New CentrePointe links: More news and opinion

April 28, 2008

Here are four new articles discussing the proposed CentrePointe project in downtown Lexington:

Joe Rosenberg, a jeweler who owns much of the block and is partnering with developer Dudley Webb on CentrePointe, defends his role as landlord for The Dame music hall in an op-ed piece in Monday’s Herald-Leader.

On the same page, Lexington architect Van Meter Pettit makes the case for a more open process and a public-private oversight board to guide downtown development.

Linsen Li, opinions editor of the Kentucky Kernel, the University of Kentucky’s student newspaper, comments in Monday’s paper on UK President Lee Todd’s endorsement of Webb’s CentrePointe plan the day after it was announced. The Kernel reported Friday that Todd wrote a supportive letter to the developers before controversy began swirling about the CentrePointe plan.

Rolex: Fans love sport, excited about 2010

April 27, 2008

Some people think of this as the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event.

Others think of it as the annual dress rehearsal for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games — one more almost down, two more to go.

Still others think of it as the apex of the horse sport they love, with all of its beauty, excitement and danger.

However you think of it, the biggest day of this year’s Rolex seemed for organizers and spectators to go about as smoothly as one of those expensive watches it is named for.

The only sadness came for the cross-country competitors, three of whom tumbled at jumps, sending one rider and two horses to hospitals.

“It has been a big crowd, a great day,” said Stewart Perry, a Lexington insurance agent and Rolex board member who is the volunteer director of spectator services.

“They’re all leaving with smiles on their faces,” Perry said by cell phone as the crowds dispersed.

Hawley Bennett clears a jump aboard Livingstone. Photos/Tom Eblen

The only operational hiccup seemed to be getting people in and out of the Kentucky Horse Park. Road work within the park for the 2010 Games contributed to a morning backup that reached down Ironworks Pike and Newtown Pike almost to I-75. It was a 45-minute trip, but at least traffic never stopped moving.

Jack Kelly, CEO of the 2010 Games, has always known that moving people in and out of the park will be one of his biggest challenges. The annual Rolex traffic jam confirms his group’s decision to shuttle people in from outside the park. Perry said Rolex would love to shuttle people, too, but it would be too expensive.

Still, Kelly has nothing but praise for Rolex organizers, who have marshaled more than 1,500 volunteers. “I think they’ve made some tremendous strides,” he said.

Jurgen Gohler thinks so, too. The Cleveland-based dressage trainer, who was on the German three-day eventing teams at the 1968 and 1972 Olympics, has attended every one of the Kentucky three-day events since they began with the World Championship in 1978.

Gohler also is a regular at the World Equestrian Games, and he thinks the Horse Park will be a great site in 2010.

“They will handle it very well,” he said. “This is a wonderful facility.”

The crowd of 50,275 Saturday was a diverse lot, from all over the country and around the world.

Some Central Kentuckians might have been there out of curiosity, or because it seemed like a fun thing to do on a beautiful spring day. But the parking lot contained license plates from dozens of states, and evidence that many of them belonged to serious horse people.

For example, there was UPNOVER from Indiana — a jumper, no doubt.

“I like to watch riders who are better than I am,” said Kirby Schmidt, an electrical contractor from Medford, Ore., who mailed his deposit for World Games tickets last year.

One obvious demographic in the crowd was horse- loving girls and their parents, such as Mary Beth Brungardt, 14, of Marshall, Minn., and Bethany Beres, 15, of Roswell, Ga. They stood in a long line to get autographs from Stephen Bradley, a star rider and former Olympian.

“It’s great to be around all these amazing riders,” said Bethany, an avid rider who hopes her father will bring her back in two years for the World Games.

And what happens when those horse-loving girls grow up? They keep coming.

“We’ve been coming off and on for more than 20 years,” said Rosemary McGarrah of Evansville, Ind., who was there with her friend and fellow rider Janet Davis of Newburgh, Ind. “This sport has grown by leaps and bounds. In the 1980s, if they had 10,000 people here, it was a big crowd.”

Linda Palumbo of Orlando, Fla., and her sister, Ruth Travis of Franklin, Tenn., came to Rolex for a “girls’ weekend.” They grew up with horses in Florida, where their father bred appaloosas, and Palumbo still rides.

“This place is just fabulous,” she said.

Throughout the day, there were sad reminders of the sport’s danger.

