Friday, March 5, 2021

Ness Alamdari, owner of two historic buildings on Main, talks about them in video; mayor gives Rau Bldg. tour

By Lauren McCally
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

In a Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation video that went up on YouTube Thursday, Nasar “Ness” Alamdari spoke a bit about some challenges he has faced in repairing the historic building at 116 E. Main St.

“I have never seen any property, any structure, the way it was deteriorated,” Alamdari said. “It was totally ignored for the past, I would say 70 to 60 years, sadly.”

He said the building was “very, very smartly” built and it was unfortunate that previous owners had let it go down. It is one of the few buildings on Main Street to have been constructed by an African American organization and used for Black-owned businesses.

Alamdari described a few things that can happen to a building like the one at 116 E. Main when deterioration occurs. He said “nails come loose” and start to rust. and the building starts to change shape.

According to a text box superimposed on the video, Alamdari hopes that it will one day house an African American history museum. It was built by the Odd Fellows Lodge, an African American men’s organization.

Alamdari talked more about the clock tower building at the corner of Main and North Gratz, the first building he bought in Midway.

”I came to Midway through a good friend of mine,” Almadari said. That good friend is Helen Rentch, the daughter of Dr. Ben Roach, a famed Midwegian.

Alamdari said Roach took him to see the clock tower building, which had been damaged by fire. “He said, ‘Ness, look at that building; since it caught on fire, the whole downtown became a ghost town.” He said Roach “looked dead straight into my eyes” and said “I want you to go in there, purchase the property and do something with it.”

The clock tower building, which has a distinctive turret at the corner, is included in the 136-142 E. Main group that was built in phases starting in 1882, according to the video.

“After I purchased it,” Alamdari said, “I went inside and took a closer look.” He said four or five steps were missing from a semi-round staircase because a bank that had occupied the building removed them to make room for a vault. When he found that someone had saved the step treads, he “felt like somebody gave me a check of one million dollars,” he said. “I was very excited.”

Alamdari also spoke about some of the inspiration behind the design of the upstairs units in the building. “I did some creative things on the baseboard on the second floor,” recalling designs from his childhood. “I remember the bottom of the walls . . . you could see up and down hill, like rolling hill, like design on it, so as soon as I saw that, it was déjà vu, took me totally back to my grandparents’ house, and I applied the same on this building.”

The video ends with Alamdari inviting everyone to visit Midway and have a glass of bourbon with him.

The first third of the video features a tour of City Hall and the rest of the Rau Building by Mayor Grayson Vandegrift, who was long at odds with Almadari over the slow pace and safety of his renovation of 116 E. Main but recently signed a deal with him to head off its demolition.

The middle third of the video features the Historic Midway Gift store, owned by local historian Bill Penn and his wife Leslie. The full video is available by clicking here.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Council hears options for sidewalk to Homeplace, plan to swap EDA debt for Midway Station buffer land

In their meeting Monday evening via Zoom, the Midway City Council and Mayor Grayson Vandegrift heard from Michael Michalisin of Midway, chairman of the Woodford County Economic Development Authority, about the proposed deal to forgive EDA's utility-related debts to the city in return for Midway Station's strip of land along Interstate 64. 

By Warren Taylor
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The Midway City Council got a look at various layouts for the proposed East Stephens Street sidewalk Monday night.

The sidewalk would run a fourth of a mile from Stephens and Brand streets to the The Homeplace at Midway’s entrance on Sexton Drive. The issue stumping city officials and HMB Professional Engineers of Frankfort is exactly where to put it.

"One thing that we have been going back and forth on is what side of the road to put it on," Mayor Grayson Vandergrift said. "I told you all initially that I thought it might need to go on the Midway University side, but we've taken a second look at that, and we think there is a way to possibly do most of it on the residential side."

David Brown of HMB briefed the council on the different options for the asphalt walkway, which will be called a trail in order to qualify for grants.

The first option would see it start on the north side of Stephens. There would be a crosswalk in front of a brook between Oak and Richardson streets where the trail would cross to the south side of the road. Another crosswalk would be near Midway University’s entrance, shifting the trail back to the north side of the road. A third crosswalk would be located near the entrance to the Mill Road Place apartments, and the fourth would be at the Homeplace entrance.

"This option has four crossings of Stephens -- not ideal -- but definitely the easiest to install," said Brown.

The second option would keep the trail on the south side of the road with one crosswalk at the university entrance, but it would require more construction.

"Potentially a resident from the Homeplace would travel without crossing East Stephens,” Brown said. “This one . . . would involve some significant retaining walls."

The third option would be a hybrid of the other options. The trail would begin on the south side of Stephens and cross over at the university entrance, then back to the south side at the apartment and Homeplace entrances.

"It would limit the crossings on Stephens and would avoid the costly retaining walls," Brown said, but would require removal of some "mature trees."

A high bank and a detention basin at the Mill Road apartments complicate plans for
a trail to The Homeplace. (Image from Google street maps; to enlarge, click on it)
Vandergrift said the third option was "the most doable" and that the second would be hard to do because of retaining walls eating into residents' back yards and a storm drain near the apartments.

Council Member Sara Hicks said she was concerned about a crosswalk in front of the Homeplace due to speedy drivers entering and leaving town.

"It's my impression that the further out of town you are, the greater danger there is of getting hit by a car that is going fast because of people's perception of being out of town and being in town,” she said. “I don't think that people think about slowing down really until they get to the Homeplace.”

Hicks said the crosswalk would be dangerous to older people who don't see or hear well. To avoid installing the crossing, she asked if there was any way that the trail could be moved back off the road and around various impediments, including a drainage detention basin near the street and the apartment complex.

Brown said that the plans "are not set in stone," but he doubts whether they have the width to build up an embankment to push the detention basin back.

The mayor said that the city would "go all out" to ensure pedestrian safety by installing flashing lights and a rumble strip to slow cars down at the crossings.

Council Member Logan Nance asked if it would be possible to start the sidewalk at the Homeplace and then have a crossing to the north side.

Brown said that is possible, especially in front of the apartments, but that "a more significant retaining wall" would be needed there. A diagram he showed the council said the wall would be six feet high.

Lee Branch at Stephens Street (HMB Engineers photo)
Council Member Stacy Thurman asked what would be done about the small bridge over Lee Branch near the university's soccer field.

Brown said their initial idea was to set up a steel pedestrian bridge next to the street, but there is hope to use another idea: "We are optimistic at this point that there may very possibly be enough room for the trail to hug along the side of the road there and use flexible delineators," bendable posts with reflectors and to separate pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

Vandergrift said the city "plans on doing this project and budgeting it for fiscal year 2021-22" and that officials are looking into grants to pay for it.

He estimated the project would cost anywhere from $230,000 to $300,000, and with grants, the city might have to pay between $50,000 and $75,000.

Midway Station buffer land: The mayor briefed the council on a proposed agreement that the Woodford County Economic Development Authority approved in May 2020.

The property is about 35 acres along Midway Station's southern boundary. It serves as a buffer between the industrial park and Interstate 64, and was initially designated as a green space. Under the agreement, the city would take it in exchange for forgiving a debt ranging from $500,000 to $750,000 owed to it by the EDA for utility work done in the industrial park, most of which stems from the installation of a gas line.

