Monday, October 25, 2021

Woman's Club reveals Halloween decorating winners

The home at 211 South Winter Street won the Best Overall award. (Photos by Midway Woman's Club)

The Midway Woman's Club has announced the winners of its annual Halloween Decorating Contest. The Best Overall award went to the home at 211 S. Winter St. The other winners were:

Best Spider Web: 244 W. Higgins St.

Best Business: 136 E. Main St.

Best Daytime Display: 116 Coach Station

Most Kid-Friendly: 323 S. Winter St.

Best Halloween Spirit: 121 Carriage Lane

Scariest: 209 S. Winter St.

Most Fun: 105 Cottage Grove

Creepiest - 213 E. Stephens St.

Friday, October 22, 2021

EDA selling commercial lot to distiller that has Midway Station warehouse; distillery project near state approval

Big Dog Holdings is buying the lot in blue. A plat is below. For a larger version of the image, click on it.
The Woodford County Economic Development Authority agreed Friday to sell a lot that will likely lead to the first highway-commercial business in Midway Station.

The board accepted an offer of $112,500 for a lot of 1.025 acres on McKinney Avenue from Big Dog Holdings, the parent firm of White Dog Trading, which has a warehouse just to the north, along Georgetown Road, on the former Roach farm that was added to Midway Station.

EDA Chair Michael Michalisin said the company plans to build a retail showroom and gift shop. He said it would be the first lot zoned B-5 (highway business) to be sold by the authority. Dennis Anderson of Lexington, who was the would-be developer of Midway Station for several years, still owns several commercial lots along and near Georgetown Road that have not been developed.

With the pending sale of Midway Station's last industrial lot, the sale marks a turning point in the course of the development that started as an industrial park 30 years ago and went through other largely unsuccessful stages before reverting to primarily industrial, with commercial along the road.

The EDA is counting on sales of high-priced commercial lots near the road to retire the $1.17 million debt remaining on the property. Michalisin said the banks' mortgage-release fee for the lot would be $15,625.

Industrial lots sold for $65,000 an acre, until the last one, Lot 24, which needs regrading and has gone through more than one attempted sale. Last month, May Demolition of Lexington signed a contract to buy Lot 24 for $165,000, which Michalisin said then would be $51,280 short of the release fee, an amount that EDA would have to pay the banks when the sale is closed.

Michalisin said then that the company is "in a position to remediate about the topographical challenges" of the lot and would build a facility that would could eventually employ as many as 50 people. He said Friday that EDA is ready to close the sale when the company is ready.

Among other business at Friday's meeting, Greyson Evans of the Blue Grass Area Development District said Bluegrass Distillers is nearing the end of negotiations with the State Historic Preservation Office on a memorandum of agreement that will govern how the company reshapes Elkwood Farm into a tourism-themed distillery.

"It's been far lengthier than I anticipated," Evans said, mainly due to the history of slavery on the property. He said current negotiations are about the level of archaeological digging at the Elkwood mansion, built around 1835, and a building that housed enslaved people. "We're splitting hairs at this point," Evans said. "I'm optimistic it's all going to work out for the better."

The EDA board authorized Michalisin to sign two key documents for state aid to the distillery, including a lease for equipment that the distillery will buy with a community development block grant to the city that is actually a low-interest loan to be repaid by the distillery. EDA Executive Director Lucas Witt said the loan payments of $418,000 will go to the EDA, which can use the money for other economic-development activities.

Highlighted part of plat shows Lot 2 on McKinney Avenue near Georgetown Road. Click on the image to enlarge it.

Fall Volunteer Day at Walter Bradley Park tomorrow

Volunteers gathered at the pavilion for the Spring Volunteer Day.
Friends of Walter Bradley Park will have their annual Fall Volunteer Day tomorrow, Saturday, Oct. 23, from 10 a.m. to noon.

"Keeping our park looking its best is a community effort," the group says. "We really hope you can join us to help with some regular park maintenance!

To help the group get a count of how many volunteers may show up, it asks that those planning to attend please complete this RSVP form.

Volunteers are asked to meet at the park pavilions a little before 10 a.m. for group assignments. Bring gloves if you have them.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Message from the mayor: Weekly leaf collection starts Monday; water system will be flushed next week

By Grayson Vandegrift, mayor, City of Midway

Leaf collection will begin Monday, Oct. 25. As always, piles of leaves (no sticks) that are placed in the right of way in front of homes will be collected on a weekly basis.
All of next week, Oct. 25-29, we will be doing our scheduled hydrant flushing around town to keep our lines free of sediment buildup. You may notice a different look in your water temporarily, usually a “bubbly” appearance, but the water is still safe to drink. If you notice a different look, running your faucet for a couple minutes can help.

Holler if anyone has any questions.

City, museum seek Community Fund grants to make City Hall visitor center, museum; you vote until Oct. 28

The Rau Building, now City Hall, would be a full-time visitor center.
Two Midway applications are among nine competing for grants from the Woodford County Community Fund, which is seeking ranked votes from citizens in what it calls a "Grant Shebang" through Oct. 28. The rankings will be combined with those of the foundation board to reach the final decisions.

