Sunday, January 31, 2021

Equity and Equality in Policy panel will invite police; chair says it will be a place for 'community conversation'

By Lauren McCally
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

In its first meeting Friday morning, the Midway City Council’s Equity and Equality in Policy Committee discussed plans for moving forward, and agreed that the inviting the police department to speak would be a good starting point. 

The committee and Mayor Grayson Vandegrift also agreed that the committee could be a place to have community conversations and public forums.

“I think community conversation is going to be a big aspect of this,” said Council Member Stacy Thurman, chair of the committee, which also includes Sara Hicks and newly elected Mary Raglin, the council’s first Black member in six years. (Hicks said she was unable to attend due to an unexpected family obligation.)

Thurman said earlier in the meeting that she thought the committee was “very important” and could address “a lot of issues that are current right now.” 

Vandegrift said he created the committee partly because he wants Midway to “be a place that is literally for everybody,” and suggested that the committee start with inviting guests. Thurman said she thought the Versailles police, who patrol Midway and the rest of Woodford County, would welcome the opportunity. Raglin and the mayor nodded in agreement.

“I have the utmost faith in our police; I think they do a wonderful job,” Thurman said. “I do think they would appreciate the platform to reach out to the community.” She added that transparency is important to them and they wanted to “have good community relations.” 

As for others to invite, Vandegrift suggested Pastor Rick Smith from Second Christian Church because he is “a great resource” and “has done a lot of work with groups such as BUILD,” which stands for Building a United Interfaith Lexington through Direct action.

The mayor said, “I think there’s a lot of guests in the region” who can “come in and talk to the committee about ways to think about how to shape policy to make sure that it is inclusive.”

Vandegrift said he created the committee to implement the resolution that the council passed June 1, in the wake of killings by police in Louisville and Minneapolis and resulting Black Lives Matter protests.

The resolution says the city will examine “the racial biases embedded in our city” and “the racial impacts of city polices,” encourage people of color to participate in government and try to “improve the quality of life for all residents of Midway by asking these questions: Who benefits? Who is burdened? Who is missing? How do we know?”

Thurman said “People get very defensive” about such issues, “like we don’t need to have those conversations in Midway.” She said the committee needs to be brave, open-minded and “challenge the status quo.”

While the committee “absolutely applies to racial bias,” Vandegrift said, it can also consider things such as “poverty [and] all the unseen things in [the] community.” 

Raglin said, “I’m honored to be on this committee. “If I could just figure out what direction I’m supposed to go in to help, I’m ready to just do whatever it is I can to make it all work.”

Raglin said she knows there are issues but she “doesn’t really know what they are,” so “I need to be more out there and talking with people.” 

That’s hard to do right now, Vandegrift said, because of the pandemic. “Unfortunately, those conversations are happening solely on social media,” which he said is a problem. 

“People are very quick to talk about what they are frustrated about on social media,” he said, “but they’re slow to come to a city council meeting and say it.” He said the council has tried to be as welcoming as possible and “to say that anybody has a seat at the table [to] say whatever they feel,” but no one has asked to speak to the council since it started meeting online due to the pandemic.

The mayor said he hopes the committee can help give advice “in almost the thousand-yard view” on some of the policies and their effect on those in the community who are overlooked. “The sky is the limit for this committee.”

The meeting was held via Zoom; a recording is on the Midway Government Streaming Meetings page on Facebook.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

EDA pays off debt to Roach family; Vandegrift says deal for city to forgive gas-line debt will go to council soon

Zoning map, labeled by Midway Messenger to show properties EDA added to original Midway Station; lavender area is zoned industrial; blue-green area is highway commercial. Yellow is residential. For a larger version of the map, click on it.

The Woodford County Economic Development Authority is paying off the remaining $75,000 debt to the Roach family for the property that jump-started successful development of Midway Station.

"That's a monumental event in this whole project," former EDA board chair John Soper said during the board's meeting Friday. He said board member Gene Hornback "went out and got that relationship" with Dr. Jim Roach that enabled EDA to obtain the property as an optional site for American Howa Kentucky, which built an auto-parts plant there in 2016. "Without it, we wouldn't have gotten AHK or Lakeshore" Learning Materials, which has become the city's largest employer and has opened a second plant on the former Roach property.

With the pending sale of the rest of the property for other development, the board had authorized payment of the remaining debt in August, but made it contingent on an agreement with the City of Midway to forgive the debt EDA owes the city for construction of the natural-gas line that cleared the way for Lakeshore to come to town. In return, the city would get title to the 38 acres of unplatted land along Interstate 64 which has always been planned as a greenspace or buffer zone for the property.

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said after the meeting that he still plans to ask the City Council to approve the deal, probably in the next two months, but wanted to give new Council Members Mary Raglin and Steve Simoff time to study it and give the four holdover members time to refresh their knowledge of the subject. Vandegrift said at least one of the new members is on board with the deal, and he expects as strongly as he did before that it will be approved.

"I want to give everybody a chance to ask all their questions and feel comfortable about it," he said.

The EDA board amended its August motion to remove the contingency regarding the city. "We have the money, and it's just the path of least resistance," said board Chair Michael Michalisin of Midway.

Screenshot of online ad; click on it for clearer version
The board also amended its minutes of its last meeting to clarify that it owns only 17 acres of property that is zoned highway commercial, not 40 acres. Seven acres on and near Georgetown Road are owned or controlled by Dennis Anderson of Lexington, who bought the property when he had the option to develop most of Midway Station for various uses. When EDA decided to revert largely to the property's initial industrial zoning more than two years ago, Anderson dropped out as developer.

The economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic has depressed the market for such property, but with the end of the pandemic in sight and pent-up demand likely playing a factor, Anderson is advertising 5.7 acres of his property for sale, with a price tag of $208,000.

