplace is considered a Green House facility, a new style of elder care that provides help while allowing freedom. All cottages feature an open kitchen and living area that will allow residents to come and go and prepare their own meals.

“If it doesn’t go in my house, it doesn’t go in the Green House Model,” said Linda Cox of Christian Care Communities, who will help manage the facility and gave bus tours if it. “You will not see a med cart in this place. That does not mean that our nurses are not providing medication, or care, or treatment. It’s just not done in that institutional type setting. It’s all sort of hidden away so it feels like home.”

When the Homeplace opens in the spring, a few months later than planned, it will have five buildings. One is the Farm House, which will house administrative offices and provide a place for activities and meetings.

Work continued as the bus tours ran on Saturday.
There are four apartment-style cottages with 12 bedrooms in each cottage.  One of the four is an assisted-living cottage that does not have full-time nursing staff, a memory-care cottage that will house patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia, and two cottages that will be skilled nursing facilities. The skilled nursing facilities will be more like a standard nursing home.

“The main tenets of the Green House are to fight the plagues of loneliness, helplessness, and boredom for our elders and our seniors,” said Cox, adding that one of its slogans will be “Seniors rule.” The phrase will be used to remind the residents of the Homeplace that they are in control and will not be forced into scheduled living and eating like many nursing homes.

The Homeplace also hopes to add more patio-style homes around the facility for elders who need no assistance, in order to grow the community; as they age, they will move into different homes on the property.

The $13.5 million project sits on 31 acres across from the college, which will play a large role in the facility. Cox said internships and rotations will be available for college nursing students, and they are looking to expand that opportunity to hospitality students as well.

The show at the college was full of quilts and people. It has grown since last year, not only with the registry but with music by the Hills of Kentucky Dulcimer Society and a children’s activity table. On Friday night the Heritage Society registered 29 quilts. By lunchtime on Saturday it had registered 16 more. It tried to limit each family to two quilts because the process is time-consuming, and quilts must be at least 50 years old.

“We had a man come last night at 8 p.m. to register his quilts, because he had to wait to hire somebody to drive him,” Rentch recalled. “He’s elderly and has his grandmama’s quilts but he can’t drive.”

Rentch said the task force hopes to donate a few thousand dollars to the benevolent fund, which will benefit Midway residents who meet financial struggles while they live at the Homeplace. She said the fund needs to grow a great deal and that they will continue to raise money, even after the Homeplace opens. Residents who run out of money or cannot make ends meet on Medicaid benefits will be able to access the fund.

Rentch said, “The real object is to engage the community, which we have done successfully.”

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Ambrose Wilson IV named secretary of public protection

Ambrose Wilson IV
Ambrose Wilson IV of Midway is Kentucky's new secretary of public protection. He started his new duties Friday, Nov. 7, after being appointed by Gov. Steve Beshear. He succeeded Larry Bond, the governor’s chief of staff, who had been acting secretary since Robert Vance resigned in May.

Wilson had been commissioner of the Department of Housing, Buildings and Construction since 2012, and before that was deputy commissioner of the Department of Financial Institutions, both part of the Public Protection Cabinet. He has held office-management and human-resource positions in various parts of the private sector.

“Ambrose’s experience in human resources and management will be an invaluable asset to the cabinet,” Beshear said in a press release. “In addition, he brings a background in both public and private sectors that will well serve the critical role that Public Protection plays in monitoring and regulating a number of activities that impact nearly every Kentuckian, from the financial soundness of our state-chartered banks and investment companies to reviewing building permits and fire-safety inspections.”

Wilson said, “I am grateful to Gov. Beshear for this new opportunity to lead a team of 600 employees dedicated to public protection and public service.” The cabinet includes various quasi-independent agencies such as the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and the Department of Insurance.

Wilson is also the chairman of the Woodford County Board of Education. He told The Woodford Sun that he and his brother, a school-board member in Arkansas, learned public service from their father, former Midway Mayor Ambrose Wilson III. “Any time you can do things to enhance the lives of others, you need to take that opportunity. So it was instilled in us from the very beginning.”

Monday, November 10, 2014

Council to meet Wed. to act on water and repair bids

The Midway City Council will hold a special meeting at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 12, at Midway City Hall to act on bids for replacement water lines on Higgins Street and work on the Rau Building that houses City Hall. All council meetings are open to the public.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Driver lands upside down in South Elkhorn Creek after failing to negotiate sharp curve at bridge

A Versailles police officer rescued a motorist in the wee hours of Thursday morning after the driver's BMW failed to make the sharp curve on Old Frankfort Pike at the South Elkhorn Creek bridge and landed upside down in the water.

