Main Street Winchester wins three state awards

Main Street Winchester is an award-winning program taking home three state awards in Covington Tuesday.   

Each year, Kentucky Main Street, a program of the Kentucky Heritage Council, recognizes the best in Main Street programs across eight categories.

This year, Winchester’s downtown received honors in three categories: Best Downtown Beautification for the Courthouse clock tower reconstruction, Best Main Street Event for the Beer Cheese Festival, and the Spirit of Main Street was awarded to former chair Graham Johns.

The winning tradition for Winchester began in 2009 for Best Economic Restructuring and gained momentum in 2017 with honors for Best Promotional Event coming from Better Block: ReMain North.

The Greater Clark Foundation was also recognized as Outstanding Community Partner for its role in the Better Block project. Last year, Main Street Winchester took home promotional honors for the Urban Loft Tour and Debra Parr received the Volunteer of the Year award.

Winchester Mayor Ed Burtner said, “Main Street Winchester, led by previous board chairman Graham Johns, present Board Chairman Tim Smith, and our Director Rachel Alexander, has set a clear course for growth and development while maintaining our unique historic character.”

According to the city, Main Street Winchester, in partnership with the City of Winchester and other local community partners, has focused heavily on redevelopment efforts in historic downtown Winchester.   

Among those community efforts was the reconstruction of the Clark County Courthouse clock tower.

The courthouse serves as the epicenter for concerts, proclamations, social gatherings, Christmas events and political activities. The courthouse clock tower on the National Register for Historic Places had deteriorated beyond repair.

In October 2017, the Clark County Fiscal Court embarked on a year-long project at a cost of $850,000 to reconstruct the tower from 1888 consulting the Kentucky Heritage Council to ensure Secretary of Interior’s standards were met to receive grant support. Today, the tower is recognized by Main Street Kentucky for Best Downtown Beautification.   

Robert G. Blanton, 6th District Magistrate said, “So glad to see the tower reconstructed; after all, it is the most iconic structure in all of Clark County.  The courthouse of course belongs to the citizens of Clark County and I hope it is appreciated by all for years to come.”

Every June for the last 10 years, the Beer Cheese Festival, centered around the courthouse, has brought tens of thousands of visitors to downtown Winchester to celebrate the birthplace of beer cheese and support local retailers.

What began as a fundraiser for the local Main Street program has developed into a catalyst for other projects, programs and improvements. Local retailers report record sales during the event and proceeds generated from the one-day annual festival have been used by MSW to leverage further investment in downtown through partnerships and matching grants totaling over $400,000. These continued successes have earned the Beer Cheese Festival the Best Main Street Event honors this year.

The Spirit of Main Street is awarded to individuals who play a much-needed role in their community, for commitment shown, for admirable leadership skills or for courage to overcome personal challenges. Graham Johns received this award posthumously having lost his short battle to cancer in June 2018.

Johns served his community his whole life. He sat on the board of Hospice, coached Little League for over 20 years, volunteered at his church and served on committees with the Chamber of Commerce. He led the local Toastmasters club, emceed charity events, participated in productions at Leeds Theatre and played Santa Claus.

When Johns retired, he turned volunteerism into a full-time job and focused his efforts on downtown. Joining Main Street Winchester in 2014, he quickly took over the role of chairman which he continued until his unexpected death last June.

“When Graham committed to something, he was involved,” Alexander said. “Graham volunteered for or attended every MSW event. He never missed a board meeting. He spoke to civic groups and organizations about MSW all over the county and as far away as La Grange.”

Under Johns’ leadership, MSW achieved Kentucky Main Street Accreditation. He also conceived and spearheaded the Local Legends Banner Series to recognize Clark Countians who achieved state-wide or national success.

“Great things are happening in downtown Winchester and more great things are planned. The future is bright,” Smith said.