Monday, August 30, 2021

Message from the mayor: Rise in virus cases prompts delay of forum on RV resort, but Fall Festival is still on

By Grayson Vandegrift
Mayor, City of Midway

After consulting with our public health director, who says our county is dealing with more Covid-19 cases than ever, and after receiving data from the Health Department that indicates that the current surge is not yet subsiding, I’ve decided it’s in the public-health interest to postpone the public forum on the proposed RV resort, which was scheduled for Sept. 9.

We will reschedule to a date that is safer for the public. Hopefully that can be sometime in October, but that will depend upon our success against the virus and on availability of Anne Hart Raymond Auditorium at Midway University.

Because Midway Fall Festival is an outdoor event, it will proceed, but we’re working closely with the Midway Business Association’s festival committee and they’re planning significant precautions to keep festival goers happy and safe. This has the blessing of our public health director, who encourages outdoor events over indoor ones during times of high transmission. We will work with local merchants to make sure proper precautions are being taken in stores and restaurants during the festival.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Groundbreaking by Beshear signals Midway is a hub of bourbon storage; EDA tries again on last industrial lot

Wide-angle view shows James E. Pepper Distilling Co. warehouse site with new Lakeshore Learning Materials facility in background. The smaller bur oak will be cut down, but the larger one will remain, Pepper spokeswoman Brenna Angel said.
Left to right: Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift, Kentucky Distillers Association Executive
Director Eric Gregory of Midway, Pepper Distilling owner Amir Peay; Gov. Andy Beshear.
By Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Midway still doesn't have a distillery, but it is fast becoming a center of warehouses for aging bourbon, signaled by Thursday's groundbreaking for a warehouse of nearly 18,000 square feet, on farmland just north of Midway Station.

The James E. Pepper Distilling Co. of Lexington will build the warehouse on a seven-acre tract at the corner of Georgetown Road and the entrance to the warehouse complex of Brown-Forman Corp., maker of Woodford Reserve.

"That corridor's starting to become the hub for bourbon warehousing," Lucas Witt, executive director for the Woodford County Economic Development Authority, told the EDA board Friday morning.

The property was sold by Mike Freeny, who told Gov. Andy Beshear after the groundbreaking that similar developments are in the works. The tract has room for a second warehouse.

County Judge-Executive James Kay said at the groundbreaking, "We are laying claim to being the bourbon capital of Kentucky."

Rendering of James E. Pepper Distilling Co. bourbon warehouse
A Pepper news release said the warehouse will be a $3 million investment to consolidate its storage, now outsourced at three facilities, which limits production. "We can't bottle our whiskey fast enough," owner Amir Peay said, adding that the storage space will allow him to double production. 

Eric Gregory of Midway, executive director of the Kentucky Distillers Association, praised Peay, saying "You are not going to find a better global ambassador for our industry that Amir." Peay, whose last name is pronounced "Pay," is from California; he said his Peay ancrestors are from Butler County.

Peay re-launched the Pepper brand, one of Kentucky's oldest, and finished rebuilding its distillery on Manchester Avenue (Old Frankfort Pike) in Lexington in 2017. Whiskey from that facility will hit the market next year; the company is selling 1776 brand bourbon and rye, Old Pepper single barrel and small-batch Henry Clay straight rye whiskies, a news release said. 

Beshear said Col. James E. Pepper, the famed distiller and horseman who founded the brand and is credited with inventing the Old Fashioned cocktail, descended from a Woodford County resident. One of the Pepper distilleries is now the one that produces Woodford Reserve.

Shoveling dirt, L-R, are architect Ian McHone, Gregory, Vandegrift, Beshear, Peay, Kay,
master distiller Aaron Schorsch and Bristol Group's James Croley. Click photo to enlarge.
Beshear said "The bourbon industry remains a beacon of hope and a bright spot" for Kentucky even as the pandemic worsens, providing 20,000 jobs with a $1 billion payroll.

The warehouse is just outside the Midway city limits. The City Council de-annexed it and 20 more acres of Freeny' land last year because sewer service would have required a pump station and warehouses create few jobs. But Mayor Grayson Vandegrift spoke at the event, noting the city's distilling history. 