The two applications are related. The City of Midway is seeking money to help it move its administrative offices to the old library building at 426 S. Winter St., and the Midway Museum is seeking funds to help it convert City Hall into a public museum and tourist welcome center.

The museum says it would use the $2,500 grant to buy "permanent educational installations outfitting the museum" with "professional signage displays which outline in detail the story of Midway." It cites displays at the Kentucky History Center and Capital City Museum in Frankfort as examples of the displays it has in mind.

The building at 426 S. Winter St. would house city administrative offices.
The museum says its board "is actively creating physical display and program concepts to align with current virtual and educational initiatives," with help from the city, the Woodford County Tourism Commission, the Midway Merchants Association, Midway Renaissance and other volunteers. It says the museum "is developing staffing plan to open the facility six days a week, with volunteers initially and plans for a part-time employee or paid intern."

The goals listed in the museum's application are: Increase exposure and access to the Midway Museum, to grow community contributions of historical significance from Midway’s past for the edification of future generations; physically and digitally secure more items of Midway’s historical significance for the purpose of preservation and research for future generations; responsibly manage items for public display and reference access (in a research room); generate new interest in local history; create a one-of-a-kind public space for the first railroad in Kentucky, the Lexington & Ohio Rail Road, and the subsequent Lexington & Frankfort Railroad, highlighting privately-owned, original documents which Midway Museum currently has exclusive rights to access; present advertised programs unique to the area, which will draw residents and visitors; provide public restrooms to people in Midway during peak visiting hours, six days a week; develop a visitors center that supports the merchants of Midway; and help recruit and train volunteers through the anticipated Woodford County Tourism Commission “Ambassadors of Woodford County” program to staff the museum and visitors center.

The city's application says moving the administrative offices would improve security for the city’s records and equipment, and provide privacy and a quiet environment for people making cemetery arrangements with city staff; and preserve the city-owned building at 426 S. Winter St.

The City Council informally agreed in August to move the offices from City Hall. Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said the plan would resolve "in a very elegant way" three needs that he has consistently heard expressed: the need for a true visitors' center that is not not just a sideline for city employees; a home for the museum; and public restrooms in the downtown area. City Hall has public restrooms but is not open after 4:30 or on weekends, when there is considerable demand for restrooms.

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. He 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 told the council, "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 cemetery records, a project that had taken five years until the pandemic closure.

The other applications to the Community Fund are for the recycled benches project of Bluegrass Greensource; interpretive signage for the Huntertown Community Park; the 2021 Kentucky Youth Assembly of the Kentucky YMCA; the Mentors & Meals Summer Meet-ups Program; the Millville Community Market; and a teen drop-in center at the Spark Community Cafe in Versailles.

The Woodford County Community Fund's web page for the program has presentations summarizing each of the grant applications. "Each of these represents a commitment to enhance the quality of life in our community and to bring opportunities for new experiences to residents and visitors," the foundation says. Voting ends at 11:59 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 28.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Council votes 6-0 to deny service to planned RV resort, which says it will keep trying, and may modify its plan

City Council members, the mayor and city staff talked before the meeting began at Northside.
By Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The Midway City Council voted unanimously this evening to deny water and sewer service to the big recreational-vehicle park proposed on South Elkhorn Creek, but the attorney for the developer said they would continue "educating and persuading, and we may be doing some modifications" of the project.

The issue is much broader than utilities, Council Member Stacy Thurman said as the discussion began: "We would not be very responsible representatives of our community if we did not take into into account the whole picture, not just water and sewer."

The $40 million plan for one of the largest RV parks in the Eastern U.S., with more than 1,000 sites in Woodford and Scott counties, had drawn objections about its size and scope, traffic issues, and the possible effects on the creek and the character of Midway.

Sentiment ran firmly against the project at a city-sponsored forum Thursday night, and council members said they had already heard likewise. Logan Nance said an "overwhelming majority" of citizens who contacted him opposed it, and Steve Simoff said there had been "only been a handful that were willing to give this a shot," and 75 to 85 percent "don't want it."

Thurman said the proposal "as it stands" did not offer enough information for her to be sure that it would be a net benefit to the city, and "I'm not so sure that I feel this is a very good use of a conditional-use permit."

In May, the Woodford County Board of Adjustment unanimously gave the Kentucky Bluegrass Experience Resort a permit to operate a "tourism destination expanded" in an an agricultural zone, with conditions, after the county's Agricultural Advisory Review Committee gave it a relatively low score and a qualified recommendation.

"The fact that an obviously commercial project has been given approval to develop on land zoned agricultural shows that our system is broken," Nance said, "and that's something that we'll have to fix." The city, Versailles and Woodford County have a joint zoning ordinance.

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said he is drafting a resolution for the council to advise developers that "We are not interested in developments that are not within the comprehensive plan," the county's guide for development. That drew applause, as did the conclusion of a lengthy statement read by Nance.

"We love our small town," Nance said. "We want to keep Midway Midway." In 2019 he was the only member to vote against annexation and rezoning of property that, in effect, expanded the Midway Station industrial and commercial park across Georgetown Road from the proposed resort entrance.