EDA Chair Michael Michalisin of Midway said Vandegrift proposed the deal, and “I thought it was very elegant . . . an interesting, creative idea.” He said EDA’s auditors “don’t recognize it as a real debt” but the authority is “trying to be responsible” and the land needs to be “in the hands of the city.”

Vandergrift said the city’s auditors stopped listing the debts “years ago.” He said the city plans to restore the land with the intent of "beautifying Midway Station" with trees, bushes and flowers.

He also reported that Homer Freeny Jr. has signed a letter of intent to donate 13 acres of land adjoining the property to the city, including access to South Elkhorn Creek.

The creek access presents several opportunities for the city.

"We could lease it to Canoe Kentucky or the proposed RV park if they come in," Vandergrift said.

The Freeny land’s creek entry point, the mayor said, is nine miles from where the Kentucky Bluegrass Experience RV Resort would be located.

The land could also benefit the Midway Fire Department.

Vandergrift said the department needs more space, and the city looked into buying the building next door to the department's downtown location, but "It is not currently for sale."

Instead, an auxiliary fire station could be built on the newly acquired land that could serve as a training facility, he said. It could also house the department’s new ladder truck, which does not fit in the current station.

Vandegrift said city attorney Sharon Gold is revising the proposed agreement with EDA and he may present it to the council for approval as early as March 15.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Police answer questions at first meeting of City Council's Equity and Equality in Policy Committee

Assistant Chief Rob Young (upper left), Chief Mike Murray and members of the Equity and Equality in Policy Committee listened to City Council Member Stacy Thurman, chair of the new committee, on Zoom Thursday night.

By Lauren McCally and Al Cross

University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The police who patrol Midway are professionals with a lot of experience who use body cameras and get continued training, Versailles Police Chief Mike Murray and Assistant Chief Rob Young told the Equity & Equality in Policy Committee of the Midway City Council at its first meeting Thursday night.

The committee chair, Council Member Stacy Thurman, had a list of questions, starting with the training that officers go through, specifically anti- bias and implicit racism.

“We’re very particular about the officers we hire here,” Murray said. He said about 13 of the 40 officers have more than 25 years’ experience, which is helpful to younger officers.

Murray said state law prohibits racial profiling, and the police officers’ code of ethics says their personal feelings should not influence their decisions.

This past summer, the police department went through some additional training for community based policing, bias-related crime and cultural awareness, Murray said, and will do the training every year.

Murray said new officers have to go through 800 hours of training in basic academy, which includes segments on community-oriented policing and bias-related crime, before they can patrol on their own.

Council Member Sara Hicks asked if new officers undergo a mental-health test. Murray said they go through psychological screening before, during and after a polygraph test.

Murray said the Versailles department, which patrols all of Woodford County, has used body cameras since 2015, and recently included detectives and chiefs in that. He said officers are not required to activate a camera on every contact, but on all enforcement contacts, traffic stops, investigative work, all pursuits, and “all contacts with distraught, disorderly or argumentative persons,” and when in doubt, they should opt to record.

Young said “We love body cameras,” and Murray said “They protect our people from frivolous complaints” and help gather evidence.

“We get very few complaints against our personnel,” Murray said, adding later that only one Versailles officer has had a disciplinary hearing since 2006, and “That officer is no longer here.”

Young, who handles complaints, said “The public needs to know it’s a formal process and one that’s thoroughly looked into,” with a goal of completing the investigation within a month.

In response to a question from Thurman, Murray and Young address the difference between regular warrants and no-knock warrants, something that became a big issue after the killing of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman in Louisville, last March.

“I can’t remember the last time we did a no-knock warrant” Murray said, before deferring the question to Young.

“You usually hear it in case of drug search warrants,” Young said, explaining that a no-knock warrant is issued by a judge if an officer believes that a knock and announcement would not work. “I’ve been doing law enforcement for 30 years; we’ve never used a no-knock warrant,” he said. He said Versailles Police use them only if approved by the chief or someone he designates, and then by a judge.

Asked about community-oriented policing, the officers discussed things police do in the community outside of police work.

That includes officers getting out in the evenings and doing business checks, Murray said. he added that they can patrol places for people who are on vacation.

“You can call dispatch, tell the dispatcher your address, your name, [say] you’re going to be out of town for extended period of time,” Murray said.

The police also have the citizen’s ride-along, where people can see what it’s like to be a police officer; drive-by birthday parades and meal delivery during the pandemic; and a Christmas-gifts program for underprivileged children.

“I think the perception some folks have,” Young said, “is that we’re out to make arrests and chase bad guys and that’s not it.” Murray said that is “just a small part of what we do.”

Murray was promoted form assistant chief to chief in September of 2018 after James Fugate retired. He said he is a Lexington native, Catholic, and one of five boys. he got his start in law enforcement in 1989 with the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department, which he left in 1994 to go an work for the Versailles police in January 1995. He had retired, but was given an opportunity in 2014 to go back.

Young is originally from New Jersey. He began his law enforcement career at the Office of Inspector General in New York City, then transferred to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. in 1998 he transferred to Kentucky and retired in 2017 as head of the Lexington office. He joined the Versailles Police as a detective. “I’m getting close to about 30 years in law enforcement,” Young said “Most of my time was on the federal side and there are some things I had to learn coming to the state and local side, but I really enjoyed it.”

Boil-water advisory lifted for southwest corner of town

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift announced at 10:24 a.m. that the boil-water advisory for the southwest corner of Midway has been lifted, now that lab testing has shown the water to be safe. The advisory, caused by a break in a water line, was for all of West Stephens Street, Gayland Drive, Merrywood Drive, West Higgins Street, West Cross Street, South Turner Street, and Fawn Leap Farm. 

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Part of E. Stephens St. becomes Prof. William Christy Way to honor leading black educator from Midway

By Lauren McCally
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

When driving down East Stephens Street now, you might notice extra signs under the regular street signs, reading “Professor William Christy Way.” Several people gathered Saturday afternoon to speak about and honor the man whose name is on the signs.

The City Council authorized the signs at the request of John Holloway when he was a member last fall, Black activist Milan Bush recalled:

“I remember when John Holloway petitioned to get this sign renamed, talked to me about putting a Martin Luther King Street, and I was like, 'Hey, that’s awesome, but every city has. . . an MLK; there’s a MLK somewhere here, and he found on. That was Professor Christy.”

Professor William Christy
In 1938, Christy became principal of Simmons Street High School in Versailles, where he made several improvements before opening a new Simmons High School in 1954, also as principal. He is in the Woodford County Schools Hall of Fame for his work to help African Americans.

A former student of Christy’s was also there and paid tribute to the man often known as “the Professor”:

“Professor Christy was principal, and it’s like I remember it right today. He was such a leader, a disciplinarian, a loving, compassionate principal and ran a real tight school. I remember him, he was always touching kids on their head, coming down the hall. I remember it so well. I was really moved by him and having the experience, seeing an African American man in that position being a model and being someone who looks like me, really inspired me a lot and really gave me a good boost for my life’s journey.”