Beshear introduced him by saying, "Congratulations to one of our best mayors in Kentucky, Midway Mayor Jason Vandegrift." Afterward, the mayor chuckled at that but said he would take the compliment.

The warehouse will be built by Bristol Group of Lexington. The Pepper news release said it is expected to be completed by next spring. When barrels are placed in storage, the county and the school system will begin receiving taxes on the stored whiskey.

The other big bourbon warehouse in the area is White Dog Trading, which recently completed a 55,000-square-foot facility along Georgetown Road. It leases space to whiskey producers. "White dog" is a term for the clear whiskey that comes directly off a still.

EDA tries again on last industrial lot

Lot 24 is highlighted in this diagram of Midway Station.
At its Friday meeting, the EDA board held a closed session, then voted to give Chair Michael Michalisin of Midway authority to sign an agreement to sell its last industrial lot in Midway Station for $165,000, pending final negotiations. The 4.7-acre Lot 24 is the largest in the development and "the most challenging" because of its topography, Michalisin told the Messenger.

The EDA has tried twice to sell the lot, first to storage developer Mark Caldwell for $250,000 minus regrading grading costs that were to be negotiated. Those negotiations didn't pan out. In March, it agreed to sell the lot for $100,000 to an unnamed distiller who backed out, citing grading costs.

Michalsin said the buyer is a construction and demolition company that can do its own grading work. He said it plans to use the site for offices and equipment storage, bringing 50 jobs to Midway. He called it "a longstanding industrial company of good reputation" and said board member Alex Riddle was the key contact for the prospect. Michalisin said he hopes to conclude the deal in 90 days.

The board also created a 120-hour internship for a student at Midway University, to begin in the spring, at a cost of $3,000. Michalisin, who manages Timberfence Capital Partners and has a second job teaching at the university, said the money will come from EDA's marketing budget. Witt said the position will be useful for conducting research.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Parts of Woodlake Road will close Tue., Wed. for paving

A paving project will close Woodlake Road (KY 1685) Tuesday between between Leestown Road (US 421) and Spring Station Road (West Stephens Street extended), and Wednesday from Spring Station Road to Old Frankfort Pike (KY 1681), the state Transportation Cabinet announced today.

The road sections will be closed from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, the cabinet's news release said. "All work/closures are scheduled on a tentative basis, and subject to change depending on weather, emergencies, and other factors beyond the control of the Department of Highways," it said.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Heavy rains weren't enough to dislodge deadfall at mill

Just in case you were wondering, this week's big rains didn't send enough water into South Elkhorn Creek to dislodge the big log and other pieces of deadfall that have been snagged on the Weisenberger Mill dam for months and are now even homes for living vegetation. This photo was taken Friday afternoon. It's not the typical idyllic image of this popular site for locals and tourists, but it shows nature as it works. (Photo by Al Cross; click on it to enlarge or download)

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Council informally agrees to move administrative work out of City Hall to create a visitors' center and museum

The proposed administration building is a house the city owns at 426 S. Winter St., next to the Midway School Apartments.
By Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The Midway City Council informally agreed Monday evening to relocate the city's administrative functions and allow City Hall to be turned into a museum and visitors' center with public rest rooms.

The council also retained the real-estate tax rate for the coming year, and heard an invitation to meet individually with developers of the proposed recreational-vehicle resort before its next meeting on Sept. 7. A public forum on the resort's annexation and sewer-service request is scheduled for Sept. 9. 

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said the City Hall plan would resolve "in a very elegant way" three needs that he has consistently heard expressed: the need for a true visitors' center, not just a sideline for city employees; public restrooms in the downtown area; and a home for the Midway Museum.

Vandegrift said the Rau Building at the corner of Main and Winter streets would still be called City Hall, and remain the site for council meetings, but the city's administrative staff would move to a house the city owns at 426 S. Winter St., a lease for which expires in October and isn't being renewed.

The mayor said City Clerk-Treasurer Cindy Foster and Deputy Clerk Sonya Conner are "enthusiastically in favor of the idea" because it would allow them to work more efficiently.