Noting the chance that developer Andrew Hopewell might seek industrial zoning of the property if it can't become an RV resort, Nance said he would oppose it. "There is always going to be some threat of some future unknown," he said. "As the cities around us continue to expand unchecked, folks with money are always going to be looking to exploit Midway."

Earlier, Nance said "I don't think there are any bad actors on either side here, but one thing I'll never understand is this idea that in order to appreciate the natural beauty of a region you have to slap some concrete slabs on its rolling hills, tear up its soil for swimming pools, cut down its trees for a restaurant, and replace its quiet with the sound of engines."

Later, he noted Hopewell's purchase of the former Wesbanco branch bank property, which carries a five-year deed restriction prohibiting a bank there, likely leaving Midway without a bank; and said Hopewell was trying to buy other buildings (which Hopewell denied in an interview after the meeting).

Nance told Hopewell, who has declined to name his investors, "Apparently you want to buy your way into Midway, so let me just say this, for any venture capitalist out there that may have backed this organization ... any potential developers that want to come into Midway and change our town, I want to say this: Midway is not for sale."

That drew applause from the crowd of about 75 in the Northside Elementary School gymnasium, where the meeting was held due to expectations of a large audience. Other council members spoke directly to Hopewell, spokesman Joey Svec and attorney Hank Graddy from the council tables.

(Before that, Council Member Sara Hicks said being a council member is "sacred duty," and so is protecting "our land." Council Member Mary Raglin didn't speak, other than to vote no.)

Simoff told the development team, "I'm afraid of it. Guys, I like you all. I think you came forward with a plan that you think will work, but I think it's in the wrong place. . . . I respect you for what you have tried to bring to our community. I cannot move forward and vote yes for this with the lack of input that you have presented to this community."

Kaye Nita Gallagher, who said she didn't make up her mind on the issue until she entered the door of the gym, said, "Most of the comments we've had have been 'Scale it down,' and I know economically you cannot scale it down. . . . If you can scale it back some, and decide to bring it back to the council, I would probably reconsider it then." 

Immediately after the vote and adjournment of the meeting, Graddy told reporters, "We have some educating and persuading to do, and we will be doing some educating and persuading. And we may be doing some modifications."

Asked about seeking a zone change, to resolve complaints about the process, Grady said he had never understood that argument: "The land-use decision has been made, and it wasn't appealed" by opponents of the project, who "had lawyers during the 30 days following the decision," the appeal period. "It's a valid conditional use, and we, like any other business, are entitled to sewers. I think politics has intervened with property rights, and we will attempt to persuade the City Council to reconsider."

Asked if Hopewell has any basis for going to court, Graddy said they would "try education and persuasion before we take another steps. Obviously, legal action is available to us."

Graddy, a Midway environmentalist who has usually represented opponents of development, said the conditional-use process provides more protection for the property than rezoning would.

"We've made a decision in this community that agricultural land is available to celebrate natural resources that are of landmark category like Elkhorn Creek, and that's what these guys did, within the zoning ordinance," he said.

Graddy said they would be willing to add conditions to the permit, such as firmer limits on the length of stays and a requirement that all guests making reservations be told "that their route to come to this resort excludes coming through Versailles and Midway. . . . We believe we can control our guests' use of Midway Road."

Vandegrift expressed a different view during the meeting, saying "It doesn't matter what a place tells you to do, your GPS tells you what to do."

The mayor said that when he first heard of the project, its amenities were appealing, but "We knew all along there would have to be a vetting process somewhere." He said that did not begin until the permit was issued, and "The answers never kept up with the questions."

For example, it turned out that the promised day passes for Midway residents to use the resort would be $20. "How many families here can afford that?" Vandegrift asked. "I can't."

The mayor said he asked Svec and Hopewell Aug. 5 how they could reconcile that their report might have more than twice as many people on site as residents of the town, and Svec said, "We don't know how many people we'll have on our campground on a daily basis."

"That was a red flag to me, because any good business starts with a good business plan," Vandegrift said. "I simply cannot wrap my head around how building one of the largest RV parks in the country on a conditional-use permit which can be revoked any year for not meeting it is sustainable growth."

He added, "I've heard nothing of a sufficient demand study. . . . Is there sufficient demand to fill the park up?"

Hopewell told reporters that the resort has a market study and a team member with much experience at running RV resorts.

UPDATE, Oct. 19: Thurman sent members of the Midway Business Association this email:
Dear small-business owners,
I wanted you to know that last night, as I voted against providing water and sewer to the KBER, I did think about our small businesses and our tourism in Midway. The most compelling arguments I have heard FOR the development have been from well-informed small-business owners in our community who have done their due diligence. I don't doubt that a resort, like the one proposed, would bring some benefit to our downtown. I value our businesses and know that Midway would not be the same without you. It's interesting how many people who fought against this development said they wanted to keep the charming, friendly, small-town feel of Midway, but it was not lost on me that our Main Street businesses and area restaurants are a big reason why we have that image in the first place.
At the end of the day, I am simply not convinced that the benefits of this development outweigh the potential risk. I don't have confidence that they can pull this off, as the plan stands, and create a long-lasting, revenue-generating operation. I don't think this is over and I am prepared to keep listening with an open mind to all who are involved. I just thought that you, our business owners, deserved an explanation or at least the acknowledgement. Please know that a vote against KBER was not a vote against you. You are part of the heart of Midway and I appreciate you.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Sentiment runs against resort plan at community forum

Proposed RV resort developer Andrew Hopewell spoke to the crowd as his attorney, Hank Graddy; City Council members, and Mayor Grayson Vandegrift listened. (Photos by Ryan Craig, UK College of Communication and Information)
By Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Sentiment continued to run firmly against the proposed recreational-vehicle resort on South Elkhorn Creek at a public forum Thursday night, but the proposal drew endorsements from some business interests and others.