Several of Christy’s descendants were there. One who came from Indiana, Jahon Brown, Christy’s great-great- granddaughter was presented with a sign, much like the ones for the street, on behalf of the family during the gathering. 

Billie Rondell Martin, Christy’s granddaughter, told the crowd, “I posted his story on Facebook yesterday, and I made mention of You Tubers consider themselves influencers. Well, he was all of our influences, and I think I speak for all the family members that we loved and respected him and we thank you very much for giving him this honor today.”

The signs are posted from Winter Street to Smith Street.
A Christy great-granddaughter said, “We have heard stories from the family at family reunions and family gatherings and I’m really humbled today because I am an educator and I’m retired now, so if by me, knowing what I know now, I guess that was the journey I was supposed to take.”

Midway resident Helen Rentch recalled that she became a classmate of two Christy descendants when Woodford County Schools were integrated as she began fourth grade. “It influenced my life to see these girls come in and know they were as smart as we were and smarter.”

The dedication ceremony for the signs was held under a white tent in front of the historic Second Christian Church. Pastor Rick Smith gave the benediction, and Mayor Grayson Vandegrift presided.

“On the second-to-last day of Black History Month, we know that we’re not going to stop talking about Black history come Monday,” Vandegrift said. “We know that we shouldn’t stop talking black history because Black history is our history.”

Bush said, “We’re really wanting to have that history brought to life, really appreciating what our black African Americans have brought to the table for the city of Midway and continue to bring to the city of Midway.”

Saturday, February 27, 2021

EDA secures buyer for last industrial lot available in Midway Station, gets plan for reworking commercial lots

Midway Station Lot 24, for which a letter of intent is being signed, is marked.
By Warren Taylor

University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The last industrial lot available at Midway Station has found a buyer, Woodford County Economic Development Authority Chair Michael Michalisin said during Friday morning’s EDA board meeting.

The board authorized Michalisin to sign a letter of intent with Mark Caldwell, who represents a yet-to-be-formed company that will specialize in the “personal storage unit business,” Michalisin said.

He said Caldwell submitted the letter of intent to buy the 4.6-acre Lot 24 at a price of $54,500 an acre at 6 p.m. Thursday.

Lucas Witt of MWM Consulting, who staffs the EDA, said that Caldwell has “a good plan” and, after talking with local leaders such as Midway Mayor Grayson Vandergrift, that he believes a storage facility is a need for the city: “I think it is a good opportunity to get that site moved and it should fulfill a need in the community, and is located in a good position to fulfill that need.”

Michalisin, who lives in Midway, said Caldwell plans to build more than 400 units but not all at once. The site would be comprised of “single smaller units.”

CSI, an automobile-robotics firm that is buying the adjacent Lot 25, previously expressed interest in the property. “They initially wanted an option to buy Lot 24, and after the final analysis, they decided to not go through with that,” Michalisin said.

Both sides will now enter into negotiations for a purchase agreement, which might include some regrading of the lot. Sales are pending to two other buyers of industrial lots.

The board received a draft plan from HMB Professional Engineers of Frankfort, for reconfiguring the 17 acres in Midway Station that is zoned B-5, or highway commercial. HMB’s plan detailed how to reconfigure the land and utilities on the property to make it more attractive to buyers.

Michalisin said EDA does not plan to spend any money to rework the land at this time but will use it to show potential buyers how the process might look.

Other Business: The EDA’s annual Industry Day will be held virtually this year due to the pandemic.

“We show high school seniors what they can do instead of going to college,” EDA Treasurer Maria Bohanan said.

Since doing the event in person is not possible, Bohanan proposed that EDA partner with Cory Cooley of Cooltucky Creative, in Versailles, to produce about an hour of video highlighting five industries, in segments of 10 to 15 minutes. Cooley would collaborate with Lexington-based Wrigley Media Group, which would handle the filming and editing.

“We want to do a kind of how-is-it-made segment and have their plant manager, or whoever they designate, to walk around so that you can see what the company does and what types of jobs are available,” she said.

The board voted to approve the $6,000 proposal.

The board also approved a partnership with the Woodford County Chamber of Commerce to host four job fairs this year. The first is tentatively scheduled for late March and will be held outdoors for safety reasons. The other fairs are tentatively set for June, September and November. The board allocated $2,500 to be used for marketing and planning the events.

The board also voted to set aside $10,000 to pay Bolt Marketing of Lexington to design a community-wide brand and develop a website to showcase it. Bolt’s bid of $9,012 ($7,012 if EDA, the Tourism Commission and the Chamber of Commerce adopt a universal brand) was chosen over one from Mandy Lambert Consulting, which would have cost $16,250.

The story of Katherine Johnson's Kitchen Orchestra

Have you been wondering about Katherine Johnson's Kitchen Orchestra, which is memorialized on the Black History Month banner in front of the old Odd Fellows Lodge building at 116 E. Main St.?

We asked John Holloway, who created the banner, and he replied:

"Katherine Johnson was a Midway historian and member of the Second Christian Church on Smith Street. She interviewed older members of the community about the origins of the church from the days when services were held in a log building – long before the start of the Civil War. That was very serious work, but she had other interests as well.

"Ms. Johnson also founded Midway’s Kitchen Orchestra. According to transcribed oral histories, the band traveled by chartered bus throughout the region in the 1950s, as far away as Cincinnati. They were known as the “Kitchen Orchestra” because all their instruments were constructed from common household items. The metallic decorations you see in the photo were mostly spoons.

"Johnson’s home (where the picture was taken) still stands at 216 E. Stephens St. in Midway."

Friday, February 26, 2021

Southwest corner of Midway under boil-water advisory

Advisory is for shaded area, plus US 62 south to Fawn Leap Farm (upper left). For a larger version of the map, click on it.
A water-line break on West Stephens Street has prompted a boil-water advisory for the southwest corner of Midway, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said.

"With ice and cold comes a thaw, and with a thaw, water line breaks," Vandegrift said in an email at 12:41 p.m. The boil-water advisory is "for all of West Stephens, Gayland Drive, Merrywood Drive, West Higgins, West Cross, South Turner, and Fawn Leap Farm. Crews are working to correct the problem, and these streets listed will be on a boil-water advisory until lab results can confirm it’s safe to lift."

Thursday, February 25, 2021

The banner for Second Christian Church has a prominent spot on East Main Street. (To enlarge any photo, click on it.)
Baseballer David Whitney is recalled.
Story and photos by Lauren McCally

University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

In celebration of Black History Month, several banners hang in downtown Midway, showcasing several notable local African Americans and places associated with them.

The banners came about with the help of former City Council member John Holloway, who Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said “did a lot of research and got help from others” to create them.

Holloway said the idea came from several talks with Norman Bush, who mentioned the idea last summer. “Norman’s family goes back more generations than anyone else in Midway,” Holloway said. Bush is the father of local Black activist Milan Bush.

Holloway had already been working with local Black historian Brenda Jackson to make a list of people and places in Midway that are important to the African American community.