Officer Scot Cottingham told Jim Warren of the Lexington Herald-Leader that he was looking for the site of an earlier accident "when he saw the BMW 'come around the corner at a pretty high rate of speed,' hit the end of the bridge, plunge over an embankment and land in the water," Warren reports. "He driver was left dangling from his seat belt with his face barely above water. Cottingham waded into the creek to reassure the driver until firefighters arrived to get him out of the car."

"It's fortunate that where he was pinned, his head was above water," Cottingham told Warren. "Obviously, he was scared, and what I did was mainly talk to him and assure him that we were there to help and that he would be taken care of. It was lucky that someone witnessed the wreck, because that location is not very well traveled at night, and he could have been there a long time."

Warren reports, "The motorist, whose name was not released, was taken to University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital with cuts on his face and complaining of pain in his legs." Cottingham told Warren that the driver should recover.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Citizens question propriety of tax-increment financing for redevelopment of Midway Station

By Sarah Brookbank
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Despite the elections on Tuesday, Monday evening was a full of business for the Midway City Council, starting with the regular council meeting and ending with a public hearing on tax increment financing for redevelopment of Midway Station's commercial and residential zones.

The big-ticket item at the council meeting was the approval of the rezoning from residential to industrial 38.22 acres on Georgetown Road that touches the edge of Midway Station. Without discussion, the council approved the rezoning, requested by the Woodford County Economic Development Authority.

The EDA has an option to buy the property. That would create 80 acres of industrially zoned property, and EDA representative Craig McAnelly said between the meetings that the agency is looking to put as many as three plants on the property.

Prospects for redevelopment of Midway Station have been centered on tax-increment financing, which allows developers to use the increased tax revenue from a refurbished area to retroactively pay for the public infrastructure of a development. Lexington developer Dennis Anderson has proposed the financing method.

Citizens at the public hearing raised questions about the necessity of TIF.

The first comment came from John Schaaf, a resident of Ironworks Estates in Scott County, just across Elkhorn Creek.

“I would like to speak in favor of free enterprise rather than a free handout to this particular developer and his financial backers,” said Schaaf.

Schaaf said that it was his understanding that developers recover the money that they put into infrastructure through sale of the property. Schaaf’s concern was that Anderson would get “a double return on his infrastructure costs” through TIF and sale of the developed properties.

“If this is going to be a successful development I think it should be undertaken in the spirit of free enterprise,” Schaaf said. “He should take the risk, he should put in the infrastructure and he should recover that money from the people who intend to benefit from having property in that area.”
“I don’t know that the taxpayers of Midway, or the state of Kentucky should be underwriting this project.”

Schaaf said the property’s location and the improving economy mean that it should be able to be redeveloped without TIF. He said that he did not have a problem with the development, but with the way it will be financed.

In response, Anderson consultant John Farris of Commonwealth Economics said the city of Midway would retain 20 percent of incremental tax revenues, and TIF does not apply to school taxes.

“We estimate an additional 200 to 300 thousand dollars coming in to the city of Midway just on the 20 percent, not the school taxes and property taxes,” Farris said.

Farris said the redevelopment has a very large amount of infrastructure that needs to be done and it comes at a high cost. At an earlier meeting, Farris presented a list of infrastructure work totaling $31 million, including nearly $15 million for public parking.

Midway resident Nick Bentley, who has experience as a real-estate broker and a developer, spoke next.

Bentley said that he was pleased to see the rezoning of the 38 acres, since residential areas cost more for a city to service and maintain, and the area will need to be balanced between retail, industrial and residential so that it will be a net positive.

“My biggest question is, why as a taxpayer, as a developer, as a builder, as a Realtor, as a businessman, do I have to compete against subsidized property?” Bentley asked. “Why as a landlord do I have to say ‘Oh, no one gave me any money when I rehabbed blighted property,’ and I mean a nickel, but now I’m going to be asked to compete on the open market with a subsidized housing project?”

Bentley asked what would happen if millions of dollars are spent on infrastructure and the property never sells. He asked where the money that would be spent on infrastructure would come from.

“It’s the EDA that put this thing in place to start with,” Bentley said, noting the project’s failed 25-year history. “It’s a question of how do you trust the horse that takes you to the poisoned well. I don’t.”

