Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Council annexes planned distillery property, votes 5-1 to turn City Hall into a museum and welcome center

This house at 426 S. Winter St. will be refurbished to house the city's administrative offices.
By Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The Midway City Council voted 5-1 Monday night to move the city's administrative offices to 426 S. Winter St. so the current City Hall can be a home to the Midway Museum and a tourist welcome center.

The council also voted to complete annexation of the Bluegrass Distillers property at the northwest quadrant of the Interstate 64 interchange, and tentatively agreed to match up to $750 in donations for a piece of playground equipment for Northside Elementary School.

The council informally agreed three months ago to move the city offices to the city-owned house that was once part of the local school grounds and has been rental property since Midway got a new library.

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said in August that the move would resolve three longstanding needs: a true visitors' center, not just a distracting sideline for city employees; public restrooms downtown, open beyond business hours; and a home for the Midway Museum, a collection of historical artifacts and documents held by a nonprofit organization with no permanent home.

He said Monday that the museum has been "on the wish list here for at least 20 years," and "I think we can have a museum in here as early as March."

The Rau Building, 101 E. Main St., houses City Hall.
The Rau Building at the corner of Main and Winter streets will still be called City Hall, and continue to host council meetings and have a drop box for utility payments, but Vandegrift said the administrative staff would work more efficiently and have more security and storage at the new site.

The only major question about the move was the cost of refurbishing the house. Vandegrift and City Clerk-Treasurer Cindy Foster estimated the interior work (paint and ductwork, floor stripping and sealing, replacing the back door, upgrading lighting and electric wiring) at $13,865, based on informal bids from various sources, but there was no estimate for outdoor work (washing, painting, minor landscape work and replacement of a railing).

Noting the indoor estimate, Council Member Logan Nance said he was concerned about the state of the building, "I'm really concerned that there's going to be a lot more than this that we're gonna end up having to pay to fix that place up."

"There might be," Vandegrift replied. "But the question is, do we want to create this attraction that's gonna help downtown and be an amazing display of our history? . . . It'll cost a little bit of money, no doubt about it." He said he was initially skeptical when Foster and her assistant, Sonya Conner, suggested the idea, "but the more I thought about it and the upsides to it, to me, strongly outweighed the downsides." He said a professional inspector had found "no major issues" with the structure.

Vandegrift said the current "visitor center" is called that, but "I don't really think it is one . . . The ability for this to be a true asset downtown outweighs any future costs we may have down the road."

Council Member Steve Simoff, who had asked for the cost breakdown, said the move would avoid the estimated cost of $25,000 to $35,000 to build public restrooms, and "I think this would be a good thing for the city and the people who come to visit."

Vandegrift said an "amazing" number of tourists come to City Hall, and "Sonya's job is not to be a tourism guide." Museum volunteers would handle that, and there are possibilities that the Woodford County Tourism Commission and/or the Midway Business Association would help out. The money for the interior work will come from money originally budgeted for computer upgrades.

Concluding the discussion, Nance said he saw "benefits both ways," but "I just think in the long run the best use of this space is to be a City Hall." But he cast the only opposing vote on the motion to approve the move and authorize the mayor to sign the agreement with Midway Museum Inc. Vandegrift said the agreement will keep council meetings where they are now.

Bluegrass Distillers touted its Midway rye
whiskies at the 2021 Midway Fall Festival.
The council gave unanimous final passage to the ordinance annexing 66 acres where Bluegrass Distillers plans to build a $3 million, tourism-oriented distillery once it reaches an agreement with the State Historic Preservation Office about archaeological work where it plans to add to buildings where slaves worked and lived before and during the Civil War.

Sam Rock, co-owner of Bluegrass Distillers, said he and the SHPO are "almost there" after staff from the office paid their first visit to the site recently. He said the difficulties with the office "sort of like, further emboldened us" to go ahead and start production of a rye whiskey with a Midway Distilling Co. label, the first batch of which was bottled Monday. He said it would probably be released next week.

Rock gave Steve Morgan of Midway credit for recruiting the company, which will relocate from Lexington. "I like to call it the Nantucket of Kentucky," he said. "We couldn't be more excited."

Vandegrift said the distillery would be the city's first since the 1950s. He said the industry has already returned to town, since 35,000 barrels if whisky are aging in or near the city.

Ga-ga ball pit (from Heather McColl via Midway Musings)
School equipment:
Mike McColl, representing WatchD.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students, which provides male role models at Northside Elementary), asked the council to help pay the $1,300 cost of an octagonal pit for ga-ga ball, a derivative of dodgeball, at the school. He said they want two, but are going after them one at a time.

Nance said the council's donation budget was "pretty much spoken for," but he and Vandegrift said the council-meeting discussion might help the group find other donors. Then Council Member Sara Hicks moved to donate $500 (later raising that to $750) if matched by other donors. Vandegrift suggested an alternative, that she withdraw the motion but state a willingness to make it again if donors come forward. Hicks agreed.

"Let's see if we can't find some people to come up with seven hundred fifty dollars," Vandegrift said. McColl said the best way to make a donation would probably be to call Midway Christian Church (846-4102), where his wife Heather is pastor.

Upcoming events:
On their way out of the meeting, MBA President Cortney Neikirk told McColl that the association would help his effort, and that she might be able to donate half the proceeds of the downtown chili cook-off scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 20, from noon to 2 p.m. (Pay $5 cash at City Hall for a spoon and a cup to sample more than 15 chilis made by contestants who will be on the sidewalks, then vote for your favorites.)

Vandegrift said in an email to the council and news media after the meeting that he had failed to mention that the city's downtown Christmas tree will be lit Friday, Nov. 26 at 6:30 p.m. "Our guys have made some special preparations and we’re excited about our biggest tree in years," he wrote.

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