Private investor may be key to Sphar project

Published 10:09 am Thursday, December 13, 2018

There is a spark of hope the Sphar building project may still happen.

Winchester City Manager Matt Belcher told the Clark County Fiscal Court Thursday a possible private investor has expressed interest in the project.

“The city has asked me to follow up and see if there’s any way to save a portion of the building or the shell,” Belcher said. “We don’t know where the building will end up. The grants are still active, except the community development block grant … which expires at the end of the year.”

The City of Winchester, Clark County, The Greater Clark Foundation and others partnered to raise or pledge nearly $2 million to purchase and renovate the 137-year-old former seed warehouse on North Main Street. When construction bids came in around $3 million, doubt was cast over the entire project. Winchester Mayor Ed Burtner said previously the city does not have the additional money on hand and said he is in favor of walking away from the project.

Belcher spoke to the fiscal court Wednesday seeking an assurance that a pledge of $50,000 from Clark County Attorney Brian Thomas’ office would be honored; Thomas will leave office on Jan. 6, 2019.

The court voted 6-1 to set $50,000 aside from $150,000 in excess fees from Thomas’ office for the Sphar project. Magistrate Joe Graham voted no, saying he didn’t want to commit the money to the project specifically.

“This has been a commitment throughout and was noted in our grant agreements,” Belcher said.

If the unnamed investor continues, the project would become a public-private partnership, he said. Space would be set aside in the building for the welcome center, a key point for the city’s $1 million state Transportation Enhancement grant, and the rest could be leased out, Belcher said.

The city purchased the building in 2014 with $100,000 from The Greater Clark Foundation.

“If (the investor) does not pan out, the project will not be a success,” Belcher said. “With a change in administration, time is short and we are asking that (the funds) be available if we need them.”

During its meeting last week, the Winchester Board of Commissioners voted to reject the bids for the project. At the time, Belcher said the bids had to be rejected as the project would have to be re-bid as the scope of work changed.

About Fred Petke

Fred Petke is a reporter for The Winchester Sun, the Jessamine Journal and the State Journal. His beats include cops, courts, fire, public records, city and county government and other news. To contact Fred, email fred.petke@bluegrassnewsmedia.com or call 859-759-0051.

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