Bentley called the estimated infrastructure costs “ridiculous” based on his own experience in the area.
“I’d sure like to see the books, because if I spent 30 million doing that property I’d be going broke,” he said. “So why are we asking the taxpayers to spend more than they need to? I don’t believe those numbers.”

Bentley said the TIF program takes the fiscal responsibility off the developer.

“In this case they’re asking the taxpayers to pay 30 million dollars, instead of ponying up what a developer would normally have to do,” he said. “I don’t get it, I think it’s kind of anti-American if you ask me personally.”

In response, Farris said that the $14.9 million for parking is an estimate, and reminded the council that the project is “receipt based,” meaning the developer has to spend money to get reimbursement. He said that this is a way to make the developer spend less money.

Farris also addressed who would pay for the infrastructure. The City of Midway has yet to determine how this project would be funded, but there are options. Some cities bond the TIF rather than pay upfront. Others, such as Lexington, make the developer take the risk on the infrastructure costs, and some take a hybrid approach.

Later in the hearing, Council Member Dan Roller also asked about retaining sales tax from the development. Farris said that 80 percent of incremental sales taxes would be available to pay for infrastructure, under state law.

Roller also asked about the timeline of infrastructure development and the payment. Farris said  development will be needed before the property can be sold, and that some of that involves updating the current infrastructure and putting down the basics. Farris also said that much of the development timetable will have to do with demand.

EDA Chairman John Soper said the EDA is confident in Anderson’s ability to finance the project. Soper also said that he feels like the EDA has the confidence of the city council, fiscal court and of their banks.

Soper stressed that the project needs to be started so that they can go back to the banks in 2019 when the bond on the property matures and renegotiate finances.
“It makes all the sense in the world to do it, and to do it now,” he said. “Especially with the economy, it is recovering and we’re starting to get calls at least weekly about these properties. We haven’t hit the home run yet, we’re having a lot of conversations and that’s a whole lot better than it was two years ago.”

Soper also said he hopes the council and citizens of Midway could get behind the TIF application process because it would solve infrastructure problems and boost employment.

Contrary to expectations, there was not statement at the meeting from Woodford Forward, which identifies itself as “a group of citizens and business owners that advocate for innovative policies that promote the highest and best use of urban land and the agricultural use of productive farmland throughout Woodford County.”

Billy Van Pelt of Woodford Forward said the organization would announce its position known after a meeting with Anderson. Anderson was present at the hearing but made no comments.

Council meeting

Other business at the council meeting included a conversation with Keith Slugantz, the director of emergency management in Woodford County. Slugantz fielded questions from council members Grayson Vandergrift and Aaron Hamilton about the issues with tornado sirens in Midway in early October.

On Oct. 7, a tornado warning was issued for Midway and surrounding areas by the National Weather Service, but the sirens in Midway went off 17 minutes after they should have, due to an equipment malfunction. The sirens had to be set off by the emergency management department through a portable radio that did not reach all the sirens in the area. Slugantz reassured the council that the issue had been resolved and would not happen again.

Renovations of the Rau building were also discussed. The historic green and red Rau building sits on the corner of Main Street, housing City Hall, offices and the Breckinridge shop. Contractor Phil Kepler said that to keep the historic building from constant repair and damage, that it should be redone and modernized with better wood and new glass. This will keep drafts out of the building, stop the wood from rotting and will make the storefront last much longer.

At the end of the council meeting, outgoing Mayor Tom Bozarth made a statement regarding the next day’s election for mayor, between Council Members Sharon Turner and Grayson Vandegrift.
“I want to thank Grayson and Sharon for their hard work. You’ve both ran a very good campaign. It’s been very positive… Good luck tomorrow.” Vandegrift won with 53.4 percent of the vote; for a report on the mayor's race, click here.

Judge-Exec Coyle loses rural Midway but wins; Gormley loses family court bench; other judges win; so does Kay

An earlier version of this story contained incomplete results.

Republican Bobby Gaffney carried the rural Midway precinct but lost to Democratic incumbent John Coyle in the race for Woodford County judge-executive.

Gaffney carried the county precinct (which stretches south to Versailles) 234 to 221 while Coyle carried the city precinct 391 to 290.

Gaffney carried four other precincts: High School County, 338-332; Huntertown Church, 342-288; Huntertown School, 257-217; and Southside School, 257-235. The candidates tied in Hillsboro Church with 219. Countywide, Coyle got 5,554 votes, or 54 percent of the total, to Gaffney's 4,735.

