City considers stabilizing Sphar building

Published 10:16 am Wednesday, December 19, 2018

City officials voted to begin exploring the possibility of stabilizing the Sphar building and pursuing the project as a public-private partnership with other investors.

Following meetings with state officials last week, Winchester City Manager Matt Belcher said the city should be able to keep the $1 million Transportation Enhancement grant for the project, though it would be scaled down.

“If the city wants to proceed with accessing the TE money and work with a private investor … they will be very lenient with that,” Belcher told the commissioners.

Between grants obtained by the city, county and other contributions, there was about $2 million on hand to stabilize and revitalize the 137-year-old building on North Main Street. When the bids came in the $3 million range, city officials began looking at other options.

Last week, the Clark County Fiscal Court voted to keep $50,000 pledged for the project by Clark County Attorney Brian Thomas on hand, should they be needed for the project. The county, though elected not to seek an extension for the $500,000 community development block grant it received for the project, Belcher said.

The city commission has already rejected the previous bids and will re-bid the project at a smaller scope to put a roof on the building and stabilize the masonry and foundation, Belcher said.

Belcher told the fiscal court last week there was a possibility of a private investor joining the project, though it has not been finalized or announced.

“Can we scale back the project and complete it on a limited scope of work? I think the state is open to that type of project,” Belcher said.

Burtner said the city did not have the additional funding to proceed with the building as planned, which would include offices for tourism, industrial development and the Main Street program, as well as a welcome center. The welcome center is the key requirement for the $1 million TE grant, and would be included if there is a private investor in the project.

The city still has the option to return the grant and end the project, though it would have to reimburse the state for some design expenses and pay for demolition costs.

City officials said previously the building is in poor condition and may not survive this winter, after multiple roof collapses last winter.

Tuesday’s meeting was the final scheduled one for long-time commissioners Rick Beach and Kenny Book. The two have a combined 40 years on the commission, with Beach representing 14 and Book another 26 years. Beach chose not to run for another term, while Book was defeated in the November election.

“They have so much experience on this commission,” Commissioner Kitty Strode said. “They will be missed.”

“I want to thank the citizens who have voted and supported me for 29 years since I ran for city commissioner,” Book read from a prepared statement. Book said he had worked with 16 different city commissioners, four mayors, three city managers and two interim city managers during his tenure.

Later Tuesday afternoon, new commissioners JoEllen Reed and Ramsey Flynn were sworn in, along with returning commissioners Strode and Shannon Cox.

In other action Tuesday, the commissioners:

— approved the first reading of an ordinance and the development plan to create a tax increment financing district for downtown Winchester, centered around Main Street and side streets.

— re-appointed Ron Kibbey to the Clark County Generations Center board for a four-year term.

— authorized an agreement with GRW to design a canopy on Depot Street for use by the Winchester-Clark County Farmers’ market.

— approved an order for various professional services related to the Lincoln Street redevelopment project.

— awarded a grant to install exhaust removal systems at all city fire stations.

— hired Eric Burton as a part-time maintenance worker at Winchester Public Works.

— hired Carly Boone and Dylan Grubbs as EMT/patient transfer specialists.

— hired Maurice Ferguson as a paramedic/patient transfer specialist.

— transferred Matthew Vanhauter from patient transfer specialist to single-role paramedic.

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 or call 859-759-0051.

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