After the first of Saturday’s three falls, Bill Jansen of Tryon, N.C., watched with a worried look as emergency workers checked Dornin Anne North. The daughter of retired Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North had taken a hard fall.

Jansen’s daughter, Kaitlyn, rides on the University of Tennessee’s equestrian team and hopes to make it to the Olympics someday. “I just don’t want to be one of those fathers,” he said, nodding toward the ambulance that took North off the course.

After the second fall of the day, Joe and Donna Bihner, who live near Chicago, watched quietly with a large crowd as emergency personnel behind big blue tarps worked on Sarah Hansel and her horse, The Quiet Man.

“Everyone here’s an animal lover, and we hate to see anyone hurt,” said Donna Bihner, a rider attending her fourth Rolex. “I hope he’s OK. They put a lot of love in those babies.”

UPDATE: This column was written Saturday evening for Sunday’s newspaper. On Sunday afternoon, it was reported that two of the three horses involved in falls Saturday were euthanized because of their injuries. The rider, Laine Ashker, is hospitalized in intensive care. Read Amy Wilson’s latest update, from Tuesday’s Herald-Leader.

Middle photo: Outrider Heather Bellis-Jones of Paris spent much of the day having little girls admire her horse, T.J. Left to right are Haley Penland, Kadison Leaphart and Kelsey Louthan, all of Greenville, S.C.

Bottom photo: Sisters Ruth Travis of Franklin, Tenn., left, and Linda Palumbo of Orlando, Fla., enjoy a “girls’ weekend”.

Signs of spring: Cast your vote May 20

April 26, 2008

Campaign signs are popping up like dandelions as Kentucky’s May 20 primary election nears. This crop is at a crossroads on Ky. 1269 near Salt Lick in Bath County. Photo/Tom Eblen

Who is your favorite candidate, and why? Leave a comment below

Global warming means change for coal, Kentucky

April 25, 2008

MOREHEAD – If you want to start a fight about global warming, go to coal country.

That was clear Friday at the East Kentucky Leadership Conference. It wasn’t a fight, really, but a spirited debate about what global warming could mean for the coal-rich region and how Kentucky should respond to inevitable change.

It was the kind of discussion that made this 21st annual conference worth attending.

At its best, the East Kentucky Leadership Conference is like a big family reunion where people get together to talk about the future instead of the past. Everyone knows the touchy subjects and all of the back stories. Most also know which cousins are smart and which uncles are crazy.

It helps that the conference always takes place in late April. When the hills are ablaze with redbud and dogwoods, no problem seems too big to solve.

On this year’s agenda were all of the usual subjects: health, education and economic development, plus a session with the curious title, “Adventure Tourism: An Idea Whose Time Has Come.”

While it wasn’t on the official agenda, there also was plenty of discussion about the plague of drug abuse.

When talk turned to coal, nobody, thankfully, tried to argue that global warming is a myth, or that we’re not making it worse by burning coal.

Cheap power threatened

The world’s changing energy picture doesn’t bode well for Kentucky, said Jim Lamb, the senior vice president of power supply for East Kentucky Power Cooperative in Winchester.

About 96 percent of Kentucky’s electricity is generated by burning coal. That has given Kentucky some of the nation’s lowest power rates. But as concerns about climate change prompt more restrictions on coal-burning, power rates are sure to rise

Many at the conference – including Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, a Hazard physician, and House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins of Sandy Hook, who works for a coal company, touted the possibilities of new technology to convert coal to liquid fuel that burns cleaner than oil.

Coal companies are pressing for federal and state tax breaks to develop that technology.

John Hennen, a history professor at Morehead State University, said it’s fine if coal companies want to invest their own money in such research, but public money should be used to explore alternatives to fossil fuels.

“I think a (public) commitment to coal conversion technology would be a disaster,” he said, raising eyebrows around the room.

Hennen noted that converting coal to liquid fuel requires massive amounts of water and produces more carbon dioxide than burning it. While there’s a lot of talk about capturing that carbon and storing it, nobody has shown it can be done on a large scale.

Investing beyond coal

Hennen said he would rather see public investment in conservation, energy efficiency and sustainable energy sources. Solar power, for example, could become a lot more cost-effective as technology improves and other energy prices rise.

One example: The state could provide tax credits or other funding for solar-powered home water heaters. They could cut demand on the power grid and pay for themselves in a few years.

“We cannot afford to look to the coal industry to be our salvation,” Hennen said.