That could affect how EDA proceeds with marketing its commercial acreage, which is being redesigned by HMB Engineers with oversight by an EDA board committee headed by Paul Schreffler.

Schreffler said the board would discuss the matter in closed session, but beforehand, he reported that the revised layout would increase the "buildable acreage" by 1.14 acres, but requiring addition of water lines and sewer inlets. He said HMB is working to make the layout "more marketing-based," and is following some suggestions made by county Planning Director Pattie Wilson.

Michalisin said, "That's obviously high priority for us this year, to maximize the value of that land."

Lucas Witt, EDA's contract executive director, said, "I think we'll have a good story to tell at the end of 2021."

In other business, Witt reported that:
  • Lakeshore "soon will be in serious hiring mode" for its second plant.
  • He will submit a proposal for rebranding the county's economic-development efforts by the end of March and will aim to have it approved at that time. "The board continues to have discussions on it offline," he said. Under the state Open Meetings Act, such discussions cannot involve a quorum of members of a public agency, which in EDA's case is four of the seven members, without announcing the meeting in advance.
  • Bluegrass Distillers has submitted its application to the state Department for Local Government for a low-interest loan to finance construction of its tourist-destination distillery on the former Mitchell farm across Georgetown Road from Midway Station.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Developers of recreational-vehicle resort buy 240 acres just north of distillery site, seek conditional-use permit

This map from July is conceptual and shouldn't be relied on for details. City and county lines were added. Click to enlarge.
By Lauren McCally
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Land has been bought, and a permit is being sought, for a recreational-vehicle resort that will help boost tourism for Midway, just north of the new distillery site on the former Mitchell farm.

Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift announced that Kentucky Bluegrass Experience Resort has bought the property and that he met with the developers Friday to discuss their plans.

“I met with their principal investors and designers today and received the most updated plans for the use of the land,” he said in an email to the City Council and the news media. He said the company has purchased 240 acres of agricultural land adjacent to the site of Bluegrass Distillers, which closed on its purchase from the Mitchell family early last month.

The mayor announced both projects last July, but the RV resort developers apparently didn’t confirm their plans to proceed until after the distillery bought its property.

According to records in the secretary of state’s office, the Kentucky Bluegrass Experience Resort LLC was organized Oct. 20 by Andrew W. Hopewell of Lexington, who amended the articles of organization Nov. 5 to say that the company “is to be managed by one or more managers.” He signed the document as manager; Vandegrift said the land is owned by Hopewell, a Harrodsburg native who played football at the University of Kentucky.

The mayor said the RV park’s plans include a farmers’ and artisans’ market “for locals to sell their produce and goods,” walking trails, kayaking with two miles of access to South Elkhorn Creek, an aquatic center, basketball and bocce-ball courts, RV campsites in the rear of the property, and “an educational center focusing on the history of the land, bourbon history, and preservationism.”

The resort is beginning to submit plans for review by the Woodford County Planning Commission, Vandegrift said. The planned park is on agricultural land and thus does not need to be rezoned, but it will need a conditional use permit, he said in July.

Planning Director Pattie Wilson told the Messenger in July that the review process would start with the Agricultural Advisory Review Committee, which makes recommendations for such permits on farmland and prompted some changes in the plan of Bluegrass Distillers.

In response to Vandegrift’s email, Council Member Sara Hicks asked, “Will there be trailers or RVs at this resort, and if so, any limit on their length of stay?” Vandegrift quoted Wilson as saying in a text message to him that the Board of Adjustment, which approves such permits, could “add such conditions.” She added that she asked them the same question in a meeting and was told that “they absolutely do not want it to be an alternative housing option or an RV storage lot.”

In the email, the mayor said the developers want to “focus on the beauty of the land and its history.” It is part of Elkwood Farm, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. The farm’s 1830s mansion will be a tasting room for the distillery.

“Their initial plans show four sites for camping per acre of land, and industry averages indicate 5.1 people stay at a time on similar resorts, so it's not hard to see the potential economic impact this could bring,” Vandegrift wrote. “All in all, this will be a great boon to our already strong and still growing tourism industry, as well as being a significant job provider.”

The mayor said he couldn’t give a “good estimate yet” of exactly how many jobs that would be, but said the team he met with Friday said that the year-round resort would “produce a lot of jobs.”

They want the park to be on city water and sewer, which the mayor said in July the city has “the capacity for” and it “would help keep our rates in check, if not help us lower them more in the future.”

Vandegrift said putting the park on city water and sewer would require the city to annex the property, which would take city limits to the Scott County line on the west side of Georgetown Road, KY 341. He said Friday that 97 of the 240 acres bought by the company are in Woodford County.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Chamber names Bohn distinguished farmer of 2020; Midway, Versailles business groups members of year

The award was an engraved
bottle of Woodford Reserve.
By Lauren McCally
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Two awards came to the Midway area at the annual Woodford County Chamber of Commerce awards Thursday afternoon.

The Midway Business Association shared the Chamber Member of the Year award with the Versailles Merchants Association.

The award was an engraved bottle of Woodford Reserve and is on display at the Midway Museum Store.

Cortney Neikirk, president of the Midway Business Association, and Elisha Holt, president of the Versailles Merchants Association, and  accepted the awards.

Cynthia Bohn in vineyard (file photo)
Cynthia Bohn of Equus Run Vineyards, near Midway, won the 2020 Distinguished Farmer of the Year Award.

“It is just an honor, absolutely, to receive this opportunity and this award in this wonderful county,” Bohn said. “I feel like I have grown up in this county.”