A close-up of the banner for
stonemason Legrand Lee
Because the banners are a visual medium, he said, he wanted to find photographs that could be used on them, “which in a sense narrowed the list somewhat because finding photos of some of the folks on the list started with being difficult and ran to impossible.”

The banners were printed by Lynn Imaging, a company in Lexington and then given to the city.

Asked how seeing the banners made her feel, Council Member Mary Raglin, the first African American on the council in six years and first Black woman ever, said: “It is an honor to see banners hanging honoring African Americans and the black churches that have contributed to making Midway what it is today.” She said they signify how far the community has come to recognize that “African-Americans are as honorable and important as anyone else.”

She added, “Let us together, black, brown and white, continue to work on showing diversity and equality in my little town called Midway, KY, the town I love!”

John Holloway
Holloway said he wanted to do more with Black-owned businesses in Midway, but it was hard for him to find supporting pictures that could stand enlargement.

“I'm hoping that folks in the community will see the value of the banners and will loan me their photos long enough to scan them into a database for more banners in the future,” Holloway said. “In the end I was able to produce 12 banners for this year but hope to have more for next year.”
St. Matthew AME Church's banner is in front of City Hall at the intersection of Main and Winter. 
The banner for Pilgrim Baptist Church also has a prominent location on East Main.
This banner honors Aaron Fowler, who was a member of the 12th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery,
which was formed at Camp Nelson in Jessamine County during the latter part of the Civil War.

City, owner of 116 E. Main St. sign agreement to secure site in order to head off demolition of historic building

By Lauren McCally
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The agreement to secure the property at 116 E. Main, a historic Midway landmark, was signed Wednesday.

In an email to the City Council and news media, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said he and owner Naser “Ness” Alamdari had signed the agreement. It gives Alamdari 45 days from the signing to enclose the building with an eight-foot-high wall made of plywood 2x4s to prevent public access to the building.

Alamdari has also agreed to anchor the scaffolding to the building “according to OSHA guidelines,” the mayor said in the email. Alamdari will also be purchasing insurance for the property in the amount of $1 million, “which is the standard,” according to Vandegrift.

In return, Vandegrift has agreed not to appoint a panel to review Alamdari's appeal of a demolition order that the Woodford County building inspector issued in early January.  

Alamdari did not immediately respond to a request from the Messenger for comment about how soon he might resume work on the building and how soon he hopes to complete it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Old Frankfort Pike is named a National Scenic Byway

At the eastern end of the Old Frankfort Pike National Scenic Byway, in an overlook at the Secretariat statue at Alexandria Drive in Lexington, the Lexington-Frankfort Scenic Corridor Inc. has placed many interpretive signs.
By Warren Taylor

University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Old Frankfort Pike is one of 34 roads freshly minted as a National Scenic Byway by the federal government, which means that travelers on the road could see a reduced speed limit and utility pole relocations.

Sign designating a byway
The National Scenic Byways Program, established by Congress 30 years ago, aims to preserve and protect iconic American byways. To gain NSB status, a road must demonstrate recognizable archaeological, cultural, historical, natural, recreational and scenic qualities.

Old Frankfort Pike, numbered as Kentucky 1681, extends 21 miles from the Distillery District in Lexington to US 60 near Frankfort. Seventeen miles of road from the Secretariat statue at Alexandria Drive in Lexington to the railroad at Duckers are marked for preservation. The state designated the route as a Kentucky Scenic Byway in 2005.

The Lexington-Frankfort Scenic Corridor Inc., a non-profit formed in 1988 by residents of Fayette, Franklin and Woodford counties who live along the road and want to preserve the area, worked since 2013 to ensure the road received the designation.

Tracy Farmer of Midway, a board member, said the designation will help preserve an area of the Bluegrass that is rich in history: “All the historical aspects are just amazing, it really is, the people that used to live there and what’s happened.”

Woodburn, near Midway, was the leading farm of the 19th century and remains in the family
that founded it before Kentucky became a state. (Click on any photo for a larger version.)
For example, Farmer said that General George Armstrong Custer, before he went west to fight the Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne nations, was “on a train and he stopped at Spring Station, and went to Woodburn to get some horses.”

Farmer also mentioned that famed Gilded Age financier J.P. Morgan stopped in the area with his private train to buy horses, and Carrie Nation, the noted temperance activist, was born in a cabin near the road on land owned by former governor Brereton C. Jones and his wife Libby.

In addition to Woodburn and the Joneses’ Airdrie Stud, the area along the pike is home to several prominent and historic horse farms such as Darby Dan Farm, Lane’s End and Three Chimneys.

To get the byway designation, the Scenic Corridor organization told the U.S. Department of Transportation how it plans to highlight the historical aspects of the area in a management plan for protecting and developing its intrinsic qualities and character.

The plan says the active agricultural operations and a large number of privately owned farms in the area “suggest a light-handed approach to interpretive facilities is best suited to the pike.”

The approach, the organization says, would look like this: “Modestly-scaled, unmanned shelters and/or kiosk-type facilities at the ends of the pike, and at perhaps one additional location where travelers already stop, seem most suitable.”

It also says that tear-off maps with information about historic attractions and a “downloadable tour about the historic themes” on the road may also be used.

Midway-area interpretive sign at Secretariat overlook (To enlarge any image, click on it.)
Farmer said the Scenic Corridor group has already invested heavily in the project, paying for the statute of famed racehorse Secretariat at the pike's roundabout intersection with Alexandria Drive in Lexington and an overlook with interpretive displays to help visitors appreciate the road and the Bluegrass.

The designation makes the pike eligible for federal grants that can be used to improve the roadway itself.

“They have federal funds for viewshed like putting utilities from the road to the back of a farm,” Farmer said. “Generally that’s the way it works. Sometimes it has to be underground.”

Removing utility poles, he said, also serves the interest of public safety because of “all the accidents from people hitting those telephone poles that are sitting right up on the road.”

To further improve safety along the road, Farmer said the organization would like to see “the speed limit reduced by 10 miles per hour” from the current limit of 55 miles per hour and for “big trucks” to be prohibited from traveling on it.

Farmer said the Scenic Corridor group is open to any suggestions from the public to improve the newly minted scenic byway and individuals interested in doing may contact the organization through its webpage, https://www.oldfrankfortpike.org/.

The historic Offutt-Cole Tavern stands at Nugents Crossroads,
the junction of Old Frankfort Pike and US 62 near Midway.
Old Frankfort Pike is Kentucky’s seventh highway to receive designation as a National Scenic Byway.

The Country Music Highway received the NSB designation in 2002 and is 144 miles of US 23 from Whitesburg to Greenup. It honors and highlights the contribution of regional natives such as Loretta Lynn and Billy Ray Cyrus to the country music industry.

The Red River Gorge Scenic Byway was also designated in 2002 and is 46 miles of highway located near and in the popular outdoor recreation area that snakes through portions of Lee, Powell and Wolfe counties.

Another 2002 designee, the Wilderness Road Heritage Highway, takes travelers from Berea to the Cumberland Gap on the Tennessee border via US 25 and 25-E.

