Thursday, August 30, 2018

PSC rejects KU's plan to install 'smart' electric meters

"Smart" electric meters won't be coming to Midway anytime soon. This morning, the state Public Service Commission rejected a proposal by Kentucky Utilities Co. to deploy the meters and associated technology throughout its service area.

Smart meters are connected by radio to a network, "transmit usage data in real time and also can transmit information about power outages and other unusual events, such as tampering," a PSC news release says. "Advanced meters have the ability to record usage in small time increments. KU and LG&E stated that customers would be able to use the more detailed information to better manage energy costs."

The City of Midway uses water meters with radio transmitters, but a meter reader must be in the near vicinity of the meter to read it, unlike the meters KU proposed.

The PSC's order said it “sees benefits in advanced metering,” but KU and its sister firm, Louisville Gas & Electric Co., had “failed to provide sufficient evidence to persuade us that the … benefits of the AMS (Advanced Metering System) proposal outweigh the costs here.”

"The KU/LG&E application was denied without prejudice, meaning that the utilities may submit a similar plan in the future," the news release said.

KU estimated that the new meter system would cost it $146.7 million, plus $15.2 million for deployment, but would save money in the long run, improve reliability of the electric system and reduce losses from malfunctions and theft of service. However, the PSC cited several inconsistencies in KU's arguments, including conflicting calculations of savings and differing projections of the expected service life of the meters. "The utilities ultimately contended that the meters would last 20 years, but produced minimal evidence in support of that claim," the PSC release said.

The PSC also said that unlike other utilities it has allowed to install smart meters, KU didn't show that the meters were needed to ensure adequate service. In fact, KU and LG&E said their existing meters have an average remaining service life of 15 years or more. "Other utilities demonstrated that their current meters were obsolete and could not be properly maintained," the release said. "Given that customers were being asked to pay for both the new system and $52.9 million in unrecovered costs of the existing meters, KU and LG&E could not prove that their proposal was a reasonable least-cost option, as required by law."

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

How many miles to Midway? Now folks on US 421 know

Department of Highways worker Josh Shannon puts on a truck a sign that he and colleague Josh Jesse replaced at the eastern edge of Frankfort on US 421 (Leestown Road) this morning. The new sign appears to be the first non-interstate mileage sign for Midway in many decades. In an email, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift gave the credit to City Council Member Bruce Southworth: "Bruce badgered District 5 until they gave in." Highway District 5, based in Louisville, includes Franklin County.

Andrea Clifford of District 5 told the Midway Messenger in an email, "Our traffic section received a call from a man named Bruce with the City of Midway asking why Midway would not be a destination. One of our engineers who handles signs reached out to the Division of Traffic in central office to verify what counts as a destination city for these types of signs. The direction given is that if a city has a post office, train station, city hall, etc. it could qualify as a destination city, which Midway has all three. We do not know why it had never been included in the past, but there was no reason it could not be added. So a work order was written to create and install the sign."

Monday, August 20, 2018

Council raises garbage rates, tees up property-tax cut

The Midway City Council passed a garbage-rate increase and teed up a property-tax cut Monday evening.

The garbage rates, which will take effect Sept. 1, reflect the council’s July 27 adoption of a new contract with Rumpke Waste & Recycling. The new rates will be:

• Residential customers: one pickup per week at $14.95 per month, a 15.4 percent increase from the current $12.95
• Business customers: two pickups per week at $35 per month, a 29.6 percent increase from the current $27
• Churches: charged as businesses unless the church requests in writing to be charged and served as a residential customer

"Keep in mind, this is fixed for the next four years," Mayor Grayson Vandegrift reminded the council and the audience. He said he appreciated Rumpke "acting in good faith" by extending the contract for a month to give the city time to solicit a competing bid, which made Rumpke lower its bid. "I'm very appreciative of Rumpke for the process to make sure we got the lowest price possible."

Vandegrift said at an earlier meeting that Rumpke originally bid $16 and $40, and the rates were "easy to swallow" because they are good for four years; China is reluctant to accept as much recycled material as it once did, increasing prices here; and trade conflicts have caused uncertainty in the steel and aluminum markets.