Other awards announced during a livestream on the chamber's Facebook page were:
Outstanding Farmer of the Year: Beau Neal
New Member of the Year: Gould’s Fitness
Tourism Achievement Award: Castle & Key distillery
Small Business of the Year: The Woodford Club
Business Impact Award: Corey Cooley
Legacy Award: Judge Tony Wilhoit

Emily Downey, the chamber’s executive director, received a special award as thanks for all she has done for the chamber since taking the job April 1. She is also executive director of the county Tourism Commission.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Mayor says he will propose sidewalk to Homeplace, more sewer work, tourism sign, bike/walk task force

Here's where Mayor Grayson Vandegrift wants to put a sign directing motorists to downtown.
By Lauren McCally
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

In the Midway City Council meeting Tuesday, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift gave his annual report, which took a look back on 2020 and laid out some plans for 2021.

The mayor highlighted several projects, most notably “a new sidewalk on East Stephens that runs from Brand Street to Homeplace,” which he said is “greatly needed.”

He said the project will be mostly on the Midway University side of the road and will “require their participation.” He said it would require a grant, which the city is pursuing, but did not give a cost estimate. The budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 does not have to be adopted until June, but the council usually starts discussing it in March.

Another project Vandegrift said was a “major priority” is fixing sewers and paving streets in the Gayland and Campus Gate subdivisions. He also said he wants "signage along [US] 421 at the interstate exchange that better welcomes visitors who may not be aware that beyond that overpass is a bustling little city with many shops and restaurants to greet them."

Besides construction projects, Vandegrift said he wants to put together in a Bike and Walk Task Force to “primarily begin studying ways to one day make Midway walkable and rideable from each of our four corners.”

Vandegrift also said he would offer some “much needed updates” to the employee handbook, which will include a “12-week family leave for new parents and an increase to [the] antiquated salary ranges as a way to continue to make [the government] a competitive employer.”

As for 2020, Vandegrift focused on the city’s response to Covid-19. He said Midway had “weathered the storm” and that even with the economic losses due to the virus, the city was still able to “create 175 new jobs,” due to development in the Midway Station industrial park.

He praised the citizens of Midway for their ability to adapt quickly with a “can-do spirit,” how they adopted mask protocols and made masks for their neighbors, and stood up for social justice and Black history.

He also cited progress on the “largest-ever sanitary sewer replacement project,” which he said will bring Midway into the 21st century and “change the narrative on [the] sewer infrastructure going forward.” He spoke about the investments made in the fire department, and called its volunteers “heroic” and “dedicated.” He praised “all first responders - police, fire, EMS, health-department staff, nurses, doctors, and essential workers.”

“In short,” Vandegrift said, “the citizens of Midway were remarkable in 2020.” The full text of his report is available on the Messenger, here.

In its only official actions, the council approved two encroachment permits and an event permit for the Iron Horse Half Marathon, to be held in conjunction with the Midway Fall Festival Sept. 19.

Council Member Logan Nance voiced reservations about the event’s music early on a Sunday morning, but Vandegrift said the event’s organizers had agreed to make it short and keep it “low-key.” Nance joined other members in approving the permit, saying, “I’m just excited to be talking about an event that will finally take place.”

One of the encroachment permits allows a dumpster to be put at the front of 123 E. Main St. for interior demolition debris.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Mayor's annual report: Citizens were remarkable in 2020; city hits ground running with projects in 2021

The mayor delivered this report at the Jan. 19 City Council meeting.

By Grayson Vandegrift, Mayor, City of Midway

Just over a year ago, we were ushering in a new year and a new decade with the kind of optimism with which one would expect. Few of us were even aware of a virus that at that time was only known to be in a country some 7,000 miles away. No one knew exactly what the year would be like, and none of us will ever forget it.

Within a few months, covid-19 had made its way here, upending our lives and making us grasp concepts of uncertainty and doubt that we don’t typically consider.

I’m pleased to say that our city has weathered the storm, but the clouds haven’t quite yet receded. We expected lower occupational tax from our local commercial businesses, but their determination and dedication to remaining a Midway business has been inspiring. We were all happy as a city to assist them in their trying hours with over $85,000 from our surplus, reinvested in the form of Midway Bucks to stimulate them and to let our citizens be the investors of the stimulus. We were also able to be the arbiters of $115,000 of federal CARES Act money that went to local merchants in the form of small business grants.

And with the steady and unwavering support from our citizens for our local businesses, we did not see multiple empty store fronts that other cities have to suffer through. While we did lose a couple of mainstays, like Kennydid Gallery, and more recently, Fishers Antiques, all in all we had a net positive of new businesses opening or expanding in Midway, and it’s a testament to our smart and hardworking business owners and their supporters. Happily we can say that of our eight non-chain restaurants, all 8 still plan to be here when the pandemic is over, with only one taking a temporary break.

What revenue we did lose from the hard-hit local merchants was fortunately made up for by increases in construction-based labor on the five different new employers that broke ground this year at Midway Station. Despite our worst fears from covid and its economic toll, we were still able to create 175 new jobs in 2020. I’d be remiss not to thank the EDA, including our very own Michael Michalisin, who was elected chair by that board in 2020, as well as John Soper and his successor, Lucas Witt, on their hard work in such difficult times. They each also worked very hard on our successful endeavor to land Bluegrass Distillers, as did local citizens and the Bluegrass ADD, bringing Midway back into the distilling game for the first time in nearly 70 years.

And, despite the chaos of the year, we forged ahead with our steady progress on bringing Midway’s infrastructure out of the early 20th century and into the rest of the 21st. We are currently halfway through our largest ever sanitary sewer replacement project, a project that, coupled with our large clean-out early in 2020, will change the narrative on our sewer infrastructure going forward. We still have not had a single manhole “spill” since these projects were undertaken, and knowing what other cities deal with, that’s an accomplishment we can be proud of. We also continued our work on updating aging water lines, looping in dead-end lines to improve flow, and making important upgrades to our wastewater treatment plant. In addition, we made improvements to city property such as our maintenance garage, city hall, and we completed the long-awaited cemetery pavilion.