About 150 people attended the City of Midway's event at Midway University. The Kentucky Bluegrass Experience Resort is asking the city to provide sewer and water service, and to annex the property if the City Council decides to follow the current policy of not running sewers outside the city limits.

The objections were familiar: The plan is too big (more than 1,000 sites, which would make it one of the largest RV parks in the Eastern U.S.); it would cause traffic problems (480 RVs per day, according to the developer's own traffic study); and it would forever change the character of Midway.

"Midway sits on the precipice of failure," former City Council member Dale Benson said. "The real ideal of Midway is that less is more."

Cindy Kerrick, the sister and daughter of former council members, all of whom have passed away, said "I hope we are respectful of the people who sacrificed to make this town what it is today, and not throw it away for something fancy and shiny."

But Hank Graddy of Midway, attorney for developer Andrew Hopewell of Lexington, said that "I believe it will not have any negative impact on the city" and that only pasture will be visible from Georgetown Road, where the property entrance would be, across from Midway Station.

Herman Farrell of Midway replied later, "We're gonna see the effects of this RV park." He noted that Hopewell has never done such a project, and "There's a lot of questions that are still out there."

Joe Childers, attorney for opponents, spoke after Hopewell and Graddy.
The council is scheduled to act on the resort's request at its next meeting, at 5:30 p.m. Monday. The council has been meeting by Zoom, but Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said this meeting will be in person, at the Northside Elementary School gymnasium, to accommodate the expected crowd.

Zoning issues: Graddy argued that the council does not face a land-use decision, because that issue was decided May 3, when the Woodford County Board of Adjustment gave KBER a conditional-use permit to operate a "tourism destination expanded" on land that remains agriculturally zoned.

But Childers said that due to a planning staff error, the public was unaware of the number of RV accommodations in the plan before the decision was made. He and other opponents said Midway, Versailles and the county should amend their zoning ordinance to prevent such large commercial operations on farmland without the full-scale rezoning process.

Childers also noted that KBER had not made clear how it would enforce the permit's six-month limit on stays at the resort, which he said could be easily circumvented. He said there is nothing to keep RVers from renting their vehicles through Air BnB, creating a new residential community.

Tourism and business: Three speakers said the resort would help Midway and Woodford County benefit more from tourism related to horses and bourbon. Maria Bohanan, chair of the county Tourist Commission, said the resort "would allow us to tap into the adventure tourism market." 

But Tracy Farmer, head of the group that recently got Old Frankfort Pike named a National Scenic Byway, said in a letter read by Childers that RV traffic "would be dangerous and devastating to users of the byway."

Cortney Neikirk, president of the Midway Business Association, and Amy Bowman, co-owner of Midway Makers Market, supported the proposal, citing their visit to a South Carolina resort that is one of the models for KBER.

Bowman said some local business people told her that they feared their trade would suffer if they spoke out in favor of the resort, and Neikirk said "The positives outweigh the negatives." Noting the possibility that the property would become industrial if the resort plan falls through, Neikirk said "The alternative scares me worse . . . a factory that has 500 employees that don't give a crap about Midway."

Karen Edwards of Midway said the city shouldn't discriminate against the resort, and noted Hopewell's offer of $200,000 and design assistance to make a park of the 14 acres along the creek that it recently received in a donation from farmer-developer Mike Freeny: "No other Midway Station businesses have given back to the community like Andrew Hopewell has offered to do."

Helen Rentch of Midway said the plan is novel and has creative aspects "and very many desirable components," but "It does not need to have these excessive numbers to be a successful business plan." She said the current plan "is a land grab, designed to exploit the land and our culture, and not to enhance it."

Rentch said Midway needs "a place for RVs," as well as primitive camping. "We do want to be hospitable. We do want to welcome visitors . . . but these numbers are not tolerable, and the excessive aspect of them would be a significant loss to our comfort and to our character."

Developer's diagram shows Woodford County portion. Click it to enlarge.
Hopewell, taking his highest-profile role yet since he first publicly floated the plan 16 months ago, said "We have the best team in the world to ever do an RV resort."

Debra Shockley of Midway, a principal in a Lexington architectural firm, said "I can't think of another development in Midway that has been as thoughtful to site design."

Shockley said the controversy reminded her of Bluegrass Stockyards' failed efforts to buy Midway Station in 2007, before it became successful. "It all boiled down to a fear of the unknown," she said.