Property taxes: The council gave first reading to ordinances that would lower the tax rates on real estate and personal property to 7.5 cents per $100 from the current 10.2 cents, a reduction of 26.47 percent. The compensating rates, which would give the city about the same amount of property-tax revenue as last year, would be 10 cents per $100.

The council based the current city budget on the tax cut, which Vandegrift proposed because the city's occupational or payroll taxes have greatly increased due to development. He said the city's current rates are double the rates charged in Versailles.

Second reading and final passage of the ordinances is set for Tuesday, Sept. 4, the day after Labor Day. For the formulas showing how the rates were calculated, see the council meeting packet, downloadable here.

Sewer and water expenses: The council decided not to award a contract for paving because part of the project calls for repaving Starks Alley, where officials have concluded a storm sewer needs repair or replacement. Vandegrift said the city would advertise for bids for repaving other streets, then do Starks and at least one other street in a second round after the sewer repair. Starks connects Stephens and Higgins streets and lies between Winter and Turner streets.

Vandegrift said he would probably ask the council to increase the $20,000 allocated in the budget for sewer repairs, because that amount would only pay for "a Band-Aid solution." Council Member Bruce Southworth agreed, saying "We need something to address it overall." Vandegrift said he and Southworth, chair of the public works committee and a former sewer superintendent, would come back to the council with a plan.

The council transferred $50,000 from its tax account to the water fund to cover some unexpected expenses: repair of the tank telemetry system and two water-main breaks. Vandegrift said the water fund would return the money when it is replenished with regular revenue, in three to six months.

EDA appointment: The council approved Vandegrift's nomination of Michael Michalsin as the city's representative on the Woodford County Economic Development Authority, which owns the Midway Station industrial park. He will succeed the mayor's wife, banker Katie Vandegrift, who was appointed in April 2017 for what they said would be only a few months.

"We appointed my wife; very Kentucky of me," the mayor said, adding that he had trouble finding a replacement. "That's a tough position," he said. "Not everybody wants to pick up with that one."

Vandegrift said Michalsin is a former Wall Street brokerage firm employee who moved to Midway
five years ago and started Timber Fence Capital, a venture-capital investment business that bought Bob Mickler's equine-supply store in Lexington. He said Michalsin has many connections in the Thoroughbred trade.

"He understands business, he understands economic development . . . but he also understands the need for the balance we have here, between EDA and the horse farms," Vandegrift said.

One side of the pavilion, as designed by John Holloway
Other business: Council Member Sara Hicks, chair of the cemetery committee, said park manager John Holloway had redesigned the small pavilion to be built in the Midway Cemetery. "We're moving ahead and hope to pour soon," she said.

In response to a question from Council Member Kaye Nita Gallagher, Vandegrift said he has had relatively few property owners express interest in cost-sharing with the city for sidewalks, and will put out a call for more applicants, which should result in a better price for the contract.

Vandegrift said he didn't think the new side stripes on the recently repaved South Winter Street (US 62) have solved the problem of speeding on the town's main drag, but has heard some people say they're being more careful. State highway officials had declined to lower the speed limit from 35 m.p.h. but suggested the stripes as a psychological device that seems to make drivers slow down.

Midway University announces dean's list for spring

Midway University has announced its dean's list for the spring semester. To make the list, a student must be full-time and have at least a 3.6 grade point average for the semester.

Residents of Midway on the list are Adriana Denington and Kristina Marie Thompson.

Versailles residents on the list are Alexa Bowerbank, Hannah Lindsey Brown, Sydney Nicole Buck, Savannah Mae Carl, Miriam Lizeth Gonzalez, Leslie Gritton, Ashley Gent, Amy Joan Parsley, Juan Perez, Cortni Troublefield and Maria Carmen Ramirez Vieyra.

The list has 17 students from Georgetown and 12 from Frankfort. For the complete list of 234 students, click here.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Midway resident says Midway University tuition discount for local residents is a great incentive to learn

Marsden and Vandegrift (Midway University photo)
By Sarah Ladd
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Midway University and the City of Midway have reached an agreement for the school to offer a 15 percent tuition discount for city residents in evening and online classes, a move that will make higher education much more affordable for local students. 

