Main Street marks banner year

Published 11:25 am Monday, February 18, 2019

Downtown Winchester had a highly successful  year in 2018.

The Beer Cheese Festival celebrated its 10th event. More than a dozen events filled all or part of downtown Winchester.

Some of the program’s volunteers won state awards for their work. Winchester was in the running to be featured on a national television show.

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New partnerships were made and new investments were banked.

Those accomplishments are only the latest in a 40-year effort to revitalize Winchester’s downtown. In recent years, the Main Street Winchester program has gained a lot of momentum, and is building on a very successful 2018 for more growth this year.


The Main Street program began in 1977 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and started pilot programs in South Dakota, Illinois and Indiana, said Robert Blanton, a current Clark County magistrate who worked in Winchester’s planning office at the time. Three years later, the program was expanded to six states, including Kentucky. Winchester was selected as one of five launch communities, along with Bowling Green, Maysville, Frankfort and Georgetown.

In 1980, the city received a matching grant to hire a Main Street director, with the matching funds raised by private donations, Blanton said.

Blanton received the task of writing the city’s Main Street preservation ordinance, which was required by the program.

“I didn’t give two cents for history at the time,” Blanton said. “I have gained an appreciation for it since.

“That was my baptism by fire.”

After the ordinance was approved, the next task was to remove many of the signs and overhead wires from downtown followed by the re-installation of the five-globe lights through downtown.

The lights, he said, were a “carrot” in getting a grant for the project. Again, local businesses provided the matching money.

“All the banks were local then,” he said. “We had to have some cash. The banks and local businesses raised $4,200 to match that first grant.”

The lights were officially turned on during the 1983 Christmas parade, and have remained since.

By 1984, the city ended its agreement and involvement with the state Main Street program as it shifted to state and federal levels.


In 1996, the city resumed its involvement, first by the local tourism commission and then by the City of Winchester, Blanton said. Since then the program has only grown under the direction of Kimberly Clay, Lara Early Thornbury, Tim Janes and now Rachel Alexander.

Main Street Winchester is not an accredited program with the National Main Street Center. Main Street Board member Deb Parr was named as Kentucky Main Street’s Volunteer of the Year. Main Street Winchester also won the Best Promotional Event award by Kentucky Main Street for the inaugural Urban Loft Tour in 2017.

In June 2009, the inaugural Beer Cheese Festival took place in downtown Winchester, attracting dozens of amateur and professional beer-cheese makers and thousands of people to sample variations of the Winchester-created delicacy.

“We did an economic impact study of the Beer Cheese Festival with Eastern Kentucky University,” Alexander said. “A one-day festival generated a $250,000 impact for Clark County. How amazing is that?”

Recent successes

Since 2015, private investment in downtown Winchester has grown from $600,000 to $6 million in 2018, according to Main Street Winchester’s annual report.

“We have success in people buying property,” Alexander said. “Most of the people who bought property have been working to rehabilitate the property.”

The City of Winchester has taken several steps to encourage such investments and projects by creating a tax-increment funding district for downtown. Winchester Mayor said TIF districts have worked well in Winchester previously, including helping the Winchester Plaza shopping center.

The TIF district allows tax money generated within the district to be used to help inside those boundaries.

“We set a baseline for taxes in the district when its started,” Alexander said.

As tax revenues increase over time, the difference in revenue above the baseline will then be reinvested, she said.

“It’s earmarked for downtown projects,” she said. “It will take a long time for that to be profitable. Now is a good time to create it. Twenty years from now, it could generate some serious revenue.”

The funds would likely be for public projects.

“That could be for street projects, streetscapes … any number of things that would make downtown better for the community.”

Business investments

A downtown investment program is being created. Ideally, there would be grants or loans available to property owners in downtown to assist with needed repairs or upgrades to properties. Alexander said one of the stumbling blocks for some prospective owners is the cost of deferred maintenance or the expense of bringing buildings up to current code.

“This year we really want to focus on getting the Downtown Development Investment Fund up and running,” Alexander said. “It’s (for) everything from roof stabilization to facade improvements. We have four to five programs we’re studying to see what’s been successful.”

The program, she said, would not simply give money away.

“Whether they take the form of low-interest loans or grants, there will be a match required,” she said.

The proceeds would then be re-invested for future projects.

Master Plan

In 2017, the Downtown Master Plan was unveiled, setting 10 goals and a plan for future development of downtown Winchester.

The plan identified 10 recommendations:

— improve code enforcement and public efforts

— new outdoor dining and use regulations

— establish a facade grant program

— redevelop the Sphar building to include a tourist presence

— create a downtown investment fund

— establish a downtown TIF

— initiate a downtown “high side” linear park design

— encourage additional market-rate housing in downtown

— unify downtown streetscape design elements

— enhance marketing of downtown.

Alexander said there has been progress on each of those items. During 2018, the Winchester Board of Commissioners streamlined the code enforcement process by moving it into the Winchester Police Department. The Winchester Tree Board and local industry have planted new trees throughout downtown. The city commissioners also approved a new ordinance to allow outdoor dining, opening the opportunity for downtown restaurants to add outside seating. Eight other downtown restoration projects were completed, including adding the new bell tower to the Clark County Courthouse.

“We got so much done or started in the last year,” she said. “We have begin to tackle all the priority recommendations. I’m really really proud of our board and volunteers.”

The future

“Each year I don’t know how we’re going to top the previous year,” Alexander said. “We’re going to focus really hard on the positive and try to change the narrative for downtown.  It is full of successful businesses, beautiful buildings and potential for growth.”

The real praise, she said, needs to go to others.

“It’s really not me,” she said. “It’s our volunteers and our partners that accomplish this. It’s been a real community effort. I want everyone to pat themselves on the back.

“We’ll never be done. Every year there are new projects and new goals. Downtown will always be a work in progress.”

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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