Witt: Make downtown Winchester welcoming again

Published 9:45 am Tuesday, April 30, 2019

About two years ago a student group from the University of Kentucky College of Public Health came to Winchester to do a walkability study of the downtown area.

A report and map were prepared and presented to local authorities and Main Street Winchester.

The streets included in the study were Depot Street at the north to Court Street at the south, and included Highland from Washington to Depot, Main from Depot to Court, Washington from Highland to Wall, Wall from Washington to Court, Broadway from Wall to Main, Cleveland from Wall to Main and Court from Wall to Main.

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We can question why they didn’t include the remainder of South Main and East Broadway, but the way the included streets were rated reveal a good deal about the factors they weighed in the evaluation.

Of the 15 street segments surveyed, only four received a rating of “Medium-High Score;” the remainder were either “Medium,” “Low” or “Very Low,” Wall Street from Washington to Broadway was the only segment in the last category.

The segments receiving the best scores were Washington from Church Alley to Main, Wall from Broadway to Cleveland, Cleveland from Wall to Main and Main from Cleveland to Court.

While a written synopsis of the study has not been available, it is fair to assume that some of the factors relating to the scores had to do with the condition of the storefronts, the maintenance of properties, perhaps the use of trees, street amenities, etc.

It seems evident the condition of the infrastructure was one of the parameters of the study.

Looking at some of the ratings raises interesting questions.

Washington Street from Church Alley to Main Street received a high score, undoubtedly because of the appearance of the properties of People’s Exchange Bank and Dairy Queen, both of which are kept neat and orderly and present attractive appearances to passers-by.

Wall Alley from Washington to Broadway received the lowest score of the study for obvious reasons. Despite some improvement in this section in the last few years, there are many properties which contribute a dreariness to the stretch, and there are no designated pedestrian walkways to provide safety.

Walking this section of Wall Alley can be somewhat depressing, despite Central Bank’s contribution of a lovely building and grounds to the area. Perhaps that will generate further improvements there.

The problem with this area is everyone has always treated it as an ‘alley,’ an unimportant ancillary to the buildings which abut it, so there has been little effort to make it anything more.

Three short streets which received the highest scores were Wall Street from Broadway to Cleveland, Cleveland from Main to Wall and Main from Cleveland to Court.

Government buildings — which overpower the streets themselves and are buildings which convey the permanency and history of the community, specifically the Courthouse and the Courthouse Annex (formerly the main post office) — flank all three of these streets.

All the remaining streets, which received lower scores undoubtedly suffered from the vacant storefronts and, in some instances, buildings which are in obvious need of upkeep.

Downtown Winchester has a varied and glorious past, one which welcomed visitors and patrons in large numbers.

Maybe someday it will be so again; it will be interesting to see another walkability study when that occurs.

Chuck Witt is a retired architect and a lifelong resident of Winchester. He can be reached at chuck740@bellsouth.net.