The discount also extends to residents' dependents who have lived in the city for at least a year, under the agreement signed by University President John P. Marsden and Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift. The agreement also provides that the university waive certain application fees.

Jennifer Day (Photo provided)
Jennifer Day, who earned her undergraduate degree in equine science at Midway and is now pursuing an MBA at the university, said the tuition discount “really encourages everyone to push themselves further. You can keep going with school, there’s always more to learn.”

Day moved to the area from Texas to attend the university and has lived in Midway for two years. She works at Freedman's Harness Saddlery and said she is happy about the collaboration the city and university have. "I think that Midway is just a very family-friendly town," she said. She said the city and university work well to include everyone in the community and mentioned Fall Festival by name. "You see everyone, college students and everyone, just come together as one. And I think it's great that the college and town really work together to just get everyone communicating." 

Day said she picked the university for her MBA partly because it was her alma mater, but also because it was less expensive. "With them offering the discount, it just made it that much better for me," she said, noting that with her work and grad-school studies, her whole life is in Midway. "They're just making it very convenient for the residents of Midway" to take classes, she said.

The university press release included a statement from Marsden which read in part, "We are pleased to offer this discount to our friends and neighbors in Midway. We want to be a partner with the community and help improve the lives of our citizens and give back where we can."

Vandegrift said in the release, "The opportunity to have more Midway residents attain a college degree is an incredible thing. We are blessed to have such a great university right here in our backyard and I look forward to attending commencement each year and seeing more Midwegians walk across the stage to get their diploma. This is a great day for the community of Midway."

For residents interested in the traditional undergraduate programs that are not part of the discount program, there are other financial-aid and scholarship opportunities. Midway residents can contact the university Admissions Office at 846-5788 or email admissions@midway.edu to find out more ,or start an application online at apply.midway.edu. For more information, contact Vice President for Marketing and Communications Ellen Gregory at 846-6046 or egregory@midway.edu.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

School board chair Ambrose Wilson files to challenge Vandegrift for mayor; 8 candidates seek 6 council seats

Ambrose Wilson IV
By Sarah Ladd
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Ambrose Wilson IV, a 26-year member of the county school board and its current chair, joined the Midway mayoral race with incumbent Grayson Vandegrift on Tuesday, the filing deadline.

Meanwhile, two more City Council members filed for re-election, bringing the total of would-be holdovers to four. Four newcomers have filed, so eight candidates are running for six seats.

Wilson, 68, said in an interview that many citizens had asked him to run over the last few months and he decided his record of service for the community would be helpful in a mayoral position. “I have a deep sense of love for the city of Midway and the entire community,” he said. “I thought this would be another way to provide service to our city.”

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift speaks at his kickoff. (Photo by Sarah Ladd)
Vandegrift, who will be 36 on Sept. 24, said at his campaign kickoff on the Mezzo patio Tuesday evening that he is glad Wilson is running. “As much as it’d be great not to have an opponent, in reality, all mayoral elections should have a debate,” he said. “I’m so proud of my record. I’m really excited to get to talk about it. I’m geared up, I’m ready to go. I’m more fired up than I was in 2014.”

Wilson said he is not trying to compete with Vandegrift or his accomplishments. “We’re very blessed to have a strand of revenue from the occupational-tax increase [from increased employment]. There is a lot of opportunity in the future that we can address our aging infrastructure needs such as our water lines, sewer lines, roads, etc. One of the important aspects of being a successful mayor is to be a good listener and to collaborate and to build consensus.”

Vandegrift replied, “It’s encouraging to hear that my opponent agrees with the things we’re already doing. We replaced one of our oldest water lines in town in 2015 and have been making smaller repairs to sewer lines -- repairs that don’t require borrowing money. We need to be completely debt free before we do any major projects so that we can put up as much cash as possible to ensure we don’t have to raise rates to cover what we borrow. This is why I worked tirelessly for six months to help bring Lakeshore Learning Materials to Midway.”

He added, “By listening to my constituents over the last four years it’s become apparent that lowering water and sewer rates is a must as well, and I’m extremely excited that we’ve found a way to both lower rates and put ourselves in a position to continue fixing our water and sewer infrastructure and our roads and sidewalks.”