When City Hall was closed early in the pandemic, Conner said, "We really got a lot of things done, not having that foot traffic coming in the door." She said she was able to finish computerizing all the Midway Cemetery records, a project that had taken five years until the pandemic closure.

"It would be a lot more functional as an administrative office than what we currently have," Conner said, adding that it has room for meetings of council committees.

Vandegrift said the move would also provide more security for city records, many of which are kept electronically and could be subject to surreptitious access by visitors.

The mayor said the Midway Business Association, which has been the most outspoken about the need for public restrooms downtown, had told him that it will help with costs. City Hall has public restrooms but is not open after 4:30 or on weekends, when there is considerable demand for restrooms.

He said the Woodford County Tourist Commission, which is funded by a tax on overnight lodging in the county, could be a fourth partner in the project. "We have . . . received favorable feedback" from the agency, he said, adding later, "Museums in general are big tourist attractions."

Council Member Sara Hicks thanked Hume and Bill and Leslie Penn, who have maintained a limited museum in their Historic Midway Gift Store, once named the Midway Museum Store.

Midway Museum Inc. President David Hume said he thought the arrangements can be worked out "pretty quickly." Vandegrift said he would have city attorney Sharon Gold draft a lease agreement.

The only hesitation came from Council Member Logan Nance, who said he wants to take a look onside the Winter Street house and get it inspected. Vandegrift suggested that three council members (one short of a quorum) could be present for the inspection and the other three could make a separate examination.

Council Member Steve Simoff, who lives next door to the house, said he has been inside it and "It does appear to be in good shape." He said afterward that the house was once occupied by a worker at the school next door, which is now an apartment building.

Council Member Mary Raglin said, "It just sounds like a win-win situation."

Vandegrift said, "It's really a win-win-win-win," for the city, the museum, the merchants and tourism.

Taxes: The council gave second reading and passage to an ordinance setting property-tax rates that are estimated to give the city about the same amount of revenue in the fiscal year that began July 1 as it did in the last fiscal year, not counting new property added to the tax rolls since last year's property assessments.

The real-estate tax rate remains the same, 6.2 cents per $100 assessment of property, and the tax on personal property is slightly lower, 6.2 cents per $100, down from 6.4 cents.

Last year the council reduced both rates because assessments in the city had risen 14.4 percent. To see the calculations of tax rates, based on anticipated revenue from property assessments, click here.

RV resort: Hank Graddy of Midway, attorney for the Kentucky Bluegrass Experience Resort, invited council members to meet individually or in non-quorum groups with him and the developers before Sept. 7, when they will make a public presentation to the full council.

Graddy said they want to hear "your specific concerns, what needs to be changed or explained more fully . . . what worries or concerns you." Most citizen questions and complaints about the project have dealt with its size and traffic; the developers are to present a traffic study Sept. 7.

The resort has received a conditional-use permit to operate in an agricultural zone, but needs sewer service, and the city's policy is not to extend sewer service to users who are not in the city.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Midway sees another sort of train: storms Monday

Midway has seen many trains; last evening it was on a "storm train" that sent a series of showers from south-southeast to north-northeast. Shortly before sunset, there was this. (Photo by Al Cross)

Friday, August 13, 2021

Bradley offers a much less dense plan for Northside

Sketch of plan shows nine lots on Northside Drive and four on Old Towne Walk; green areas are homeowners-association land.

Developer Mike Bradley has proposed a more traditional, 13-lot housing development along Northside Drive as an alternative to the 68-unit plan that drew much opposition and seemed unlikely to win rezoning by the Midway City Council.

The property is zoned R-1A, single-family residential, with a minimum lot size of 15,000 square feet. Bradley's original plan for the eight acres called for changing it to R-3 zoning, which the zoning ordinance calls "medium density residential." His alternate plan would require rezoning to R-1B and R1-C, which have minimum lot sizes of 10,000 and 7,500 square feet, respectively.

"This zoning is the same or similar to Northridge Estates (R1-C) and what we call 'Original Northridge,' which is zoned R1-A," Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said in an email to the council and the news media. 