KAY WINS: In a race that stretched into Fayette and Franklin counties, Democratic state Rep. James Kay won his first full term in the state House by defeating a fellow Versailles resident, Republican Ryan Schwartz. He carried the city precinct 484 to 209 and the county precinct 266 to 193.

Kay won 59.8 percent of the vote in the 56th District, getting 9,668 votes to 6,498 for Schwartz. He carried Woodford County 6,160 to 4,111, the Fayette County precincts 1,682 to 1,162 and the Franklin County precincts 1,826 to 1,225.

GORMLEY LOSES: Family Court Judge Tamra Gormley of Versailles was defeated by Lisa Hart Morgan of Georgetown in a district that also includes Bourbon County. The vote was 15,606 to 11,778. Morgan won Scott County 8,431 to 5,012 and Bourbon County 3,108 to 2,213. Gormley won Woodford 4,553 to 4,067, the Midway city precinct 292-255 and the county precinct 180-164.

Circuit Judge Paul Isaacs easily won re-election over fellow Georgetown resident Ethyle Noel, 17,617 to 6,807. He carried the city precinct 346-140 and the county precinct 209-86. The other circuit judge, Rob Johnson, was not opposed for another eight-year term.

District Judge Vanessa Mullins Dickson racked up round numbers in defeating challenger Chad Wells in all three counties. the district-wide vote was 15,000 to 9,473; she carried the city precinct 300-188 and the county precinct 205-106. The other district judge, Mary Jane Wilhoit Phelps, was unopposed. Judicial races are non-partisan.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Grayson Vandegrift elected mayor with 53.4 percent of the vote over fellow council member Sharon Turner

Grayson Vandegrift
By Quinn Schwartz
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Grayson Vandegrift narrowly defeated fellow city council member Sharon Turner to become the new mayor of Midway, by a vote of 374 to 325.

There was an excited buzz around the polls Tuesday evening as last-minute voters cast their ballots for who they believed would best succeed Mayor Tom Bozarth, who didn’t seek a third four-year term. 

Before the polls closed, Turner supporters felt confident that her four two-year terms on the council would put her in position to win the election, while Vandegrift voters hoped the restaurateur’s hospitable approach to his campaign would put him in position to effect change in Midway.

“He was the only one that knocked on my door, came into my house, introduced himself and told me a few of the things he would like to change,” said Midway resident Mary Raglin. “I really think he is for the people. Midway is a horse town and a lot of people do things for the rich and forget about the poor, but I really think that Vandegrift is going to be for everyone.”

Vandegrift said he believes it was this kind of campaigning that gave him the edge in such a tight race, as well as what will make him a successful mayor in the upcoming years.

“I think I ran my campaign a lot like how I want to run the administration,” said Vandegrift.  “I heard a lot of voices and had a lot of help – I went to every door myself and got a lot of input from people in the community.” 

Some of the biggest issues Vandegrift faces as mayor include improvements to water lines, sewers, sidewalks and other infrastructure and how the city plans to pay for them. Vandegrift says these improvements will be his first order of business and has a plan on how to incorporate them successfully.

“I want to put together a committee of council members and citizens with certain expertise to devise a five-, 10-, 15- or even 20-year plan on how we can start to use new revenue as well as existing revenue to improve the water and sewer system without having to raise taxes,” he said.  “The only time taxes are raised is when a city doesn’t plan ahead.”

While Vandegrift’s vision for Midway may be ambitious, not everyone, including Turner, believes his single term on the city council will provide the 32-year-old with enough experience to succeed as the mayor of Midway.

Sharon Turner
Turner, 52, wasn’t fully ready to answer the question of what she believes Vandegrift would bring to Midway as the newly elected mayor. 

“I have to say I’m worried,” said Turner.  “His inexperience really scares me.”

Turner, who has served on city council since January 2005 and as mayor pro tem since 2007, now plans to retire from politics and focus on community service, which will include the new senior living center now under construction in Midway, for which she helped lead the campaign.
Bozarth offered some advice for his successor.

“People in Midway have their own agendas,” he said.  “Always remember to keep Midway first, and try to hear what everyone has to say.”

Due to the mayor's race and the retirement of City Council Member Aaron Hamilton, the council will have three new faces. There were only six candidates for the six council seats; Bruce Southworth led the ticket with 420 votes and by tradition would become mayor pro tem. The other two incumbents, Sara Hicks and Dan Roller, each got 407 votes. Steven Craig got 385, Libby Warfield 380 and Kaye Nita Gallagher 373.