He and Jason Bentley, a lawyer in Frankfort with the firm McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie and Kirkland who works with big energy companies, argued about what they both said was “fear-mongering” for and against coal.

“The reality is that these other fuels cannot compete with coal in price and flexibility,” Bentley said. And they won’t anytime soon.

Everyone agreed that coal will be Kentucky’s dominant energy source for decades to come. But they also agreed that big changes are coming – and the clock is ticking.

Notes from the East Kentucky Leadership Conference

April 25, 2008

MOREHEAD — It’s perhaps the oldest question at the annual East Kentucky Leadership Conference, which met this week for the 21st time: How can the region attract more jobs from elsewhere.

In 1990, former Gov. Wallace Wilkinson created the East Kentucky Economic Development Job Creation Corp., which supporters say recruited more than 5,100 jobs to 28 counties in the region over the next 14 years. Former Gov. Ernie Fletcher cut off funding for the corporation in 2004 amid questions about its effectiveness and political squabbling within the region about where the jobs went.

Bill Weinberg, a Knott County lawyer and a founding member of the East Kentucky Leadership Foundation that sponsors the conference, pointed out that recruiters can do only so much. Ultimately, companies decide where they want to locate facilities. Appalachian counties are not only competing with each other, but often with bigger metro areas, such as Lexington and Knoxville.

House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins of Sandy Hook said East Kentucky needs its own recruiting arm, because statewide economic development efforts aren’t enough. “We can toot our own horn better than anyone else,” he said.

Attracting outside companies is important. Equally important is helping to foster more local entrepreneurs.

That’s what the Kentucky Highlands Investment Corp. in London has been doing for nearly 40 years. The region needs more emphasis on and training in entrepreneurship, not only at universities and community colleges in elementary schools.

“The culture in Appalachia is if you stay in the community you’re going to go to work for somebody else,” said Jerry Rickett, the president and CEO of Kentucky Highlands. “We have to change that culture.”

Rural Kentucky once could attract jobs with low labor costs. But many of those employers have gone overseas in search of ever-lower labor costs. “Much of Eastern Kentucky is not in a competitive position for industrial recruiting,” Rickett said.

The Internet has made it easier than ever for entrepreneurs to create businesses in eastern Kentucky and sell products and services worldwide. “If you start a business here, the high-paying jobs and equity will stay here,” Rickett said.


Gov. Steve Beshear was to have been the featured speaker at the conference’s dinner Thursday. But that honor fell to Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, a Hazard physician. It was a great platform for a native son, and Mongiardo’s popularity was obvious at the conference that has always leaned heavily Democratic. But more than a few people remarked on the fact that Beshear was the first Democratic governor in the 21-year history of the conference to not attend. Two constitutional officers who have had their eye on the governor’s office also attended: Auditor Crit Luallen, a Democrat, and Secretary of State Trey Grayson, a Republican.


In his remarks, Mongiardo noted that East Kentuckians have always had to stuggle with limited resources, so there’s no reason the region can’t continue making progress in tough economic times. He noted that history remembers people who embrace change, not those who resist it.

Click the arrow below to listen to a 2-minute excerpt from Mongiardo’s speech. He talks about the importance of expanding early childhood education and how information technology can be used to cut healthcare costs.


The conference has always been a forum for discussion, rather than a policy-making meeting. But part of this year’s conference was spent trying to draft a regional platform statement to guide the governor on issues affecting the region. At several sessions, panels went through a draft document and made revisions. The original draft can be downloaded from the East Kentucky Leadership Foundation’s Web site, where it is likely to be updated soon with the revisions.

East Kentucky Leadership Foundation award winners

April 24, 2008

The East Kentucky Leadership Foundation, which is having its 21st annual conference in Morehead, honored six individuals and organizations Thursday night for their service to the region: Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, a Hazard physician; Morehead activist Shirley Hamilton; visual artist and illustrator Paul Brett Johnson; Pathways Addiction Program of Ashland and its founder, Todd Trumbore; Don Rigsby and the Kentucky Center for Traditional Music at Morehead State University; and healthcare advocate Linda Gayheart. The conference, which focuses on strategies for improving Appalachian Kentucky, continues Friday at the Morehead Conference Center.

Saving Kentucky’s aluminum industry, can by can

April 23, 2008

Don’t throw away that aluminum can — Subodh Das could be watching.

Das, an aluminum engineer, is working with the city of Lexington and researchers from the University of Kentucky’s Gatton College of Business to study what you throw away and what you recycle.