Bradley made the proposal in a letter to the Northridge Estates Homeowners Association, seeking approval of his plan to use current HOA property for four lots that would front on Old Towne Walk. "Those four homes would become dues-paying members of the HOA," wrote Vandegrift, who lives in the subdivision.

The other nine lots would front Northside Drive, with driveways connecting to it, Vandegrift said: "No roads would be built, and Mr. Bradley informs me he’s willing to consider a deed restriction on the remaining green space should we seek it."

Bradley on an early Zoom call about the plan
Bradley said in an interview that the HOA has a meeting Monday, Aug. 16.

Vandegrift said he had spoken to Bradley and representatives of the HOA, and "I will assist in negotiations in any way I can or am requested to, as I believe a compromise can be struck that will please all sides of the equation, and that’s not something you see every day in land use and housing plans."

The ordinance allows up to 82 R-3 units on the property, but the proposal had drawn many objections about density, traffic and drainage, putting R-3 rezoning much in doubt. "If I had to guess, I would predict it wouldn't pass," the mayor said in a follow-up conversation with the Messenger.

Bradley said he thought he could win approval of the plan in court "because it complies with every regulation and ordinance. . . . But who wants to go through that . . . especially when you've been part of the community for so long?" His parents, Scott and Shirley Bradley, owned the Midway Grocery, across North Winter Street from the property, for 41 years. His brother Scott is also in Northside Homes LLC.

He said the alternate plan would allow their limited-liability company “at least a little bit of a profit, and this was the only viable option.”

Bradley said he didn't know what the lots would sell for because he hadn't done market research on his plan, but said lots that size in Versailles sell for $75,000 each. He said he would probably not build homes in the subdivision, allowing lot buyers to build custom homes that would cost several times the cost of a lot.

His original plan for "The Reserve at Midway" called for groups of three or four "townhomes" connected by breezeways and selling for less than $200,000. He said there was enough demand for such moderate-income housing in the area that the units would sell quickly. Here is the original plan:

Midway's official population, as counted by the census, is 1,718 – 4.7% more than 2010, but under projections

Midway Messenger chart based on latest census, and previous census figures from Wikipedia

Last year's census, results for which were released this week, showed Midway's population grew about 4.7 percent since 2010, not as much as official population projections had forecast.

The city's population is 1,718, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said in an email to the City Council and the news media. That is 77 more than the 2010 population of 1,641, an increase of 4.69%.

"The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 estimated population for Midway was 1,893, a number that was clearly overinflated, for reasons unknown," Vandegrift wrote.

That would have been a 15.4% increase from 2010, in a decade when very few residential building permits were issued but several hundred jobs were created at Midway Station. Estimators may have incorrectly presumed that many if not most of those workers live in Midway. 

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Message from the mayor: City Hall to require masks; City Council will meet Monday via Zoom

By Grayson Vandegrift
Mayor, City of Midway

Upon the guidance of Woodford County Public Health Director Cassie Prather, we will require masks be worn inside Midway City Hall, starting tomorrow, Friday, Aug. 12. We don’t expect this will affect our locals much as they are already nearly unanimously wearing their masks inside our government building.

But unlike other government buildings around the county, ours doubles as a tourist visitors center, and it is recommended by public health professionals that we add this layer of protection as the delta variant threatens to match numbers we haven’t seen since the height of the pandemic. But we’re going to get through this too, together.

Additionally, our City Council meeting on Monday, Aug. 16 will be held virtually, via Zoom. We’ll evaluate our progress against the virus weekly and make decisions about meeting location and masking at the appropriate times. I’ll send a Zoom link for the meeting later tomorrow.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Galileo Galilei, a devout Catholic who was the first person to prove definitively that the earth revolves around the sun. He confirmed this with countless observations, data, and tests. But due to the politics of his day, Galileo was forced to recant his discovery for fear of being ostracized, or worse. Despite his recantation, he never stopped believing what the observations were telling him.

