City rejects Sphar project bids

The Winchester Board of Commissioners voted to reject all bids for the Sphar building project, which city leaders said was necessary before pursuing other steps.

The commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday night after hearing several pleas to explore other options for saving the 137-year-old downtown former seed warehouse.

The city has been pursuing a renovation project for the building for a couple years, but the latest round of bids were more than $1 million than the $1.8 million or so available between grants and pledges.

“We don’t have $2.8 million,” Winchester Mayor Ed Burtner said. “We have roughly $1.7 million. I haven’t seen any evidence of anyone willing to put up the additional money.”

The project architects proposed three options: raise the additional funds and proceed, stabilize the building while generating more money or demolishing the building and preparing the site for another use.

Burtner has publicly said he supports demolishing the building and ending the project. Winchester City Manager Matt Belcher has said he doubts whether the building will survive this winter, after multiple roof collapses last winter.

“Regardless of how we proceed, the bids would have to be rejected because it’s a different scope of work,” Belcher said. “We’ve talked to the state about what could be done under the grants.”

The city received a $1 million Transportation Enhancement grant while the Clark County Fiscal Court received a $500,000 community development block grant for the project. The Greater Clark Foundation has pledged $350,000 for the project as well.

“This is not a deal killer,” City Commissioner Rick Beach said. “It is a business action.”

A handful of residents urged the commissioners not to close the door on the project, which would have redeveloped the building into a welcome center and additional office space for joint city-county offices.

“I am very concerned,” Clare Sipple said. “I have been looking so forward to seeing that building repurposed. It’s an anchor on North Main Street.”

“It seems mothballing the building in some way would be economical,” Laura Freeman said. “I think we need an anchor on North Main.”

In other action Tuesday, the commissioners:

— approved a street closing request for the 2019 Relay for Life on Main Street.

— reappointed Steve Justice to the Winchester-Clark County Heritage Commission for a four-year term.

— approved the annual letter of accreditation with the Kentucky Main Street Program.

— approved an agreement with Habitat for Humanity of Madison and Clark Counties for the Lincoln Street project.

— awarded the bid of $1,845 to Chef Doug’s Gourmet Food for the annual employee Christmas Breakfast.

— approved hiring Blake Gabbard and Trevor Bloom as police officer III with the Winchester Police Department.