Wilson said his candidacy is unrelated to the June 26 referendum that defeated the extra property tax the school board proposed to rebuild Woodford County High School. “If the school tax had passed, I still would have arrived at this decision,” he said. “I think it’s the right time. Numerous people requested that I do it. There was hardly a night or day that I would walk that I wouldn’t receive encouragement from people.”

In the administration of Gov. Steve Beshear, Wilson served as deputy commissioner of financial institutions, commissioner of the Department of Housing, Buildings and Construction, and finally as secretary of the Public Protection and Regulation Cabinet. His father was mayor in 1993-96.

Vandegrift said his record in one four-year term as mayor speaks for itself. “I just believe if you do good things and you take care of people, you listen to them, good things happen,” he said. “Things are going great now. No one can deny that.” At his campaign kickoff, he introduced his campaign slogan, referring to the town’s train history: “Full Steam Ahead.” 

Vandegrift’s nominating petition for his campaign included signatures from Liles Taylor, the Democratic nominee for Midway-district magistrate against Republican Joseph Greathouse; and local businesspeople Leslie Penn and Steve Morgan. Wilson’s included signatures from family members Charlie Wilson, Terri Wilson, Anito Wilson, Patricia Wilson and Shirley Wilson.

Council race: The candidates are political newcomers are Danielle Doth, John Holloway, Logan Nance and Stacey Thurman and current members Kaye Nita Gallagher, Sara Hicks, John McDaniel and Bruce Southworth.

Doth is a fitness trainer and yoga instructor. Nance works at Scholastic in the Lexington area, where he said he enjoys working to promote literacy. Thurman is manager of the Midway Branch of the Woodford County Public Library. Holloway, a theatre professor at the University of Kentucky, is the unpaid manager of Walter Bradley Park.

Vandegrift signed the nominating petitions for Thurman, Nance and Hicks, but said his signature was not necessarily an endorsement. “I haven’t supported anybody,” he said. “Anybody that would have come to me running for council, I would have signed their forms. Those are the only three that came to me, so I signed them. If any of the eight people would have come to me, I would have signed. I support people running for office. I think it’s important.”

Thurman’s petition also included signatures from Carl and Brenda Rollins. Nance’s had signatures from Liles Taylor, and businessman Doug McDaniel. Holloway’s included a signature from local civic leader Helen Rentch.

Gallagher and Southworth filed Tuesday afternoon, less than two hours before the 4 p.m. deadline. Gallagher declined to comment, but Southworth said his late filing did not indicate reluctance. “I was gonna run, but this is the last time I’m running,” he said. “I believe in term limits.”

Another two-year term would be Southworth’s fourth. He said he wants to see a few things through. “I’d like to get through Dennis Anderson’s option with the industrial park and I’m sure we’ll have a wastewater plant review coming up. I’d like to get through those, but then I think eight years is enough. Let somebody else step up.”

Hicks and McDaniel filed earlier. Hicks, who attended Vandegrift's kickoff, said of her chances, “I think to be confident would be arrogant, but I’ll work for it.”

Steve Simoff announced last week that he wouldn’t seek re-election, and Johnny Wilson, who was appointed to fill the vacancy created by the death of Libby Warfield, indicated when he applied for the seat that he wouldn’t run.

The new council members and mayor will get a lot more pay than the city currently pays. In September 2017 the council raised the mayor’s pay for the next term from $100 to $1,400 per month and raised council members’ pay from $50 to $200 per month. The council said the increases were long overdue because the pay hadn’t been raised in 30 years.

Besides the races for council, mayor and magistrate, the Nov. 6 ballot will also have races for state representative and U.S. representative.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Committee to consider water-sewer leak adjustments

The Public Works and Services Committee of the Midway City Council will meet at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 15, at City Hall, to discuss water and sewer leak adjustments. The meeting notice says no action will be taken; that is up to the council. All committee and council meetings are open to the public.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Officials say they hope to replace mill bridge next year, but community members are skeptical

About 80 people attended the meeting in the gymnasium of Northside Elementary School in Midway.
Story and photos by Sarah Ladd
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Community members heard a hopeful timeline but remained skeptical after an information session on the Weisenberger Mill Bridge project Thursday.