We have the good fortune in our time to be Galileos ourselves, only we don’t have to fear the same reprisals he did. We don’t have to recant what we know to be true, unless we buckle under arbitrary pressures to do so.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Zinnias? Cosmos? Bachelor buttons? They're free for the cutting at new community flower garden in the park

The new community flower garden at the far end of Walter Bradley Park needs some attention, from people who would like some free flowers. So says Blythe Jamieson, a member of the board of the Friends of Walter Bradley Park, who provided this photo. The flower garden was started this summer next to the Sara Porter Seed Barn, which faces Newton Street. It includes zinnias, cosmos, and bachelor buttons, according to former park manager John Hollloway.

Public-works committee to discuss infrastructure Friday

The Public Works and Services Committee of the Midway City Council will meet at 9 a.m. Friday, Aug. 13, at City Hall, 101 E. Main St., to discuss "infrastructure improvement projects around town," according to a notice from the city, which says no action will be taken.

All meetings of the council and its committees are open to the public.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Midway Renaissance seeking applications for grants of up to $250 to help projects that will benefit community

Screenshot of Midway Renaissance home page, MidwayRenaissance.com

Midway Renaissance has created a "micro grant" program to fund projects, events and activities that meet its mission and directly benefit the community and is seeking applications.

The membership organization, which supports and promotes life in Midway, has earmarked $2,250 for grants of up to $250 for proposals from individuals, non-profit groups, small-business owners and other entities. "The funding is intended to bring to fruition projects that can succeed with the funding boost," Renaissance said in a press release. "Grants may round-out or match other money and the project must be completed by June 30, 2022."

The application period opens Aug. 10. Initial recipients will be announced Sept. 20. After that, applications will be reviewed and decided upon within 45 days of receipt.

A committee of five Renaissance members will review applications and make recommendations for approval of the full Renaissance board. Funding will continue until the grant funds are exhausted and must be used as approved.

The application form is available on the Renaissance homepage (https://midwayrenaissance.com/), or can be requested by email to MidwayKyRenaissance@gmail.com or by calling 606-831-1714.

Here are the criteria:

• The event, project, activity or exhibit, etc., must take place in Midway and be open to the public.

• It must benefit the community as a whole.

• Any necessary legal permits or permissions must be secured and documented in the application.

• The application must include a budget for materials and other costs, and the grant may only be used as approved.

• Grants may not be used for salaries, labor or reimbursement for past purchases or programs.

• Upon completion of the project, a basic accounting of how the money was used, with photographs of the project, must be submitted to Renaissance by June 30, 2022.

• Renaissance reserves the right to use photographs, descriptions and content for marketing and promotional purposes.

For more information about the Midway Renaissance Micro-Grant Program and how to become a member of Renaissance, email MidwayKyRenaissance@gmail.com.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

City plans to keep property-tax revenue about the same; council renews EDA contract; mayor's wife has a baby

The Midway City Council renewed its contract with the county economic-development consultant and gave first reading to the annual property-tax ordinance at its 20-minute meeting Monday evening.

The tax ordinance calls for rates that would give the city about the same amount of revenue from property taxes in the fiscal year that began July 1 as it did in the last fiscal year, not counting new property added to the tax rolls since last year's property assessments.

That means the real-estate tax rate would remain the same, 6.2 cents per $100 assessment of property, and the tax on personal property would drop slightly, to 6.2 cents from 6.4 cents per $100.

Last year the council reduced both rates because assessments in the city had risen 14.4 percent. The real-estate rate was reduced 11.4%, from 7 cents per $100, and the personal-property rate was cut 14.7%, from 7.5 cents per $100.

Second reading and final passage of the tax rates is scheduled for the next council meeting, Aug. 16. To see the calculations of tax rates, based on anticipated revenue from property assessments, click here

The contract with economic-development consultant MWM Consulting of Lexington essentially has Lucas Witt, a partner in the firm, act as staff for the Woodford County Economic Development Authority, an agency of the county, Midway and Versailles, which manages Midway Station and works to recruit and retain jobs in the county. The renewal is for one year, at $4,750 per month.

For the council meeting packet, which includes the contract and the tax ordinance, click here.