Shockley also disputed concerns about traffic, saying her parents were RV enthusiasts, and RVers carefully plan their trips to avoid problems such as narrow roads like Midway Road (US 62) and railroad crossings like the one on 62 in Midway that can cause "tail drag" and lost mufflers.

But RVer Laura Riddle, the next speaker, said she is extremely opposed to the resort because it has not made public any market survey of its potential guests. "My fear is this venture is going to go belly up and the taxpayers will be left holding the bag," she said.

South Elkhorn Creek, upstream from Moore's Mill (file photo)
The creek
: Several speakers voiced concern about South Elkhorn Creek, which runs through the property and is the Scott-Woodford county line.

"I can't see any way that it can be properly protected," said Don Dampier of Ironworks Estates, a former state Parks Department official. "Elkhorn Creek, to me, is a regional treasure . . . and most people take it for granted."

Bob Riddle, 71, of Fishers Mill Road, also in Scott County, said water quality in the creek has shown "minor improvements" because Lexington is controlling its sewage better, but there are "still no frogs, and few ducks that I saw as a child."

Hopewell has said he will clean up the creek and plant trees along it, but David Gregory said he and other creekside residents have always done that. "Is the creek going to be a better place after they're done, or is it going to be degraded more? Is is going to be busier?" The resort plan calls for kayaking.

County breakdown: Only five of the 19 speakers from Woodford County endorsed the project, as did two people from Nicholasville and one from Lexington. About a dozen people from Scott County spoke, and none of them endorsed the project. 

Magistrate Chad Wallace said his Scott County first responders are "not excited" about the prospect of having to go through Woodford County to access the Scott County part of the property.

Wallace took no position, but he and others said that if the City Council intends to extend utility service to the property, it needs to get written commitments from Hopewell so he can be held to his promises.

A representative of Georgetown's water and sewer system read a letter from its superintendent saying that the Scott County portion of the property is not in the system's approved service area, and that small "package" plants should not be relied on to handle the sewage there. The plan calls for sewage from the Scott County side to be pumped into Woodford County for piping to the Midway sewer plant, which has sufficient capacity.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Mayor on Indigenous Peoples Day: We can't understand the present without understanding all about the past

Behind Mayor Grayson Vandegrift and his daughter Andi: City Council Member
Sara Hicks, Christy Reaves, Council Member Stacy Thurman. (Photo provided)
Today is Columbus Day, but it is also Indigenous Peoples Day, this year for the first time under a presidential proclamation. Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift issued a similar proclamation this afternoon. Its full text:

WHEREAS, the City of Midway recognizes that the Indigenous People of the expanse that would later become known as the Americas have occupied these lands since time immemorial; and

WHEREAS, Indigenous People continue to advocate passionately for their communities, way of life, and the well being of the land they have been stewards of for many millennia; and

WHEREAS, the City of Midway exists in the territory formerly occupied by multiple cultures of Indigenous People who were in relation with the land long before the westward expansion of European-American settlements in this country; and

WHEREAS, the City of Midway recognizes that we cannot understand our present until we understand everything we can about our past;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Grayson Vandegrift, mayor of the City of Midway, Kentucky, do hereby proclaim October 11, 2021 to be Indigenous People’s Day in Midway.

Halloween decorations will be judged Saturday, Oct. 24

Notice from Woman's Club; click on it to enlarge.
Decorating for Halloween is a big deal in Midway, partly because there's a contest.

The Midway Woman's club has announced that the judging of its annual Halloween Decorating Contest will begin at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 24.

The judges "will be driving every street in Midway looking for the best-decorated homes and businesses," the club's notice says, adding that there is no charge to enter the contest.

For last year's winners, and a photo of one, click here. For a story on the 2019 event, with eight pictures of winners, click here.

This year's trick-or-treat in Midway is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 31.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

City reminds residents of Thursday forum on RV resort

Drone photo from WKYT-TV, labeled by the Midway Messenger, shows proposed resort site, adjacent properties and creek.

Notice the city mailed Midway residents gives City Council members' emails.
Midway residents should receive in their mail Monday or Tuesday a formal notice from the city about the public forum it is holding Thursday night on the proposed recreational-vehicle resort.

"The one the developers sent made some people believe the developers were hosting the forum," Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said in an email. The Kentucky Bluegrass Experience Resort's notice invited residents to visit the site Thursday evening and to support the proposal at the forum.

The forum will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday at Midway University and will be moderated by Tad Long of the Kentucky League of Cities, who has moderated other such events for the city. After 15-minute presentations from KBER and its opponents, audience members can speak for three minutes each.  

"I want to remind people that they can submit a statement in writing that will be read at the forum, but may be edited for time," Vandegrift said. "They can email mayorgrayson@meetmeinmidway.com or sonya@meetmeinmidway.com with the subject line 'forum statement' or something to that effect."

KBER is asking that the city provide water and sewer service to the resort, which under current city policy would require annexation of the property. Vandegrift has said he plans to put the issue on the agenda for the next City Council meeting, at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 18.