They want to figure out how to persuade you to throw away less and recycle more.

Das isn’t out to save the planet, although that would be nice. He’s out to save Kentucky’s aluminum industry.

“In the 1970s, recycling was important because it was a good thing to do,” said Das, president and CEO of Lexington-based Secat Inc., which provides technical research to the aluminum industry. “Recycling now is strictly a business proposition.”

Although not as famous as horses or bourbon whiskey, aluminum is big business in Kentucky. The industry employs nearly 18,000 people at 142 plants that make everything from beverage cans to auto parts. Where is the world’s biggest can sheet factory? Russellville. The world’s biggest recycling plant? Berea.

Foreign competition

But, like so many other industries, aluminum production is moving to countries with cheaper energy, raw materials and labor — not to mention slacker environmental standards. It’s also following new demand for aluminum in supercharged economies such as China’s and India’s.

Das thinks much of Kentucky’s aluminum industry could quickly disappear unless it secures a long-term supply of cheap raw materials, which account for 80 percent of the cost of making aluminum.

There are basically two ways to get aluminum:

The first way is to mine bauxite, copper, silicon, magnesium and manganese in places such as Africa, Brazil and Indonesia. Then refine those minerals and process them into metal in places such as Ireland, Iceland, China and Dubai.

The second way is to recycle the Coke can you’re holding.

Economics and environmental awareness first made aluminum recycling popular in the 1970s. It has slacked off since then, and only about half the cans now used in America are recycled.

Kentucky’s recycling rate is much lower. Lexington, Louisville and Bowling Green have the state’s best recycling programs. Still, the aluminum recycling rate in Lexington is only about 40 percent, Das said.

Cans that aren’t recycled end up in the nation’s landfills. Das estimates the value of that thrown-away aluminum at more than $60 billion.

Producing new aluminum also comes with a host of other environmental costs: It uses enormous amounts of energy and creates a huge amount of carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming. By contrast, recycling aluminum takes only 5 percent of the energy required to produce new material, Das said.

The price is right

Until a few years ago, the cost difference between new and recycled aluminum was only pennies a pound. Now, because of a variety of global economic factors, recycled aluminum is about 50 percent cheaper than new materials.

“If we can recycle more aluminum, companies in Kentucky will automatically have a cost advantage,” said Das, a native of India who moved to this country in 1971 to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.

Das hopes the research into Lexington’s recycling habits will provide the scientific basis for better educational efforts to promote recycling. After all, recycling often comes down to personal habits and cultural behavior.

One key to changing behavior, Das says, is bringing an idea home to people in human terms. As an example, he notes those signs you see along highway construction zones that urge drivers to slow down when workers are present.

“It’s like saying, ‘Don’t throw away that aluminum can because my Dad’s job depends on it,'” Das said. “Because for much of Kentucky, it really could.”

Photo: Subodh K. Das, president and CEO of Secat Inc. Photo/Secat Inc.

What do you think? What could government and industry do to encourage you to recycle more aluminum and other materials? Comment below.

How to prevent so many deaths of young people?

April 22, 2008

I’ve heard from a lot of parents — and even a few young people — about my “nothing good ever happens after midnight” column Sunday.

So what could be done to prevent so many senseless deaths? Some who have written me suggest more parent oversight, more university- sponsored education, stricter enforcement of liquor laws or simply just more responsible behavior among young people.

What do you think? What do you suggest? Post a comment below.

Senseless deaths are parents’ nightmares

April 20, 2008

There’s an old saying among parents: Nothing good ever happens after midnight.

Last week, two very bad things happened in Lexington while most of us slept.

Two University of Kentucky students died in tragic accidents. By all accounts, they were the most promising of young people.

Brian Hardin, 27, died Wednesday after falling and hitting his head on a sidewalk. He was walking near the intersection of Woodland Avenue and Maxwell Street about 4:30 a.m. after a night out with friends at a nearby bar.

Hardin’s professor and mentor at UK described him as one of the best physiology research graduate students he had ever taught. Just this month, Hardin was published in physiology’s most prestigious journal — a remarkable achievement for a first-year grad student.

Three days before Hardin’s death and a few blocks west on Maxwell Street, Connie Blount, who was about to turn 19, was killed as she crossed Broadway with a friend. It was 2:15 a.m. and raining. The police report said that as the couple crossed the street, against the signal, she “stopped in the roadway for unknown reason” and was struck by a hit-and-run driver.