The Great River Road, US 51 in Kentucky, runs near the Mississippi River. It received its scenic byway status in 2009 and this year became an All-American Road, a distinction reserved for the roads that run along the loveliest sights in the United States.

The Lincoln Heritage Scenic Highway was designated in 2009 and is 71 miles of US 31-E and 150 through six communities in the Knobs and Outer Bluegrass regions of Kentucky.

The Woodlands Trace is 43 miles of state highway in the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, which Kentucky shares with Tennessee.
Photo of Old Frankfort Pike map at Secretariat overlook (For a larger version of any image, click on it.)

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Restoration: Let’s rally behind a person who has been down this path before, activist writes

Ness Alamdari posed in front of the old Odd Fellows
Lodge at 116 E. Main St. soon after he bought it in 2016.
By Milan Bush

Mad Black woman. Got your attention. Good. Oftentimes, you lose people when you become the mad black woman. That is fine. I am OK with that. It comes with the territory.

Let’s talk about buildings. Yes, buildings. Much of the history and significance of 116 E. Main St. was covered in previous articles and discussions, so I’ll save you the repetitiveness. My opinion is that the building is a heart issue. The same way we’ve compared and talked about the structure, safety, condition, and progress of the building, let’s talk about the structure, safety, condition, and progress of life.

Follow me. Naser “Ness” Alamdari purchased this building and initially was going to demolish it. Upon learning of its historical value and significance, he decided to start the arduous task of restoring it. I don't know about you, but architects, design, construction, and restoration is all foreign to me. But not Ness.

For those of you who may not know, there once was a clock tower building. You now see it is as 136-140 E. Main St. On July 21, 1998, a fire nearly destroyed it. In a similar predicament, Ness bought the building after no one seemed interested. He restored it, not only fortifying it to what it is today, but also revitalizing a community. Before then, nothing was happening downtown. His restoration helped restore downtown. “I didn’t think of it as an investment property, but my goal was to save the property, not to make money,” Alamdari said in a Lexington Herald-Leader article dated July 17, 1999.

That was over 20 years ago. Yes, times have changed. Ness has grown older, as we all have. He has faced many hardships along the way before and during this pandemic. While I understand the frustration and lack of understanding as to why this building isn’t done yet, I can’t help but want to rally behind a person who has been down this path before. In hopes that by the same way he re-energized a city through a building, I hope to re-energize a man and a community through a building. God bless.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Weisenberger Mill, as last of 3 winter storms passed

The Weisenberger Mill, a landmark on South Elkhorn Creek since 1865 (and this building since 1913), is pictured near midday Thursday, Feb. 18, at the last of the three winter storms finished dumping snow and ice on the Bluegrass region.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Council grants permits for downtown events, including Francisco's Farm Art Fair (pandemic permitting)

This story has been updated.

By Warren Taylor
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

After nearly a year of relative quiet, the joyful noise of festival crowds might be returning to downtown Midway – pandemic permitting.

The Midway City Council voted Monday night to approve permits for three events on Main Street.

The Midway Business Association’s block party would take place on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, May 29. The Francisco’s Farm Art Fair, organized by Midway Renaissance, would be June 12-13. The Midway Fall Festival would occur Sept. 18-19.

“I think everyone is excited to see these kinds of things happen again,” said Mayor Grayson Vandergrift.

Council Member Logan Nance said he was excited about having the art fair downtown: “I really, really, really hope we can do this, because I think it will be a lot of fun.”

The mayor told organizers that the events will draw larger crowds than they expect because “people are going to be itching to get out and do things once it is considered safe to do so.”

The prospect of another wave of the virus remains, and event organizers are taking precautions.

The art fair would be the first event to draw large crowds downtown area in over a year, and its permit lays out the safety guidelines organizers would use: “Per CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and state of Kentucky Covid-19 guidelines, the artists’ booths will be spaced 10 feet or more apart. Artist booths will be 50 percent open to prevent people from being in close contact while viewing the art. Mask wearing and social distancing will be required, and signs posted. We do not plan on having outside food/drink vendors.”

Debra Shockley of Renaissance explained the "50 percent" policy to the Messenger: At a traditional art fair, the artist would have the art set up on two side walls and a back wall, "and you would walk into the booth and talk to them. Well, the way they like you to do them due to Covid is that basically, you’ve flipped your tent inside out; you’ve flipped your displays inside out.”

She said the art will be on the outside and the artist will stay inside, but be encouraged to set up a table on the backside for social and business interactions. Participating artists are not required to bring a Plexiglas barrier for the back table; Shockley said she thinks that will remain optional. 

The art fair is a juried show, meaning a panel must approve of an artist’s work before it can be exhibited and sold, and Shockley told the cpoouncil that it will be a “boutique fair” this year to keep the number of vendors at a safe threshold.

Elisha Holt, also representing Renaissance, said that so far “30 artists have paid their fee to come” and that only individuals who have been invited before are being offered a spot at this year’s fair.

The art fair is moving from the campus of Midway University, where it was held in recent years, due to pandemic concerns among its past volunteers.

Shockley said Renaissance polled them, asking “Would you be comfortable this year if we did it up at Midway University?” and many said they would prefer to sit out this year because having it at the university is such a hands-on process, using golf carts for transportation from parking areas.

Downtown, she said, “The number of volunteers that would be needed would be significantly less because the artists could drive to their booth and set up themselves like they do for Fall Festival.”

If another significant spike in infections happens this year, event organizers said, cancellations are a possibility.

“We will without a doubt cancel it if we need to if there is still a huge problem with the pandemic,” MBA President Cortney Neikirk said.

Neikirk said smaller events like the block party are easier to cancel, and a decision would come one or two weeks prior to it. The call to cancel a larger event like the Fall Festival will need to be made earlier in late July or early August, due to the large number of vendors it draws.

The art fair’s permit application says its cancellation cut-off date will be May 1.

The block party would have a small number of vendors and bands playing acoustic sets at the event, according to its application.

The art fair is named after Colonel John Francisco, the original owner of the land that Midway now occupies, and since its inception in 2004 has been honored as one of the area’s top festivals by organizations such as the Kentucky League of Cities and the Kentucky Tourism Council.

The Fall Festival has been a town tradition for close to 50 years and annually draws around 15,000 visitors from a wide area to sample local food, music, and crafts.

Other business: The council appointed Elder Chris Wright, the pastor of Midway Pilgrim Baptist Church, to the Woodford County Human Rights Commission. Wright will replace Mary Raglin, who vacated her seat on the commission after she was elected to the city council last November.

“He is a wise and fair man, and will do a great job on there,” Vandergrift said about Wright.

The council also approved an ordinance of intent to de-annex 33 acres along Georgetown Road, which Homer Freeny Jr. plans to sell for a whiskey warehouse. If built in the city, Vandegrift said, the warehouse would require sewer service, and the lay of the land would require a pumping station that would require maintenance. He said a septic tank would be adequate, since the only workers based at the site would be security employees.

The actual de-annexation can’t proceed until the Woodford County Fiscal Court approves it first. Then the city would pass the actual de-annexation ordinance.