We made important, prudent investments in our fire department, including purchasing our first ladder truck, upgrading aging equipment, and securing a grant for brand new turn-out gear. It can’t be overstated how courageous and heroic our volunteer fire department has been and continues to be. All you have to do is spend a little time with them or read some of the letters we receive to know how dedicated they are, and how much they’ve improved our first response capabilities.

We were very fortunate in 2020. While it was no doubt a very difficult year for the more than 1,800 folks living here, we emerged as a city with a surplus, for our size, three times larger than the average city, but it was our people and their response that deserve the highest praise.

From the outset of a turbulent year it became clear that our citizens were dedicated to sticking together and sticking to it. Every area church helped show the way by moving services to virtual settings. Citizens adapted quickly and exhibited a “can-do” spirit. Folks were looking after their neighbors while maintaining their distance, which in the earliest days of the pandemic was perhaps the universal sign of caring. But another act of love would emerge soon, and I’m am very proud to say that we as a city and as a people were on the forefront yet again.

By the time every public health guideline had adopted mask protocols, Midway citizens had already provided every single person in the city with one if they needed it. With Midway Makers Market organizing the effort, and our city funding it, some 75 volunteers cut, stitched, and cleaned reusable cotton masks for people they knew and people they’ve never met. That story should be lauded as what a great community of people do in the hardest of times.

Organizers, including council members Stacy Thurman and Logan Nance, spent countless hours of their personal time all year long on food drives that sustained both those in need of nourishment and businesses in need of work. Countless others got groceries for those who couldn’t drive, left care packages on front doors, and made phone calls to check in on others.

Our citizens also shone in ways not necessarily related to covid. In the aftermath of shocking images on our TV screens, MJ Farrell organized a chalk art day that highlighted residents’ commitment to social justice, and Milan Bush, with the help of many others, began Honoring Black Stories in Midway. All citizens, whether it be on the street or on social media platforms, have the right to peaceably share their collective history and to correct the record without fear of bullying or reprisal, even when they reveal inconvenient and unpleasant truths. In short, the citizens of Midway were remarkable in 2020.

To all first responders - police, fire, EMS, health-department staff, nurses, doctors, and essential workers (and we have many in Midway): thank you isn’t quite sufficient, but we are grateful for you beyond measure.

Since we’ve hit the ground running in 2021, let me briefly discuss projects that through discussions with you and members of the public, I think we should prioritize:

One of our major priorities should be to fund the building of a new sidewalk on East Stephens that runs from Brand Street to the Homeplace. I have to urge that this project will require a grant in order for us to complete it in the 2021-2022 budget cycle. Our city clerk, Cindy Foster, has already spotted one or two grants that may be exactly what we’re looking for, and we are having schematics drawn up by our engineers to be able to apply. The sidewalk is greatly needed for the many pedestrians who have to walk in the roadway along that busy street. It will not be an easy undertaking; it will have to be mostly or entirely on the Midway University side of the road and it will require their participation. It will also require us to build a foot bridge across Lee’s Branch (between Brand and Smith Street) and a crossing of some kind at the Homeplace for safety reasons. This will be a terrific project, though, that will greatly benefit our citizens, and I will appropriate money for it in the budget I submit to you next month for your considerations as we begin work on the upcoming fiscal year budget.

Another major priority needs to be storm sewer and road repairs in the Gayland & Campus Gate subdivisions. Gayland Drive has multiple dips in the pavement where original developers did not back fill properly, but those storm sewer pipes need sections replaced regardless, and when we convene our budget workshops I will present a plan to break this work into two phases, to begin in the upcoming budget cycle and be completed in the following cycle. All storm sewer work will be followed with road paving, and both of these sections are necessary to repair so that we don’t negatively affect all the recent storm sewer work and steady progress we’ve made on streets like Stephens, Higgins, and Gratz.

We’ll also want to continue our annual road paving, with currently budgeted paving scheduled for this spring on West Stephens, First Street, Second Street, and the drive at the new cemetery pavilion. As we proceed, I’m asking the Public Works and Services Committee to make recommendations on what roadways should be slated for repaving in the forthcoming budget. I also will be asking for assistance from that committee as we plan for engineering the proper height, width, and size of traffic calming speed tables.

Another round of sidewalk repairs is also slated for this spring, and the application process, as you know, is now open through February. I will request you pass a cost sharing resolution that calls for us to cover half the cost to property owners of each repair for up to $2,500.

The budget that I will propose to you will also include funding for needed city equipment and our continual maintenance and upgrades to city facilities, and for signage along 421 at the interstate exchange that better welcomes visitors who may not be aware that beyond that overpass is a bustling little city with many shops and restaurants to greet them.

We also, for our own good and per the wishes of Bluegrass Distillers, need to annex that property into the city limits. It is inside the urban service boundary, almost entirely, and we will begin that process very soon. We should continue to support the Affordable Housing Task Force and await recommendations from them when the time is appropriate.

I will also soon present a slate of appointees for your approval to a new Bike/Walk Task Force that will primarily begin studying ways to one day make Midway a walkable and rideable city from each of our 4 corners.

And finally, and although there will be plenty more things we will add, we will soon present to this body much needed updates to our employee handbook, including 12-week family leave for new parents and an increase to our antiquated salary ranges as a way to continue to make us a competitive employer.