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift missed his first council meeting because his wife, Katie, bore a child Monday. Andi Mae Vandegrift weighed 8 pounds, 15 ounces, and was 19 inches long. "Mom, Mayor and Baby are all doing well," the mayor announced on Facebook. They also have a son, Jackson.

Council Member Logan Nance convened the meeting, at Vandegrift's request, and made the motion to have Council Member Stacy Thurman preside because she got the most votes in the last election.

John Holloway during construction of the main bridge in the park
Thurman closed the meeting with a tribute to former council member John Holloway, who left the unpaid position of manager of Walter Bradley Park at the end of July. "He's transformed our park and done so much for our community, so I just wanted to thank him," Thurman said.

The council heard an update from Hank Graddy, attorney for the proposed Kentucky Bluegrass Experience recreational-vehicle resort. He said the developer would present its traffic study to the council Sept. 7, and "We also believe we will have a couple of other studies completed."

The resort is seeking annexation so it can get city water and sewer service. The proposal has stirred considerable questions and opposition, focused mainly on its size and traffic issues. The city has scheduled a public forum on the plan for 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 9, at Midway University.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

At 2nd annual observance of Black school's destruction, pastor acknowledges role of those who led her church

Marchers walked from City Hall to the site of the African American church and school. To enlarge any photo, click on it.
By Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

James Baldwin, a Black writer who campaigned for civil rights, liked to say, "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is." History cannot be changed, but it can be faced in ways that can cause change.

That's one way to sum up the second annual observance, by Honoring Black Stories in Midway, of the anniversary of a racist mob's destruction of the first local school for African Americans, on July 31, 1868, three years and three and a half months after the end of the Civil War.

The mob may have been encouraged by trustees of the Kentucky Female Orphan School, which became Midway College and then Midway University, which owns the site of the church where the school met.

On that site yesterday, 153 years to the day after the attack, the pastor of Midway Christian Church, the Rev. Dr. Heather McColl, acknowledged the role of those who were elders in her church and were trustees of the KFOS, which had "asked the [Black] church to close down the school."

The Rev. Dr. Heather McColl spoke as the Rev. William R. Bush listened.
McColl said "My heart broke" when she realized "the connection, direct or indirect, with Midway Christian Church." She called it a "punch to the gut. It was not the ideal community of faith that I had imagined," which had founded the KFOS and partnered with the Black church, now known as Second Christian Church.

"My ideal images were shattered, and it was a very good thing that those images were shattered because healing was able to happen; conversations were able to be started," she said, adding that she is "still learning" and discovered a few weeks ago that her church later took the name of the Black church.

When she saw a historic document identifying an African American minister as the pastor of Midway Christian Church, she learned from the church historian that the church's original name was "Midway Church of Christ or something to that effect" but got its current name from "time, and power, and Jim Crow." The Black church was renamed Colored Christian Church, then Second Christian Church.

"This brokenness is still in our community, and it comes up in modern-day conversations about affordable housing and good jobs and where people can live in our community," McColl said. "I cannot go back and change the past ... but I can change the current process now. . . . I'm allowing voices which should have been shared for generations to come forward . . . and to allow the healing to happen, no matter how painful it may be for me and my community."

Brenda Jackson (Photos by Al Cross)
The observance of the anniversary began with a march from City Hall down East Main Street, Gratz Street and East Stephens Street, which recently received the honorary name Professor William Christy Way, in honor of an African American educator from Midway.

Brenda Jackson, a member of Second Christian Church, recalled how the story of the church's school and its destruction were pieced together.

"Here in Midway, those people wanted to get an education," she said, but she was surprised to find there was a Freedmen's Bureau school in the church. She said Sue Finney's history class at Woodford County High School found a document with the date of the incident and others like it in Kentucky after the war. She thanked Finney, Diane Coomes of Louisville and church historian Katherine Johnson for their work, and the City of Midway for supporting observances of Black history.

The Rev. William R. Bush, who began the speaking with a primarily religious address, commended and thanked those who have researched local Black history and supported church life in Midway, saying "Don't ever be ashamed of who you are."

The observance was held on the original church site. Second Christian Church is across the street.