Vandegrift reported that Freeny appears to have found a way to make a tax-deductible gift to the city of 16 acres of land along South Elkhorn Creek, so the city can create a public access point for the stream.

On the roll call to pass the ordinance of intent, which was unanimous, Council Member Steve Simoff said he was voting yes “as long as we obtain that land.”

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Mayor tells council the scaffold at 116 E. Main will be made safe, can be temporarily removed for events

The scaffolding is pictured on its way up on June 30.
The building façade has since been removed.
By Lauren McCally
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

At the end of the City Council meeting Monday night, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift gave an impromptu update on the historic building at 116 E. Main St. and how it could affect events planned for the summer.

In the open roundtable that ended the 53-minute meeting, Council Member Steve Simoff asked if the scaffolding that has been on the front of the building for six and a half months would be coming down soon, specifically in time for the Fall Festival Sept. 18-19.

“I understand that they’re putting up an eight-foot barrier in front of the Ness Alamdari building,” Simoff said. “What are the plans on the scaffolding . . . will it be coming down after that’s put up?”

Vandegrift first explained the pending agreement between the city and Alamdari, saying the property owner had agreed to make the barrier of 2 x 4s to block public access, and to anchor and weigh down the scaffolding to stabilize it.

If Alamdari doesn’t start work within 45 days of signing the agreement, which is supposed to be done by Friday, the city can remove the scaffolding and put a lien on the property to cover the cost.

As for what to do about the scaffolding during events, the mayor said the city can “re-evaluate the situation in three months” and if it is not taken down in time, the city could issue a directive for it to be taken down, with the “understanding that it can be re-erected.”

He said that would be reasonable thing to ask since “scaffolding can be removed in a day” and then put back up relatively quickly. “Obviously, you prefer to not have that up during the fall festival for multiple reasons,” he said, “including the fact that it eats up a few booth spaces.”

The pending agreement is designed to head off demolition of the building under a county order that Alamdari has appealed. If he fulfills the agreement, Vandegrift will not appoint a panel to review the appeal.

“Our main goal in that negotiation was to remove our liability concerns,” Vandegrift said. “The deal removes our safety and liability concerns which was the of utmost importance to us.”

He added that demolition orders come from the building inspector, not the city, and that the plan is contingent on the city’s engineers and the county’s planning and zoning personnel approving of the safety measures, Alamdari getting a $1 million liability insurance policy and doing everything in a “timely manner.”

The mayor said he hopes that since everything is now on record, that members of the public will help the city “hold Mr. Alamdari accountable to complete this in a timely manner.”

“Obviously, nobody wants to see that building go,” he said, “but we also know that if it sits there, it is not only a disservice to downtown merchants [and] the public . . . but it also won’t save the building.”

The building was built in 1898 by the Pilgrim Lodge of the Odd Fellows, an African American men’s organization. It has had several owners over the years and was bought by Alamdari in 2016. 

Looking forward a bit later, he said, “There’s enough interest in saving the building, that you know, we’re a preservationist city, we do try to save things, we do try to preserve things and we will work with people.”

Simoff said, “I’m all in favor of saving the building. I just want the scaffolding removed as soon as possible.”

Weather puts end to residential trash pickup this week

The extreme weather has ended residential trash pickup in Midway for the week, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said this afternoon.

"Rumpke will not pick up trash as scheduled this week due to the weather events of last week and this week," Vandegrift said in an email. "Residents can expect to have trash picked up next Tuesday, and Rumpke has stated they will be diligent about picking up loose bags that may be the result of a week missed from trash pick up. Rumpke is resuming a normal schedule so businesses will be collected Friday per usual, unless the next weather event changes that."

Vandegrift also reported in street conditions: "Wright’s Farm Service has done an exceptional job, but roads are not ideal so travel should remain limited to necessary trips. We have procured and extra 30 tons of salt in case it’s needed for the next weather event."

The mayor relayed this email from Rumpke: “Taking into consideration we did not service today, we will make sure all bagged trash and cart contents placed out will be picked up. That is for all Woodford County customers including City of Versailles and City of Midway. All three are welcome to use the dumpster at the public works garage in Versailles. 337 Kentucky Ave." It is open Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Monday, February 15, 2021

City Hall to close at noon; second phase of winter storm likely to start about 1 p.m.; trash pickup delayed a day

Midway City Hall will close at noon today to let city employees "get home safely before the second wave of this storm hits," Mayor Grayson Vandegrift announced in an email this morning. "The council meeting will proceed as scheduled, however. I will decide later about our schedule for tomorrow."

The City Council is scheduled to meet via Zoom at 5:30 p.m. and will be videostreamed on the Midway Government Streaming Meetings page on Facebook.

The mayor said the city's snow-clearance contractor, Wright’s Farm Service, "is out now and will be on all day and night." The snow this morning was the first phase of a storm that will dump much more on Midway and Central Kentucky, and that is expected to include include sleet and/or freezing rain.

The second phase is expected to start at 1 p.m., Vandegrift said. He quoted an advisory that he said state and local officials received from the National Weather Service: “The storm will feature two waves. There is high confidence that a period of heavy snow Monday afternoon and night will make travel treacherous, if not impossible for a time.”

UPDATE, 11:11 a.m.: Vandegrift relays an email from the Rumpke trash service: "As of now, we are operating on a 24 hour delay for the rest of the week. Monday customers will be serviced Tuesday, Tuesday customers will be serviced Wednesday etc. With the pending weather forecast, that is subject to change. I hope to have a more solid plan very soon."

Saturday, February 13, 2021

City, 116 E. Main owner cut deal to head off demolition

The building at 116 E. Main St. is pictured on Feb. 7.
By Lauren McCally

University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The City of Midway and the owner of the building at 116 E. Main St. have reached, with a few compromises, an agreement to head off demolition of the historic structure.

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said Nasar “Ness” Alamdari of Lexington has agreed to “secure the structure” by placing a fence around the building and scaffolding “with as little sidewalk obstruction as possible.”

The city had proposed that Alamdari remove the scaffolding or enclose it and the building in a solid structure without obscuring the sidewalk.

The city had wanted Alamdari to get liability insurance of $2 million per occurrence, but agreed to $1 million. “This satisfies our liability concerns and protects the city,” the mayor said.

The city and Alamdari have also agreed to allow an “eight foot solid fence with air flow,” which could be chain-link, to allow ventilation to the basement of the building, the mayor said.

The updated agreement also says that an engineer from HMB Engineers, which the city has on retainer, will be allowed to inspect the property after the work is done and will approve or disapprove of “safety measures to be taken” to prevent harm to the public.

Work on the building is to resume in 45 days, which will start to run when the updated agreement is signed by both parties. That is to be done by Friday, Feb. 19; the original deadline was Feb. 12.

“I am hopeful to have the agreement amended for the second time and signed by early this week,” the mayor said in an email to the Messenger. “It’s a compromise that won’t make everyone happy, but it’s one I believe everyone can live with.”

Vandegrift said he and Alamdari, who have been publicly critical of each other for years, have been communicating via email with the help of city attorney Sharon Gold and Lucy Jones of Lexington, the daughter of Brereton and Libby Jones, to whom Alamdari reached out a few weeks ago.