In looking back on 2020, I thought of this: In town-hall-style updates throughout 2020 with John McGary of the Woodford Sun, it became a running gag that I would end the so-called broadcast by quoting the character called “the Starman” from the 1984 Jeff Bridges movie. In the movie, the title character tells the humans that are monitoring him what he finds most beautiful about our species. He says, “You are at your very best when things are worst.” We obviously did see some of the worst in humanity this past year, but that was a flicker in comparison to the light shone by the goodness we saw. And in Midway, obviously, that goodness was in abundance, so let’s allow it to carry us through this present storm to the sunnier days ahead.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Tourism board wants to rebrand, but for now calls 2021 'Year of Fantastic Fare,' which fits Midway, mayor says

Top of Woodford County Tourist Commission's home page
By Lauren McCally
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The Woodford County Tourism Commission says it will promote 2021 as the “Year of Fantastic Fare,” but it wants to rebrand the county’s long-term tourism campaign.

The commission announced its 2021 theme in a Facebook livestream on Friday that included Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift and Holly Hill Inn co-owner Ouita Michel.

Vandegrift said this is a “perfect year to focus on Fantastic Fare.”

He said of Midway, “We are a dining destination” with “world-class-like” restaurants, called Equus Run Vineyards “a wonderful world-class winery just down the road,” and noted that Bluegrass Distillers is relocating from Lexington to the northwest side of the Interstate 64 interchange: “We’re proud to get back into the distilling game soon.”

The mayor also called Michel the “most influential person in Midway.”

County Judge-Executive James Kay called Michel, owner of eight restaurants, including Midway Bakery and Wallace Station Deli and Bakery, a “true treasure and asset to Central Kentucky.”

Michel said she was “proud to be a part of Woodford County.”

The livestream ended with a video that featured some of the restaurateurs, winemakers and bourbon distillers of Woodford County, presented by Emily Downey, the commission’s executive director. Due to technical difficulties, the video was later reposted separately on the commission’s Facebook page.

The commission's current promotion includes Heirloom.
(For a larger version of the image, click on it.)
In 2019, $34.3 million was spent on tourism in Woodford County, according to state estimates, and the industry employs 272 people in the county, Commission Chair Maria Bohanan said during the livestream.

The day before, in a five-hour retreat meeting, the commission discussed rebranding the county’s tourism promotion and ideas for a new campaign.

The seven-year-old “Uniquely Woodford” campaign was driven by Ken Kerkhoff, then a city council member in Versailles, at a time when the commission had little money and no staff of its own.

Before the current logo, which is a horse with a barrel with ‘Uniquely Woodford’ in letters next to it, the Commission had a “horseshoe with bourbon,” Bohanan said. “I want to say it was the horseshoe, bourbon and something else.” The current slogan is “Bourbon, wine and bloodlines,” a reference to the county’s horse breeding industry.

Commission member Cortney Neikirk of Midway said the current logo is “not flashy.” Bohanan called it “stale” and said she was “tired of ‘uniquely’.” Several other members agreed and felt that the wording needed to be “more actionable” by potential visitors.

“I look at it as a nice jumping-off point,” said Aaron Smither, owner of the Jimmy John’s in Versailles. “When we didn’t have anything, this just served us well.” The commission’s budget increased by thousands of dollars a month almost two years ago when Versailles got a Holiday Inn Express, the county’s first hotel in decades.

Bohanan said she wants the logo to have “that Pottery Barn feel,” and Neikirk said she would like something that is “classically timeless.” 

In reply to a question from the Messenger, Neikirk said that there wasn’t “anything specific to Midway” that came out of the meeting and “Anything we do is gonna help the county, which in return will help Midway.”

Meanwhile, Vandegrift has tourism-promotion plans of his own.

In an annual report sent to the City Council and the Messenger Monday afternoon, which he will present at Tuesday night's council meeting, he said he would propose in the 2021-22 budget unspecified funding for “signage along [US] 421 at the interstate exchange that better welcomes visitors who may not be aware that beyond that overpass is a bustling little city with many shops and restaurants.”

Friday, January 15, 2021

City accepting applications for cost-sharing for sidewalk repairs; mayor wants council to make it more generous

By Lauren McCally
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The City of Midway is taking applications for this year’s sidewalk replacement program, which Mayor Grayson Vandegrift wants to make more generous.

For the last three years, the city has shared in the cost of repairing sidewalks around town, first up to $1,000, then $2,000. Now Vandegrift wants the City Council to raise it to $2,500.

“More than half of the projects that year cost less than $4,000, and therefore did not meet the cap,” Vandegrift said in an email to the council and the Messenger.

“Because of the increase in the price of concrete, I am proposing we offer to pay for half of approved repairs up to $2,500,” Vandegrift wrote.

The mayor said he plans to put a put a cost-sharing resolution before the council at its regular meeting Feb. 1. (The council’s next meeting is Tuesday, Jan. 19, a day later than usual due to Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday.)

In April, when the council started to shape the budget for the 2021 fiscal year, it drafted a “bare bones budget” due to the effects of the pandemic, and one cut was the sidewalk program, which the mayor had budgeted at $20,000. In May, after revenue prospects improved, he and the council put together a “middle ground” budget that restored the program.

To apply for the program, property owners fill out a form and return it to City Hall. City employees will inspect the sidewalk to make sure it meets city specifications.

When applications are approved, ”The city will solicit bids from contractors for all projects, with the quality and cost as highest priorities,” the city’s project guide says. The city will notify property owners of the expected time frame for the work and send them invoices, which will state the total projected amount of the project, the city’s cost-sharing amount and the remainder due the city at or before the beginning of the work.

“We plan to leave this application open through February,” Vandegrift said. “If enough applications are submitted that qualify, we will begin the RFP process in March to solicit a contractor to perform the work, just like the last program, which was conducted in summer of 2019.”