The resort would be one of the largest RV parks in the eastern United States. It has stirred considerable opposition, with the main objections being the size of the development and its effects on traffic and the environment. It would be on either side of South Elkhorn Creek, with most of the visitor sites in Scott County and most of the amenities in Woodford County. Developer Andrew Hopewell told the Messenger that the first two phases of development would cost $35 million to $40 million.

The resort has received a conditional-use permit from the Woodford County Board of Adjustment to operate in an agricultural zone, and is seeking a similar permit in Scott County. Hopewell has reduced the number of sites planned for the Woodford County part of the property, for a total of 395. However, the 77 sites removed from the original plan would be restored in its second development phase if the developers do not get approval from Scott County. The plan for Scott County includes more than 1,000 sites, but most of those would not be created until the third phase, in five to eight years, Hopewell representative Joey Svec told the council Sept. 8.

The city is requiring that those attending the forum wear face coverings, due to the pandemic.

Ed Quinn, graduate of WCHS and CEO of RJ Corman Railroad Group, talks about it with The Lane Report

RJ Corman Railroad Group is a major presence in Midway because it operates on the CSX Transportation tracks that run through the heart of town, founded by Kentucky's first railroad. Corman is a privately held company based in Nicholasville with rail operations in 23 states. Its chief executive officer is Ed Quinn, a graduate of Woodford County High School. He was interviewed recently by Mark Green, editor of The Lane Report, a Lexington-based business magazine, and the interview was posted online Friday. Here are excerpts, chosen and edited for a Midway audience:

Mark Green: What brought you into this work? Did you have a specific interest in Corman or railroads, or did it just occur by happenstance?
RJ Corman CEO Ed Quinn
Ed Quinn:
I got lucky. I was born in Fort Benning, Georgia. My father was an Army Ranger in Vietnam and was medically retired when we lived there. There was a family that lived above us, Rich and Margo Timmons. Rich ended up staying in the army and was a three-star general when he retired. Later he ran the American Shortline Railroad Association. I went to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and I was in the shipping industry for a while. I ran back into Timmons and talked to him and he introduced me to R.J. Corman—Rick—and the folks here. That’s how I got to be at Corman and how I ended up being lucky enough to move to Central Kentucky.

MG: What would you like people to know about R.J. Corman Railroad Group that they probably don’t know right now?
EQ: Going into 2021 we won a business development award from the American Association of Railroads for our Carolina line, which is a really neat story. The railroad is basically an abandoned railroad that hadn’t run traffic on it for four years. We went in and bought it and built out some pretty fantastic things. At the same time, all 17 of our railroads won an association award for no injuries in 2020. Safety is a is a big deal for us. Our Central Kentucky line won the president’s award for safety from the American Short Line Railroad Association, and those are the things that I’m really proud of.
For me, I went to high school at Woodford County High School. I got to come back here. For me, being part of this R.J. Corman team is a huge honor. We’ve got a great, great group of individuals that work hard every day as part of a team and they do it safely. I’m excited to be here every single day.

MG: R.J. Corman Railroad has grown, as a story goes, from a truck and a backhoe into a 23-state operation with multiple short-line railroads. Can you share any revenue numbers and trends, categories that are performing well?
EQ: We are privately held and we don’t share revenue numbers. What I can tell you is that we’ve got a great team here. We’re focused on operating all our businesses safely, efficiently, growing all of them with long-term sustainable growth—the theme that our founder had.

MG: Corman has approximately 1,500 employees in 23 states. How many of those are in Kentucky, and is your ability to find the people you need in Kentucky any different than it is in other states?
EQ: We have a little over 600 team members in Kentucky, spread out through various businesses that we have. Our headquarters are here in Nicholasville and we have what you think of traditionally: finance, accounting, IT, etc. We have a bunch of repair shops, fabrication shops. We have a distribution center in Bowling Green. We have our dinner train in Bardstown, three short lines in Kentucky; one is here in Lexington. Our wiring shop, emergency response divisions, our construction crews roll out of here. As far as challenges in finding employees, we’re not that unique in the state of Kentucky.

MG: Railroads are such an archetypal sector, but most people think of rail operations in terms of imagery from old movies or from their childhood 40 or 50 years ago. Can you describe some of the modern technology today’s rail systems use that might be different from people’s perceptions?
EQ: One of the biggest technological advances would be something called positive train control, or PTC. The investment in round numbers is about $15 billion. It was a government mandate back in 2008. The focus is on safety, like railroad crossings. All the investment was made with private money. All the Class 1 railroads and all the rest of the railroads that were part of it, we had to invest in this technology. Basically, what you have is digital wireless communication systems: think satellite, radio signals, cellular, tying the locomotive with a home network operations center— what they call a NOC—integrating GPS so you can track rail cars as they are moving through the networks.
Each railroad has different rules. There are different road crossings; you have to make sure that the gates are down before you go through town so to speak or you can create a very unpleasant situation if that doesn’t occur. Having this technology set up, you can operate the railroad more efficiently. Again, safety is the main focus. Preventing train-to-train collisions and derailments and unauthorized train movements is critical for a safe infrastructure. There’s a lot of data that comes out of that. One of the things that will happen over time using that data set for good is being able to take advantage of the rail network, run full trains, keep trucks off the road. Think about infrastructure. For folks traveling down the highway, having fewer trucks on the road, particularly in heavily populated areas, that’s a big one.
You have wayside detectors, rail flaw detectors, and lidar technology for 3D renderings and inspections. You can run these on trains, get a picture of the industry infrastructure. The railroad has an entire world growing around it— trees, whatever—and you can make sure everything is safe for rail operations. Those are some things the industry in general has taken advantage of.