The mayor said Alamdari is “going to erect a wall from the ground to the first floor to prevent the public from being able to enter” the building. He also said Alamdari will “secure the scaffolding by anchoring it to the building.”

The building was built in 1898 by the Pilgrim Lodge of the Odd Fellows, an African American men’s organization. It has had several owners over the years and was bought by Alamdari in 2016.

The building has been under an emergency demolition order since early January, and Alamdari has appealed the order. As part of the agreement, Vandegrift has agreed not to appoint a board to hear the appeal.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Agricultural review panel gives proposed RV resort a relatively low score and a qualified recommendation

Master plan for Kentucky Bluegrass Experience Resort; for a larger version, click on the image.
By Warren Taylor
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The Kentucky Bluegrass Experience Resort narrowly received a recommendation for a conditional-use permit from the Woodford County Agricultural Advisory Review Committee on Wednesday, and the application will require additional review by the Board of Adjustment.

The purpose of the AARC meeting was to determine whether the application for the permit met the minimum threshold of 541 points on an 840-point to receive a recommendation.

The application scored 570, just 29 points above the minimum, calling for further review by the adjustment board. A score of 676 or more would have produced a recommendation that the board approve it without additional review.

AARC Chair Skip Phillips, who was not on the committee’s visit to the site a week earlier, awarded the application 580 points. Secretary Lori Garkovich, who was on the site visit, gave it 560, for a combined score of 570. Newly installed member Floyd Raglin chose not to score the application because it was his first meeting, but he made the motion to recommend approval with conditions.

Planning Director Pattie Wilson, whose scores don’t count, awarded the application 550 points and said she “might adjust that after today’s presentation” by company representatives, which the committee members complimented.

The committee adopted Garkovich’s suggestions for these conditions: The resort should include a perimeter fence and landscape barrier in its design plans to discourage guests from trespassing on adjacent property, provide trail and property boundary maps to guests, and have wayfinding signage along all trails to also discourage trespassing. The Board of Adjustment will have the final say on conditions.

The resort is applying for a “tourist destination expanded” permit, consideration of which focuses on how light and sound pollution would affect neighboring farms, whether new permanent structures would suit the area’s agrarian setting, and how the property owner plans to deal with environmental issues.

Joey Svec of Building the Bluegrass, a real-estate and construction firm that he said would be the contractor on the project, presented on behalf of the resort. Andrew Hopewell of Lexington, the majority owner of the company, was present on the Zoom call but did not speak.

Andrew Hopewell on Zoom call
Svec said Hopewell is “an avid RVer” and “Andrew’s vision is really what’s driving this project.”

To qualify as a tourist destination, Svec said, a property must have landmarks, and the site has three: South Elkhorn Creek, which runs for two miles through the 240 acres; a small stream that rises from a spring and flows into a sinkhole; and rolling hills that are being preserved by the resort design.

The main focus is the creek, Svec said: “This is the main draw as a tourist destination.”

He said the spring-stream-sink feature “is something that the entire country doesn’t have, and so we want to bring it to people’s attention. . . . Instead of hiding it or trying to pipe it or anything like that, we are going to bring it back to the surface. The idea is to clean it. We are going to have the ability to talk about water quality and the importance of that on a property.”

The rolling hills that define the Bluegrass region of Kentucky are what dictated the resort’s design, Svec said. “The key part to know here is that the plan came out of the ground,” he explained. “We didn’t impose a plan or a program on top of the land.”

Preserving the hills means the resort would have far fewer RV sites per acre than average, Svec said: “Most RV sites, resorts or parks in the country run at about eight to ten RV sites per acre. . . . On the Woodford County side we have 4.7 sites per acre.” Woodford has 97 of the 240 acres.

The plan is to develop interpretive gardens on the trail leading to the spring and restore nearby ponds. To further protect the water quality at the resort, the design calls for grass-lined soil near campsites, parking lots made of pervious material, and rain gardens to provide natural filtration.

Svec also said there would also be numerous gardens and landscaping to augment existing foliage on planned walking trails, and to serve as a buffer against trespassing.

According to the application, the resort would have a main building that would serve as a general store, gift shop and amenity hub. The plans also call for a farmers’ market and to develop a natural amphitheater.

A major AARC concern was noise pollution, especially noise from the amphitheater.

“The amphitheater is going to be for guests only,” Svek explained. “It is not a concert hall. This is not Rupp Arena where we are trying to pack 23,000 in here.” He described it as a space where guests could see a musical performance or watch a movie with their families, with a 10 p.m. cutoff for activities.

Svek also elaborated more on how the resort plans to combat light pollution: “Using halfway lights instead of big overhead lights are really key. Halfway lights we can have better control over, and we can direct the light down. Then on our bigger lights, we would have shields on those to direct the light down.”

Wilson asked about one other concern, that the resort might attract long-term guests.

Svec said the resort may have to limit how long a guest may stay. The Board of Adjustment could impose such a condition.

Jane Cohen, a Hopewell consultant, said the resort’s model is not meant to encourage long-term stays: “This park is a vacation/leisure model, which means that it is geared more toward folks who are vacationing or coming to the area for a weekend, or who are wanting to spend a season at the park.”

A date for the Board of Adjustment meeting has not been set, but Wilson said it could be as soon as March 4. The public will be able to give comments at the board meeting. Svec said Wednesday that the company might submit its application by the March 17 deadline for the board's April 5 meeting.

In other business, the AARC recommended approval of Merefield Farm’s plan to use its “silo barn” as an event center. The farm, on Lansing Lane off Weisenberger Mill Road near Midway, already has a barn used for events; the committee recommended that the two venues be clearly differentiated by signs.

The application received a combined score of 740: 725 from Phillips and 755 from Garkovich. Wilson, who gave it an unofficial 705, said there had been no complaints about the established venue, The Vintage Barn at Merefield.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

At joint meeting of city councils and fiscal court, leaders and chamber president say they're working together well

By Warren Taylor and Lauren McCally
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The Midway and Versailles city councils’ and Woodford County Fiscal Court's joint meeting Tuesday night revealed good economic news countywide, but the news was somewhat mixed for Midway.

Midway Mayor Grayson Vandergrift reported that the city collected $790,000 in occupational taxes on a percentage of wages and net profits from local businesses in 2020. That is a 7 percent increase from 2019, mainly due to industry at Midway Station.

“It shows that the work we’ve been doing with the EDA is benefitting Midway and the whole county greatly,” Vandegrift said.

The downside is that Midway's restaurants saw decreases of 27 to 38 percent in occupational-tax payments due to in-person dining restrictions during the pandemic.

“It is a clear indication that they were employing less people which means they were doing less sales,” Vandergrift said, adding that local residents helped saved the restaurants. He said they “are the best indicator in Midway” because they “push our local economy, as far as the local-merchant economy.”

In the spring and fall of last year, the Midway city government used its surplus to send residents “Midway Bucks,” $50 in vouchers that they were able to spend at participating local businesses. The funding for the program came from surplus city funds. The city and the fiscal court also gave direct aid to businesses in need, using federal relief funds.