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Midway Renaissance's food drive in lieu of annual membership dues approaching volume triple last year's

Bags of donated food at Midway Christian Church
By Lauren McCally
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

For the second year in a row, Midway Renaissance is conducting a food drive that doubles as a membership drive, and this year’s is much bigger.

Last year, the campaign brought in about 300 food items. So far this year, it has gleaned about 850 with four weeks still to go, President Christy Reaves said: “We are really excited to see the end numbers.”

She said when she initially came up with the idea, “We believe that caring for our community in this way is so much more important than membership dues revenue to Renaissance.”

Members of Renaissance encouraged people to donate 10 non-perishable food items instead of the customary $10 membership dues, by delivering a flyer to every door in town last January. Reaves said 10 food items “seemed so much more important than 10 dollars” and some people “contributed to the food drive anonymously” even if they didn’t join.

Brown bags are provided at each door for filling with food, along with a form to fill out for anyone interested in joining Midway Renaissance. The food is being organized and distributed by Renaissance volunteers to the blessing boxes at Midway Christian Church and Midway Methodist Church, and the food bank at Midway Baptist Church

“I had always attributed the word Renaissance to evolving to something better,” Reaves said. “By changing our membership campaign to a food drive, a new way was created to let Midway Renaissance visibly impact our community in a different way.”

Reaves and Vice President Marcie Christensen said they would like to thank all of those who helped them distribute the bags throughout the community on what were “some pretty chilly days”: Joy Arnold, Rachel and Harvey Couch and sons, Todd Graddy, Sally Gregg, Blythe Jamieson, Sally Kinnaird, Tiffany Marsh, Hank Pinkerton, Myra Prewitt, Helen Rentch, Dee Dee Roach, Pam Thomas and Stacy Thurman. For anyone who didn’t get a bag, or would like to donate more, there are extras in the post office.

“We missed a few homes,” Reaves said, “so we decided to put extra bags in the post office for people to pick up.”

She said they would “deliver the bag to anyone” who may need one, and to let her or Christensen know if they do. She also added that she thought City Hall might “even get us the message.”

Midway Renaissance is a 501(c)(3) non-profit membership organization created in 2003 to promote the historic preservation of Midway as well as provide and support activities related to the community.

Renaissance has several other events and projects throughout the year, primarily the Francisco’s Farm Arts Festival, which will be held in smaller fashion, due to the pandemic, on the Midway University campus in downtown Midway in Junein May.

The group’s Greenspace Committee plans to look at the Street Tree Inventory of 2012 and check on trees involved in that report with help from volunteers. Greenspace also plans on working with the City Council’s Cemetery & Property Committee to look into the possibility of “dedicating a section of Midway Cemetery for ‘green’ burials,” which use do not involve embalming or vaults.

“We want Midway Renaissance to be a responsive community organization,” Christensen said in an email, “and count on the participation of our neighbors to make that happen.”

Christy Reaves
Reaves moved to Midway from Ashland in 2017 and is a model railroad buff who has done several displays for community events.

She is on the board of the rejuvenated Midway Museum and will be president of Renaissance for one more year. she calls herself a “hopeless volunteer.” 

“I have no idea how to say no to an ask for help,” Reaves said in an email. She also added that she has “no plans to ever leave this sweet little town.”

Monday, January 11, 2021

Brenda Rollins dies; graveside service 1 p.m. Wed.

Brenda Rollins
Brenda Renick Rollins of Midway, a former teacher and Realtor, died after a long illness. She was 71. 

She was the wife of Carl Rollins, former Midway mayor, magistrate and state representative; a Realtor for Show Place Realty; and an active member of Midway Christian Church. 

Born May 7, 1949, to Sam and Grace Strode Renick in Barren County, she earned a master's degree at Morehead State University. She taught at Caverna High School, her alma mater; and at Woodford County High School.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by her daughter, Heather Dragan of Indiana; a brother, Tom Renick of Bowling Green; and her grandchildren, Hannah Dragan and Ryan Dragan.

A graveside service will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday at Midway Cemetery in Midway, with the Rev. Heather McColl officiating. Ken Rollins, Jim Rollins, Mike Lawson, Brad Lawson, Greg Gresham, and Aubrey Wells will serve as pallbearers. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions to the Woodford County Humane Society.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Midway University and UK announce dean's lists for fall

By Lauren McCally
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

One student from Midway landed a spot on Midway University’s dean’s list for the fall semester.

Alex Vorhaus
(Photo provided)
Alex Vorhaus met the two requirements of obtaining a semester grade-point average of a 3.6 or above and maintaining a full-time status at the university. He told the Messenger that he moved to Midway after high school in Brentwood, Tennessee, to enter the university’s equestrian program.

The dean's list included 309 students, including six from Versailles: Raegan Gilbert, Amy Hoard, Ava Pitts, Alexandra Todd, Hannah Urbina and Amanda Watts.

Scott County had one from Stamping Ground, Neal Hearn, and 15 from Georgetown: Amber Basham, Laurel Brandenburg, Sydney Coffey, Rachel Cooper, Brittany Davis, Rebecca Galloway, Reagan Golden, Elizabeth Hazlett, Jordan Hopkins, Nyckoletta Martin, Jessica McClain, Elizabeth Morgan, Cheyenne Privett, Madeline Wasson, and Natasha Williams.

Also on the list were 35 students from Lexington and 19 from Frankfort. The list also included many students from out of state: 11 from Tennessee, eight from Indiana, five from Texas, four each from Georgia and North Carolina, three each from Colorado, Michigan, and Missouri, two each from California, Pennsylvania, and Utah, one each from Arizona, Hawaii, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Wisconsin, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.