MG: How long did it take to put in PTC?
EQ: It’s over 10 years. We had some serious slippage on it. It’s a federal mandate with the individual railroads needing to do this. There’s a guideline for it and then the railroads have to write the rules, so those things can get complicated quickly—how everybody ties themselves together. There was no back office way to integrate it. It’s a brand new thing. It was a struggle. And again, in conservative numbers it was $15 billion; that’s a lot of money to go into technology that’s mandated.

MG: Tell us about Corman’s geographic footprint. You operate in 23 states. Are those contiguous states or are they spread around the country?
EQ: We’re spread around. We’re denser east of the Mississippi; a lot of those states are continuous as we roll through. We go as far west as Tucson, Arizona, in the South, and to Scottsluff, [Nebraska,] to Fargo, North Dakota, up in the north. We are spread out. When you move west, outside of some of the more densely populated areas, you lose a little bit of the contiguous piece. But I’d say we’re covering all the east. When we say we’re in 23 states with 73 or 75 locations, that’s where we have some sort of a division, a home base, if you will. We don’t have a home base in Maine as an example, but we go to Maine and do work. We don’t have a base in Massachusetts but we go to Massachusetts and will do some work primarily with the construction side or the emergency response side. Out west we hardly ever touch Idaho; we won’t get in Washington state or California typically. We will get into Colorado a little bit with our service businesses. You know, have truck will travel. We do quite a bit of that.

MG: Do we know how many rail freight customers there are in Kentucky?
EQ: In Kentucky there are 13 railroads and 2,583 miles of track, and we estimate they moved about 48.9 million tons or about 700,000 railcars last year. If you think about the truck-to-rail conversion of 4:1, that would be the equivalent of 2.8 million semitruck trailers off the road and moving by railroad versus moving by truck. We have about 70 industries across the state that are heavy utilizers of rail.

MG: What percentage of Corman’s business is in Kentucky, and what states generate the most work for you?
EQ: Kentucky is probably about 20%. Tennessee is about 11%, and then we end up with states like Texas, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Pennsylvania all in that 5% to 7.5% type range.

MG: One of your key responsibilities in your previous position was “sustained rapid growth,” and Corman has added six short-line rail operations in the last two years, which has been a challenging environment. Is strong growth a current company mission?
EQ: Absolutely it is. We’re privately held, so our focus is long-term sustainable growth across all the different business platforms we have. We added six short lines, and that’s a great example of us being aggressive from a growth platform piece, but we’ve also invested tens of millions of dollars in our other businesses—our construction company, our emergency response company. We’ve invested in some highly specialized equipment. We’ve grown what we call a wiring shop for our signal business; it’s what I think is a world-class wiring shop. We’ve added a distribution center. We’ve added transload facilities. Our switching business today is at 26 locations. That’s been a growth vehicle for us as well.

Monday, October 4, 2021

RV resort developer makes final push for city approval; is buying bank site, but says that's not related to project

Joey Svec, left, and Andrew Hopewell, developer of the proposed
RV resort, shared a laugh after an interview Friday in Versailles.
By Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The man who wants to put a big recreational-vehicle resort on South Elkhorn Creek has mounted a stronger campaign to win support from the Midway City Council, and is also buying one of the most important pieces of real estate in town.

But Andrew Hopewell says his impending purchase of the closed Wesbanco bank branch has nothing to do with his request that the council annex the resort site and give it water and sewer service. "It's completely separate," he said in an interview with the Messenger.

The resort project was a major topic of discussion at Monday evening's council meeting, where Hopewell representative Joey Svec announced that they would have an open house at the resort site from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, noted the project's new website and discussed Hopewell's big incentive for the council's approval: helping make a park of the 14 acres on the creek, recently donated to the city.

Svec said Hopewell would use the "world-class designers" of the Kentucky Bluegrass Experience Resort to create a master plan for the land donated by Mike Freeny, and would contribute $200,000 toward initial construction, including road and creek access, a pavilion and rest rooms.

After Svec and project attorney Hank Graddy left the Zoom meeting, the council conducted routine business, discussed the latest plan for a new fire and ambulance station in Midway Station and concluded with the usual roundtable among members. Council Member Logan Nance brought up Hopewell's purchase of the Wesbanco tract without naming him, but targeting the bank.

Noting that Wesbanco bought a local bank, then closed the Midway branch, making life difficult for seniors who need a local bank, then placed a deed restriction on the property that prevents another financial institution from locating there for five years, Nance said "All that does is screw over the citizens of Midway. . . . That's the opposite of a community bank, and I think it's disgusting and it should be criminal."

Wesbanco did not return a call from the Messenger seeking comment.

