Downtown making progress despite pandemic;
city earns 2021 Main Street accreditation
Things are looking up for downtown Winchester after a year of COVID-19 setbacks.
Main Street Winchester has received a certificate of accreditation as a 2021 Kentucky Main Street Program from the Kentucky Heritage Council, and on Monday, the city was interviewing candidates for a full-time Main Street director.
Rachael Boyd, who has been the part-time interim director for the past three months and is one of the candidates for the position, said Monday that among the benefits accreditation will bring is that it will help the program in applying for grants.
Boyd, who moved to Winchester from Louisiana with her husband in 2018, said that the program has had a master plan since 2015 that was funded by the Clark County Community Foundation and the city and county governments. That plan includes creating a downtown reinvestment fund and tax increment financing district and a facades grant program as well as enhanced marketing of downtown.
“I think what you’re seeing is that there was a refocus,” Boyd said, when improvements to the downtown streetscape were mentioned in conversation.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic and the closure of some downtown businesses, there are signs of improvement. The city has invested in handicapped-accessible sidewalks and ramps on South Main Street and Cleveland Avenue in recent months. The McEldowney Building is undergoing a major rehabilitation and several other buildings are being restored. An outdoor events venue has been created on the east side of North Main Street, and until COVID closed the theater, the Leeds Center for the Arts was planning a major expansion of its building, including dressing rooms for the actors, room for set design and a rear entrance. And the Winchester Farmers Market on Depot Street, with its restored brick pavement, has plans for a covered pavilion for the vendors. New restaurants have opened downtown, including Loma’s in the Winchester Opera House and La Trattoria on North Main. Wildcat Willy’s, a moonshine distillery and restaurant, will be reopening soon on Broadway, and Abettor Brewing Company is moving into a new location adjacent to the Farmers Market.
During the city Board of Commissioners meeting last week, city officials approved funding for $1,000 facade grants for two downtown businesses that are being renovated, at 53/55 S. Main St. and 2 S. Main St. The one at 53/55 also recently received funding for interior improvements to convert the upper part of the building into residential space.
In recent years, several of the downtown buildings have renovated their upper floors to be apartments, which is one of the goals of the master plan.
Boyd said Main Street Winchester is also hoping to bring back some of the events that were shut down last year because of the virus, including Rock the Block and possibly the Beer Cheese Festival, but with “a festival of that magnitude,” she said, it would take some planning and coordination with the Health Department to be able to do those events in ways that involve less risk.
“At the end of the day, we’re just trying to keep people safe,” she said.
On Monday, Kitty Dougoud, the state Main Street coordinator, said Winchester’s Main Street program, formerly known as Winchester First, has received accreditation from the state and national programs for many years.
Craig Potts, executive director of the Kentucky Heritage Council, said the council’s Kentucky Main Street Program, established in 1979, is the oldest program of its kind in the country, and Winchester’s is one of the oldest in the state. In fact, if you look closely at the state program’s logo, you’ll notice the buildings depicted in the drawing are of the “high side” of Main Street in Winchester, and “we are very proud of that image,” Potts said, Winchester “should be too.”
The high side of Main Street is a multi-block National Historic District.
“Participation as an accredited Main Street Program provides many benefits, including training and networking opportunities, access to design assistance from architects at the Kentucky Heritage Council, and eligibility to apply for support through the National Main Street Center,” Potts said.
“Main Street is largely a grass roots program based on a registered four-point approach placing high emphasis on engagement with local leaders, businesses, developers, volunteers and other stakeholders,” he said. “No Main Street Program is the same because no Main Street community is the same, but the requirement to consistently apply the national and state program requirements gives communities like Winchester a proven pathway to incremental, and ultimately successful, downtown revitalization.”
“Downtown is the heart of every community and we are judged by how well we take care of those places,” Dougoud said.