On an international scale, the list included one each from South Africa, Puerto Rico, Germany, France, Peru and Mexico.

10 from Woodford on UK list: On the same day, the University of Kentucky announced its dean’s list for the fall, which included 10 students from Woodford County: Olivia Danielle Arnold, Sarah Elizabeth Arnold, Heidi M. Asher, Jeffrey Michel Bonci, Hayden Kurt Bouren, Walter T. Horn, Noah B. Jones, Olivia La’Trish Morris-Bush, Daryn LaTara Seals, and Trevor Craig South.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Cemetery panel to discuss idea for pedestrian gates

The Cemetery & City Property Committee of the Midway City Council will meet via Zoom at 4 p.m. Monday, Jan. 11. It can be viewed on the Midway Government Streaming Meetings Facebook page.

"The purpose of the meeting is to discuss a proposal for two pedestrian gates at the Midway Cemetery and the St. Rose Tabernacle Cemetery. No action will be taken," Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said in an email. "The potential project would need to be budgeted for in the upcoming fiscal year that will begin on July 1, and therefore may be including in upcoming budget workshops for more discussion as well."

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Former Messenger reporter is MADD national president

Alex Otte
Alex Otte of Lexington, who was a Midway Messenger reporter just over two years ago, became the new national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) on Jan. 1. 

"As president, Otte will serve as a national spokesperson and chief advocate for MADD, which grew from a grassroots movement begun by a grieving mother in 1980," the group said in a news release.

Otte is a graduate of the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky. In her work for the Community Journalism course, she covered Midway in fall 2018, writing stories about the City Council and its election.

"Her family joined MADD in 2010 after she had been severely injured by an intoxicated boater when she was just 13 years old," the release said. "Otte was on a jet ski on a Kentucky lake near her home when a drunk boater crashed into her at nearly 70 mph. The accident caused a severe brain injury, a broken neck and collarbone, a shattered jaw, a lacerated liver, two shattered femurs, and the loss of her right leg below the knee."

Otte started with MADD as a volunteer, and served as a National Teen Influencer for the group in 2014 and won its National Youth Activist of the Year award in 2015 for her efforts to pass ignition interlock legislation in Kentucky.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Wesbanco will close branch Jan. 22; Citizens Commerce says it's interested but needs a location

The bank occupies a prominent place in downtown Midway. (File photo, taken when it was United Bank)
By Lauren McCally
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

By the end of this month, the only bank in town will have closed its Midway branch.

“WesBanco has indicated that they will not make a decision about what they will do with the property until they close the branch,” Mayor Grayson Vandegrift told the Messenger in an email. The bank plans on closing the branch Friday, Jan. 22.

In September, Vandegrift said he had heard WesBanco might put a deed restriction on the property to prevent another bank from moving into the building, to reduce the number of customers it would lose to a competitor.

WesBanco spokesman John Iannone said in an email, “There has been no material update since my previous conversation a few months ago” with the Messenger, when he said the bank had made no decision about the property.

If WesBanco does impose the deed restriction, Vandegrift says he still plans on using the strategy that he outlined for the Messenger earlier in November, acquiring the building and converting it into City Hall and a visitor center, “though we would have a long way to go as far as cost, logistics, etc.” He said he would be “perfectly happy” if a local bank was able to purchase the property instead.

Michelle Oxley, president of Versailles-based Citizens Commerce Bank, which says it has the largest share of deposits in Woodford County, told the Messenger, “Should an opportunity arise to branch into Midway, you know, we would certainly consider that. At this point in time, we’re not aware of any specific location that is available in the Midway community.”

She said the bank has looked at the area and “various buildings,” and there was “not a particular opportunity that we can pursue” for them to pursue, but the bank will “continue to assess the area and consider any opportunities.”

Another option for the city, as Vandegrift lined out in November, would be to find a different location for a bank. In November, he said the Rau Building, which houses City Hall, “could work for a bank,” but this week he said “having a drive-thru is likely going to be desired by most” people and it might not be feasible there.

“One obvious location is Midway Station,” he said, “although that would require a new build.”

The City of Midway started banking with Paris-based Kentucky Bank six months before the bank announced its closing in September. The city left only one account with WesBanco, but Vandegrift said in September that he did not think that helped lead to the closing, since other branches are being closed in the region.

Ken Glass, co-owner of the of Railroad Drug and Old Time Soda Fountain, was asked by the Messenger if he would provide any type of check-cashing service. “As of right now,” he said, “that’s not something I would do.”

Glass added that while he does a lot of banking in Versailles already, because that’s where he got his loan 10 years ago to start Railroad Drug, he still uses the bank in Midway. “I utilize them for things like change,” Glass said, “so not having them 150 yards away will be a palatable loss.”

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

New City Council organizes with new equity committee, including Mary Raglin, first Black member in six years

City Council members signaled their "yes" votes during Monday night's meeting. Also pictured are Mayor Grayson Vandegrift, Versailles Asst. Police Chief Rob Young, Asst. City Clerk Sonya Conner and city attorney Sharon Gold.

By Lauren McCally

University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

At its first meeting Monday night, the newly elected Midway City Council approved several appointments and Mayor Grayson Vandegrift appointed committees, including a new Equity and Equality in Policy Committee.

Council Member Stacy Thurman will chair the committee. Its other members are Sara Hicks and Mary Raglin, who is the first African American on the council in six years, and its first Black woman ever.

Vandegrift said the committee will carry out a June 1 resolution sponsored by Thurman, in which the council committed to “an equitable approach to all decision-making.” He said that means the council will consider “who benefits, who doesn’t, who’s excluded, what are we missing.”

The mayor said the committee can develop its own agenda, studying issues from the abstract to “something totally policy-related.” He noted that Thurman also chairs the Affordable Housing Committee, which is an ad hoc committee with non-council members.