The meeting was held from 6 to 8 p.m. in the gym at Northside Elementary School, where officials from the state Transportation Cabinet met with around 80 community members to discuss the details of the project. Booths were set up with information on design, construction, the environmental process and acquiring right of way. At each booth, officials for that part of the project discussed details and answered questions. Each booth had blank posters for citizen to write comments.

Project Manager Casey Smith discussed the bridge design.
The design for then new bridge remains the single lane truss favored by the public at a June 9 hearing. Project Manager Casey Smith said he encountered mixed emotions from the community at Thursday’s meeting, but said, “What is consistent is that people want the bridge open.” Smith said when he and others began the project, they did not realize it would be as controversial as it has been. He and other officials said construction could possibly begin in the spring of 2019. The project is expected to take one construction season.

First, the environmental review document must be completed, which Smith said is being wrapped up now. Tim Foreman, the environmental project manager, said he hopes it can be completed in November or December. Next, the state will focus on purchasing easements for the right of way, said Diane Forrester with the Division of Right of Way and Utilities, which she said could be done by March. But, she said, the time frame may be altered by other factors. “It’s all very preliminary right now,” she said.

Liles Taylor, who won the Democratic primary for Midway district magistrate in May, said he has concerns about resources. “It’s very encouraging if the timeline we’re hearing is legitimate,” he said, but said the timeline puts work before July 1, the start of next fiscal year, and he is concerned about state budgeting.

“The Road Fund is already over-programmed,” he said, “to the point that there’s more budgeted than is actually in the Road Fund. So to say that they’re gonna actually literally not follow what is in the current Road Plan and fund something that is not set for another year is a pretty bold thing.” He said he’s interested to see how the funds are freed up, and, “I’m hoping we’ll have a pleasant surprise on that.”

Isaac Hughes discussed the process with state officials.
Isaac Hughes, who lives in Zion Hill, the community mostaffected by the bridge’s two-year closing, said he and others in the community “will not feel good about it until we actually see them breaking ground. We’re not happy because we’ve heard this before.” He said they are worried that the easements for the right of way will hold things up even further and wishes that part of the process had already been done. State officials have said they can’t acquire right of way or construction easements until the environmental review is completed.

Hughes said if the timeline stays as is and he sees progress in April 2019, he will be glad. “But looking at the process, I think it needs to be changed because it’s one-sided. … It’s not only the bridge I’m concerned with. It’s how we as Kentuckians and Americans are doing people. Their ‘process’ is not for the people.” Hughes said he watches other projects being completed and feels the bridge that has cut off his community is being put on the back burner because “it’s land value over people value.”

He also said Scott County ambulances s still have to go around the closed bridge and the counties are still more worried about logistics than people’s lives. “It’s almost like you’re holding a gun to someone’s head and your waiting for it to go off. The state has a chance to get the gun out of his hand. But they’re letting him hold the gun and wait until something bad happens. When something bad happens, that’s when we’ll all come together and say ‘hey, we need to do something.’ We needed to do something two or three years ago.”

Phil Weisenberger on the bridge at his family's mill
(2015 photo by Jamilyn Hall)
Phil Weisenberger, who works at his family’s Weisenberger Mill, said it is good that the team has decided on a single-lane bridge for safety reasons and traffic-speed control. “I think that’s the best option for that area.”

Weisenberger said the process has taken so long that he is numb to it in many ways. Though he said he tries to look at the bright side, he knows people are frustrated and the project team must be tired of answering the same questions.

He said with the bridge in two counties, state responsibilities and federal money, “It’s the mother of all government projects that have come together to make it a slow, slow thing. I’ll believe it when I see it. But it looks like there is light at the end of the tunnel.” He said he won’t get his hopes up until work is physically being done, but he said he feels the project is on the right track.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Council clears up property issue, sets up new garbage rates for passage, hears a member say he's not running

Story and photos by Sarah Ladd
By University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The Midway City Council cleared up a property issue and gave first reading of new garbage rates at its meeting Monday evening. It also heard an update on emergency preparedness and heard a member announce that he won’t be seeking re-election this fall.