The interlocal effort to aid local restaurants was just one example of the good working relationship between the local governments, their leaders said.

“I think it is a wonderful exercise in governments in the same county working together,” Vandergrift said of the second joint meeting, an idea he had sought to make happen since his election in 2014. The first was in August 2019, after James Kay became county judge-executive.

Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott said he was impressed that “despite the challenges we’ve had in 2020, how great things are going.” He also said that his “working relationship could not be better” with Kay and Vandergrift.

Kay said the fiscal court and the two cities are “working together better than I can remember.”

Chamber of Commerce board chair Austin Wingate said the bond between the chamber and government organizations such as the Economic Development Authority and Tourist Commission was equally strong: “The relationship between EDA, tourism and chamber is a cohesive relationship now, and we are all working kind of hand-in-hand to pull the rope in the same direction.”

There is personnel crossover between the three organizations. EDA Treasurer Maria Bohanan chairs the Tourism Commission, and Emily Downey is the chamber’s president and CEO as well as the tourism commission’s executive director. She is the judge-executive’s sister and the wife of 5th District Magistrate William Downey.

During a presentation on local tourism, Downey said statistics from the Kentucky Tourism Department show that tourism directly employs 169 people in Woodford and indirectly creates 272 more jobs, and that 65 percent of all visitors to the county are women, with the most common age range 45 to 54.

Downey also said the tourism commission, which is funded by taxes on accommodations, wants to make the county an overnight destination. Its current pitch to potential visitors is "Fantastic Fare," which spotlights local restaurants and wineries.

Cierra Spaulding, the owner of Masterpiece Creative Group, gave a presentation about a new program being launched by the chamber. The Minority Business Development Program offers training and education, networking and partnership opportunities, and hopes to be a one-stop-shop for information needed to open and sustain a business.

Spaulding said that when she was starting her business, which helps women and girls with empowering creative projects, “I was doing this in a silo by myself,” and that she hopes the program will streamline the process for other potential minority entrepreneurs. It will have a meeting March 4.

Vandergrift said that Spaulding’s story was inspiring “when you consider this year,” an apparent reference to racial unrest about killings of unarmed Blacks.

Lucas Witt of MWM Consulting, which staffs the EDA, discussed how his firm assists the authority by focusing on helping existing employers, who create most new jobs; staying in contact with the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, where he once worked; and forming a partnership with the chamber of commerce. The EDA developed and manages Midway Station.

Witt said he also helped Bluegrass Distillers, which recently closed on the former Mitchell farm next to Midway. Its $3.1 million investment will increase tourism to downtown businesses and create 18-20 new jobs, he said.

Mayor says streets being pretreated for ice storm, brunt of which is expected to occur between 5 p.m. and 2 a.m.

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift says the city is ready for the approaching ice storm.

He said in an email to the City Council and news media that Woodford County Emergency Management Director Drew Chandler had advised him that the worst of the storm in Midway is expected to occur between 5 p.m. and 2 a.m. tonight.

"Wright’s Farm Services has pretreated our roads and will salt again this afternoon," Vandegrift wrote, referring to the city's winter traffic contractor. "They will stay nearby and will be on all through the night as needed. If anyone has any questions or knows of needs please let me know. I will update accordingly."

At 1:30 p.m., Gov. Andy Beshear will give an update via Facebook and YouTube.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Proposed RV resort on Georgetown Rd. gets favorable look from committee that will consider application Wed.

"Character images of new structures" to be built at the RV resort
By Warren Taylor

University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The proposed Kentucky Bluegrass Experience Resort for recreational vehicles got a favorable look from the Woodford County Agricultural Advisory Review Committee last Wednesday.

The committee, which makes recommendations to the Board of Adjustment about applications for conditional-use permits on farmland, will meet via Zoom to consider the application at 8:30 a.m. this Wednesday.

Committee secretary Lori Garkovich said after the visit that she was pleased with how well prepared the property owners were: “I asked a lot of questions, and they had an answer for every single one of them.”

She also said the design of the resort is impressive: “The design they have is very much created by landscape architects with the idea of following the natural contours and characteristics of the land.”

According to the company's application, the resort will transform the property into "an agritourism destination to enhance and showcase the beauty found within the central Bluegrass, Woodford County and Midway." The resort will include RV sites, primitive campsites, walking trails, and entry and exit points for aquatic activities on South Elkhorn Creek.

Visitors would enter the resort after turning off Georgetown Road and then travel over a bridge onto a tree-lined road that bisects a public parking lot and a game/activities field. Past a traffic circle would be a pedestrian promenade, featuring a farmers’ market and shops, and leading to the main building with a general store, a gift shop and the resort’s registration hub.

Garkovich, a retired University of Kentucky rural-sociology professor, said she believes that the resort, if approved, will be a boon for local tourism.

"The potential economic impact of this is pretty significant for the Midway area,” she said. “RV people tend to spend money, all tourists do, and tourists who spend the night in an area spend a lot more than tourists who come for a day trip.”

Before construction can begin, the company needs the conditional-use permit, and the committee's visit was the first step in that process.

The four-member committee reviews proposed agricultural land changes that will affect the area's rural character, the neighborhood, and the property owner's neighbors.

The panel uses a 14-question “decision tree” with a point system to evaluate property plans.

"You never lose points, but you gain points for certain things," she explained. For example. “Do you have a stormwater management plan on the property associated? Do you have liability insurance?”

The resort will need a minimum of 541 points out of a possible 840 to earn a favorable recommendation. A score from 541 to 675 qualifies the recommendation, saying it needs additional review by the Board of Adjustment, which has the final say.

The committee assigns point values according to the answer to each question. For example, 75 points are associated with question seven, which concerns the resort’s water management plan.

Garkovich said that one of the committee’s concerns was the resort’s effect on the two miles of South Elkhorn Creek that border the property.

"Obviously, on a sensitive watershed, you are concerned about the impacts on water quality and stormwater runoff, et cetera,” she said.

In its application, the company says the creek would be "the main focal point for the RV resort." It says it would remove invasive species and stabilize the creek bank, and "The property topography has been closely studied to minimize land disturbance and to minimize the amount of grading and drainage that will be needed. Grass-lined swales and rain gardens will be used alongside roadways and between RV sites to collect and direct runoff while also providing the first layer of filtration." Also, parking areas would have pervious pavement, which allows rainwater to flow through it as well as off of it.

Five other questions worth a combined 500 points evaluate such things as the effect of sound and light on neighboring farms and whether new, permanent structures on the property suit the area’s rural setting. The application says there will be no permanent foundations in the camping area.

The company says there would be no light pollution to neighboring farms because parking lots would be far from the property line, and have landscape buffers. The resort will host live music, but the company says noisy activities would be closely monitored and end by 10 p.m. All buildings will have architectural elements of horse barns, bourbon distilleries and wineries, the application says.

The application earns 50 points because an owner or family member will live on the property, at the northwest extremity of the 240 acres, in Scott County. Here's a diagram of the 97 acres in Woodford County. For a larger version, click on it.