The Public Works and Services Committee will be chaired by Logan Nance, with Kaye Nita Gallagher and Steve Simoff, and the Cemetery and City Property Committee will be chaired by Sara Hicks, with Raglin and Simoff, who was on the council in 2017-18 but didn’t seek re-election in 2018.

Appointments: Meeting via Zoom, the council approved several appointments and reappointments proposed by Vandegrift.

To a Parks Board vacancy the council appointed Jeremy Divine, who the mayor said has taken a keen interest in the park, is a good amateur photographer and “comes highly recommended by other park board members.” The council reappointed board Chair Cecelia Gass and recently retired council member John Holloway, who has been the unpaid park manager since the board was created. All Parks Board appointments are for five years.

For Midway’s representative on the county Board of Adjustments, the council appointed Bart Shockley, who had been filling an unexpired term, to a four-year term. Kevin Locke, an architect, was reappointed to a two-year term as Midway’s representative on the Board of Architectural Review, which acts as a board of adjustments for historic districts.

Ambrose Wilson IV honored:
The council also approved a resolution honoring the service of Ambrose Wilson IV, who served as the school board member for Midway and adjoining areas for 28 years, including more than a decade as chairman.

One of Wilson’s accomplishments was the building of Northside Elementary School in Midway. “That was a major accomplishment,” Wilson told the council, “and I’m very proud of that.” He said that he considered the school to be “kind of the heartbeat” of the community.

The resolution also noted that Woodford County High School was named, in 2016, one of the top 10 high schools in Kentucky by U.S. News & World Report. It declared that Tuesday, Jan. 19, which will see the first meeting of the school board in 28 years without Wilson, will be Ambrose Wilson IV Day in Midway.

“Thank you very much for this honor, declaring this day for me,” said Wilson, “It was an absolute pleasure and an honor of a lifetime to serve the citizens of Midway.” Wilson, whose father was mayor, ran for the job in 2018.

Leash law, blighted property: In his report on other topics, Vandegrift said “ I just want to remind everyone” that Midway has an ordinance requiring dogs to be on leashes. He reminded the council of an incident, a couple of weeks ago, where a woman in the 38th week of pregnancy was walking her dog with her husband when an unleashed dog got loose and got into a fight with the dog and she was knocked to the ground, suffering “a bad gash on her head.”

He said 95 percent of people obey the ordinance, but earlier that day, “someone with an open container had dogs off leash. I have contacted that person; they have been warned before, and I’m losing my patience with things like this. . . . The next visit might be from a police officer, and it just feels like that’s such a terrible waste of our great police force.”

The mayor briefly discussed the demolition order for 116 E. Main St. but also shared some good news about one of the properties that the council put on the “abandoned urban property” list recently. “One of the ones that we’ve seen sort of vacant for decades got a new roof last week,” he said, calling it “a wonderful improvement” and “exactly what we were looking for,” owners of dilapidated property putting equity into it rather than paying higher taxes as a result of being on the abandoned list.

Pandemic response: Thurman said she is working on a “phone call check-in system” for people in Midway, during a pandemic winter when many people are isolated. “I have lots of volunteers that are willing to make phone calls,” she said, “but I need help getting a spread sheet of folks who could use a call, and their phone number.”

The council began the meeting with a few moments of silence for two citizens who died recently – Bobby Pittman, who was a police officer and a well-known local figure, and Beverly Wilson, the wife of former council member Johnny Wilson – and for all of those who have dealt with or are dealing with Covid-19.

Nance urged residents to sign up with the health department for a coronavirus vaccine, and when it becomes available and “you get that call, go get it.”

Vandegrift said he expects the council, which began meeting via Zoom last March, will probably not resume in-person meetings until late spring “at the very earliest.”

Owner of 116 E. Main St. ordered to demolish building within 30 days; if he doesn't, city is prepared to do it

The building at 116 E. Main St. was photographed on Oct. 31.
The building as it stood on Jan. 7, 2019
By Lauren McCally
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The building at 116 E. Main St., which has been an eyesore in downtown Midway for several years, has received a demolition order from the county building inspector.

Inspector Joshua Stevens said in his notice that he did the inspection Dec, 14 at the request of the City of Midway, which had received complaints from citizens.

“No one wants to lose a historic building,” Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said in an email to the City Council and the Midway Messenger, “but public safety is paramount, and this structure keeps me up at night.” He added that it was a “shame it came to this” and the number of times the building owner has worked on it in the last few months can be counted “on two hands.”

In a letter dated Monday, Jan. 4, Stevens told Ness Alamdari, the building’s owner for the past four years, that because “a structural tension cable placed on the building during remodel procedures snapped . . . this structure is declared unsafe and is being issued an emergency demolition order.”

The order gives Alamdari 20 days to appeal and 30 days to get a demolition permit. “If a building demolition permit is not obtained . . . the City of Midway is prepared to proceed with demolition and place a lien on the property for their costs.”  UPDATE: The 20- and 30-day periods began running Wednesday, Jan. 7, when Alamdari was served with the order.

This battle is an on-going one, and the building has faced several previous citations and deadlines. Stevens ordered Alamdari to repair the building by Oct. 31, but Alamdari got another building permit on Oct. 28, good for one year. He had removed the building’s fa├žade and done some other work, but activity has slowed since the permit was issued.

Vandegrift told the City Council in its meeting Monday night, “This is demolition by neglect.”

The building, which was erected in 1898 by the Pilgrim Lodge of the Odd Fellows, an African American men’s organization, has had many owners and landed in Alamdari’s hands in 2016. The last known occupancy of the building was 15 to 20 years ago, according to local historian Bill Penn, a nearby store owner.