The abandoned part of Winter Street next to the Corner Grocery
Property issue: The council declared that the city has no interest in a piece of property called “no man’s land” next to the Midway Corner Grocery, and gave grocer Scott Bradley a quitclaim deed for it and another parcel originally thought to be his. 

Versailles lawyer Phyllis Mattingly spoke to the council on Bradley’s behalf. She said the original deed for the grocer’s property, purchased by Bradley’s parents and grandmother in 1980, was surveyed incorrectly, an error discovered during a recent survey.

The land that Bradley has used for his business and paid taxes on includes two plots that belong to him, a parcel belonging to the city and an old part of North Winter Street, abandoned when the street was re-routed decades ago.

Plat shown to the council outlines the grocery tract in purple, another
tract of Scott Bradley's in orange, the abandoned street in green, and
the property to be covered by the city's quitclaim deed in hashed blue.
For a larger version of the image, click on it.
“When the state abandoned the road, by law that property would typically go back to the property owner,” Mattingly said. “Of course, we don’t quite know who the property owner is for all this.”

The other parcel is a strip between the grocery and North Winter Street that encompasses the fuel pumps in front of the store, which Mattingly said has been used by the grocery for many years.

Mattingly asked the council to declare that the city has no interest in the property and to authorize a quitclaim agreement conveying it to Bradley.

Council Member Bruce Southworth said, “I don’t think we’ve ever had any interest in the property.” The council voted unanimously to enter the agreement.

Garbage rates: The council heard the first reading of an ordinance to raise garbage collection prices to accommodate the council’s July 27 adoption of a new contract with Rumpke Waste & Recycling. The new rates will be:

             Residential customers: one pickup per week at $14.95 per month, a 15.4 percent increase from the current $12.95
             Business customers: two pickups per week at $35 per month, a 29.6 percent increase from the current $27
             Churches: charged as businesses unless the church requests in writing to be charged and served as a residential customer

The new rates will go into effect Sept. 1. The ordinance requires a second reading before the council can vote on passage. The next council meeting is scheduled for August 20 at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.

Steve Simoff
Council election: Council Member Steve Simoff, who has served on the council since January 2017, announced that he will not be running for re-election “for personal and professional reasons.” He said he wanted to bring it up publicly to allow people considering running to know there will be an extra seat available.

Though Simoff said he was not ready to expound on his reasons for not running, he said, “I’ve really enjoyed this. Maybe two years from now, four years from now, I’d like to do it again. … It’s been fun.”

The deadline to file for the six council seats is 4 p.m. Tuesday, August 14. Those who had filed as of 3 p.m. Tuesday are John Holloway, the city’s unpaid park manager, on Feb. 19; Stacy Thurman, on June 14; Logan Nance, on June 28; and Council Member Sara Hicks, on Aug. 2.

Storm cleanup: The council also heard from Drew Chandler, head of Woodford County Disaster and Emergency Management, regarding the cleanup and restoration of the city following the recent storm.

Chandler said the July 20 storm and its aftermath revealed flaws in the department’s communication. Many people could not receive notifications because their phones relied on electricity.

He said the department is trying to become more “tech-savvy” and he introduced a new app, Heads Up Community, which is available in the Google Play Store or Apple’s App Store. Citizens can sign up for selective notifications that meet their needs such as school closings, police and security and traffic alerts.

Chandler said the app is accessible on tablets and smartphones and “breaks down that barrier that we’ve always had. People don’t want to sign up for another government list.”
He also said the department is branching out to Instagram and other social media platforms beside Facebook. He said the app is the “first step in our corrective action,” and he hopes to keep expanding.

Fall Festival: The council approved the event permit for the Midway Fall Festival, which will be held Sept. 15-16. Elisha Ann Holt of the Midway Business Association told the council she has arranged for 214 vendors for the festival, a record number. Last year’s had 160 vendors.

The festival will not feature the bouncy house for children but will have other children’s activities like face painting and children’s vendors, Holt said. She said her goal with the festival is to continue to grow the city as a whole and she said this year’s event will feature a wider variety of music, which she hopes will draw a bigger audience. 