Council Member Stacy Thurman endorsed Nance's comments and said that like him, she had stopped doing business with Wesbanco.

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift thanked Nance but didn't address the topic. However, in an interview Friday, he said Hopewell's impending purchase does the resort plan no good.

"He didn’t heed my advice . . . to consider how it would affect the community," Vandegrift said. "I know for a fact that a bank has put a really good offer in and they're being ignored; I wanted Andrew to understand what he would be walking into."

Asked how it would affect the council, Vandegrift said, "I don’t want to speak for them, but I think the whole thing has become very confusing to a lot of people. . . . How they wish to proceed forward is their decision, but I'm no longer interested in having private meetings or off-the-record discussions with them. At this point, everything needs to be public."

Asked why, he said, "I don’t feel that Andrew and Joey have operated on a straight level with me the entire time. I'm disappointed in this bank decision. I don't think that’s the way to ingratiate themselves with the community." Vandegrift said he also had not heard about Hopewell's offer to help create the planned park on the creek.

The branch closed in January, leaving Midway bankless.
When Wesbanco announced its plans to close the branch and indicated it would impose a deed restriction on the property, Vandegrift openly discussed buying the building for City Hall if it could recruit another bank to occupy the current City Hall. Asked if he thought Hopewell was trying to gain leverage on that score, he said, "It didn’t occur to me, but I don’t do business that way."

As a parting shot to Hopewell and Svec in the interview, Vandegrift said, "They perhaps should spend more time in this community, and I don't think doing a couple weeks' public-relations tour is enough to get to know this community."

Earlier Friday, Svec said in a joint interview with Hopewell, which they solicited, "We've been listening to the community since May." That's when the resort got a conditional-use permit from the Woodford County Board of Adjustment to operate a "tourism destination expanded" in an agricultural zone.

Asked why he signed a contract to buy the bank property, Hopewell said he was "approached as an investment opportunity" by "a government official in Woodford County," whom he would not name. He said the building has many possible uses, including a tourism center for the county.

He said he didn't know of the city's interest in the tract, which the Messenger reported at the time. He said he signed the contract in late spring or early summer; Svec said he didn't think it was that early.

Hopewell said the first two phases of the resort would cost $35 million to $40 million, He declined to reveal other investors. "There are some family members, but then we have some large backing as well," from inside and outside Kentucky, he said. "But I maintain full control of the company."

Graddy, Hopewell's attorney, has argued that an RV resort is the best use of the property at this point, because if the council does not annex it and provide sewer service, the next logical use of it would be light industrial, like Midway Station across Georgetown Road from the property. Hopewell said the industrial park generates three times the traffic that the resort would. 

If he can't win City Council approval, Hopewell said, he would he sell the property to someone else or develop it in another way. But he and Svec said they are committed to the project.

Svec and Hopewell said they have met individually with three council members: Nance, Thurman and Steve Simoff, who didn't join in Monday's meeting. Council Member Sara Hicks has said she would deal with them only in public, and they said they have not gotten a response from Mary Raglin or Kaye Nita Gallagher. They said Graddy and Joe Childers of Lexington, attorney for citizens who oppose the project, have not had the meeting that the lawyers said they would have.

Svec said he thought he and Hopewell were able to satisfy the three members' concern about traffic and the size of the resort, which would be one of the largest in the Eastern United States. "It was well received that these are guests in Midway" who would not stay long-term, Svec said.

The resort sent this card to Midway postal customers.
The resort's permit limits stays to six months, but "I don't anticipate people staying six months," Hopewell said. "It's just not in the business model" for a luxury resort for RVs that cost $500,000. Svec said most long-term guests "would be 30 days. You will have a few that will stay or two or three months because . . . they want to stay for a season."

Asked how they could prevent someone from staying six months and immediately returning, Svec said, "That's something operationally we're going to have to figure out." He said such resorts are communities in which guests look out for each other's interests and call out bad behavior.

A community forum on the resort plan is scheduled for 6 p.m. Oct. 14 at Midway University. Vandegrift has said he plans to put the issue on the agenda for the council's next meeting, at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 18.

Council meeting: Vandegrift said he and county officials have concluded that construction of a combined station for a full-time county ambulance and second fire station in Midway should be the city's responsibility, with a "sweetheart deal" for the county's lease in the first few years of operation, because the Midway area does not generate as many calls as areas where the county has EMS stations. 

However, he said EMS Director Freeman Bailey expects Midway-area calls to increase to that level, and "One day, the county will take over all those costs." He said Bailey told him that most Midway-area calls now come from Midway Station, where the station would be located. The mayor said the building should be constructed with a bond issue, a typical borrowing method for capital projects.

Among other business, the council approved Vandegrift's reappointment of University of Kentucky geography professor Rich Schein to a third four-year term as the city's representative on the Versailles-Midway-Woodford County Planning Commission. The mayor noted that the county's comprehensive plan comes up for revision next year.

In the concluding roundtable, Hicks Nance suggested that the city ban drone flights over the school and perhaps other locations, and Raglin asked that something be done about speeders on Gratz Street, on which she lives. Vandegrift said he would check on the status of speed-limit signs in the area and place one or more if needed.