Lexington School bonds: The council voted unanimously to issue $5 million in tax-free revenue bonds for The Lexington School, to help it reduce the cost of a construction project.

Christian Juckett, a lawyer at the Lexington office of the Rubin & Hays law firm, returned to follow up on his July 18 request for the bonds towards a new learning center at the school. The school uses Midway as a financing tool because state law allows such bonds to be issued only by local governments that issue less than $10 million in bonds in that year, and Lexington issues more than that, Juckett said. He also reiterated that the city of Midway would in no way be responsible for the debt issued but would merely serve as a catalyst.

Donations: The council agreed to a request from Lillie Cox for $125 to help finance Woodford County’s display in the Pride of the Counties exhibit at the state fair. The city now has $975 remaining in its donations budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year, which began July 1.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Main Street business occupancy is at seven-year high, but businesses face various challenges

Kenny Smith feeds his printer in Kennydid Gallery.
Story and photos by Sarah Ladd
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Main Street and its businesses have remained a representation for both visitors and locals of Midway throughout the years, and the occupancy rate is enjoying a long-time high.

Two years ago, the Messenger reported the occupancy rate of businesses on Main Street: four of the 28 buildings were vacant. This year, former Midway Business Association president Kenny Smith says only two buildings remain vacant, the highest occupancy has been in his almost seven years on Main.

“We’ve had quite a few changes since two years ago,” Smith said, pointing out the addition of Commotion, a riding apparel shop down the street from him; Wild Bill’s Western Lifestyle; and Midway Family Dental, run by Dr. Rachel Riley where a restaurant once was. “We’ve kind gone from lots of retail to now, you know, we have a dentist and a chiropractor.” He said over the last two years, there are at least new businesses operating on Main.

116 E. Main has seen a few improvements but is still blighted.
One of the vacant buildings is a coffee shop, which Smith said had to close because of the owner’s health problems. The other is one of Ness Almadari’s properties, the white building at 116 E. Main, which the Lexington investor bought in 2016. The building, which has been deteriorating for years, was once a Masonic lodge.

At the June 19 City Council meeting, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift informed the council members that Almadari had active plans to fix the building and get scaffolding up within the month. Almadari did not return the Messenger’s calls for comment, but Council Member Kaye Nita Gallagher, who owns Sweet Tooth, said that during the past month, he has added locks to the doors and replaced the window frames on the second floor.

Smith, who owns Kendid Gallery at 137 E. Main, said one reason businesses have come and gone so frequently in the past is that new owners underestimate the seasonal nature of having a business in Midway. “We rely a lot on tourism,” he said. He said sometimes, a business comes to town and the owners have never run a business before. As a result, he said they do not prepare for “dry seasons.” He said, “We’re not like a mall where people are gonna come everyday regardless. For example, after Christmas, things just really die here. But you have to plan for it and expect it.” He said in the past, new businesses have come in and not prepared for those slow times, which has reduced occupancy.

Sweet Tooth has been open for a year now.
Gallagher, who a year ago opened Sweet Tooth at 130 E. Main with Cortney Neikirk, agreed with Smith. She said this year was especially slow for Main Street businesses due to the unusually rainy season during Keeneland.

She said businesses on Main face many challenges, but the main one is the rents, some over $3,000 a month. As a result, many of the businesses cannot afford employees, which restricts their hours. “We should be open seven days a week,” Gallagher  said, “but no one can afford it. . . . If you don’t own your building, then it’s hard.”

She and Smith agreed that the 28 buildings on Main are all owned by only four to six landlords.

Smith, who said when he was business-association president that stores needed to be open more often, said his goal is to stay open as much as possible and “be nice to [visitors]. Hopefully, they’ll come back.”

Smith said Main Street businesses need to be available for visitors and make connections, and their stability depends on getting more young owners. He also said occupancy can remain good if current owners are more active during city events like Fall Festival and Midsummer Nights in Midway. He said visitors for events like that are not in town to buy from the merchants, but they may see things they like and return to buy: “That happens.”