At a memorial service Monday night, more than 200 people packed UK’s Baptist Student Center. Friends spoke of Blount’s cheerful disposition, her winning personality and her infectious smile.

Wednesday evening, as the sun was beginning to set, I stopped by the makeshift memorial Blount’s friends created near the intersection where she died. A photograph of the smiling UK equestrian team member was pinned to a small street tree. Below it was a mound of fading flowers.

On one bouquet was a hand-written card: “We love you more than you could ever imagine. You were our best friend, and I know we will see you soon. Keep those horses ready for us. We love you.”

It was a vision from every parent’s nightmare, like the ringing telephone that wakes you in the middle of the night. In the seconds before you pick up the receiver, you pray it is not a police officer or an emergency room doctor with bad news.

Young adulthood is a heady time — newfound independence, boundless possibilities and a feeling of invincibility. But all too often, when youthful exuberance finds alcohol after midnight, even the best young people become victims of life’s random cruelty.

It’s too early to say what role alcohol played in last week’s deaths, but it appears to have been a factor — just as booze in the wee hours contributed to the deaths of seven other UK students since 2002. Two young women fell into a flooded storm drain. A young man ran in front of a truck; another in front of a train; a third in front of a car, whose driver also was drunk. Another fell off a cliff while camping with friends. Another fell through a third-floor dormitory window, along with the brother of another student.

Spurred by such tragedies, UK and other universities have emphasized alcohol education. That’s good. But education, like parenting, can do only so much in the struggle against human nature.

These tragedies have been on my mind a lot this week, and I know why. I’m the father of two daughters in their 20s. The younger one turned 21 last Monday, and, of course, she had planned a big night out with her friends.

I told her at least three times that day to be careful, be responsible. I’m sure she thought I was overdoing it, because she has always been responsible. But bad things happen to good kids. We saw that last week.

Parents find themselves in a strange place when their children are suddenly no longer children. We aren’t in charge anymore, and are no longer around every minute to help them and protect them. And it wouldn’t be healthy if we were.

All we can do is hope that we did a few things right in the past two decades. We can tell them to be careful, to be responsible. And we can remind them that nothing good ever happens after midnight.

Retirement track: Loving those green-jacket jobs

April 18, 2008

Albert P. Horrigan, a retired state district court judge, comes down from his home in Flint, Mich., twice a year to work as a doorman at Keeneland. Photos/Tom Eblen

Take a closer look sometime behind the smiles of all those green-jacketed ushers, greeters and doormen at Keeneland Race Course.

You never know who you might see.

In pre-retirement life, they were a judge, a restaurant owner, a corporate executive, a fire captain and even the University of Kentucky police officer who guarded Coach Adolph Rupp.

Now, during Keeneland’s April and October racing meets, they work long days for modest wages opening doors and helping people get where they need to be. Some move to Lexington for the privilege. And they seem to enjoy every minute of it.

“We used to come down here for long 3-B weekends,” said Albert P. Horrigan, a retired state district court judge from Flint, Mich. “You know — betting, bourbon and burgoo.”

On one trip, Horrigan asked an usher how he liked his job. The next meet, Horrigan was an usher, too. That was seven years ago. Now, twice a year, the judge rents an efficiency apartment for a month and moves to Lexington.

“My son thinks I’m nuts,” he said. “He figured it up and finally said, ‘You’re paying them to work here!’ I said, ‘Yea, but it’s a vacation.

“Every Irishman has a place in his heart for an acre of land and a horse,” Horrigan said. “We don’t have anything like this in Michigan.”

The judge is one of 179 members of the Keeneland Guest Services staff. More than 80 percent of them are retirees, and about 70 percent of them live in Central Kentucky. But a few come from as far away as Michigan and Florida. And most come back meet after meet, year after year.

“We want someone who’s here for the experience,” said Howard McKenzie, an IBM retiree who leads the staff. “If they’re here for the money, they’re in the wrong place.”

Ric Hodges, who ran a convenience store in Winston-Salem, N.C., drives over twice a year and books a room at an extended-stay motel so he can usher.

“I’m having a ball,” he said. “I love talking to people. I love to see the horses run.”

Charles Ellis spent 35 years with Ashland Inc., where he was senior tax manager and a corporate officer.

“I always told my wife that when I retired I wanted to get ‘one of those green-jacket jobs,'” he said. So, four months after he retired in 1998, he was working at Keeneland.

Ellis’ main job is handling the trophies and managing awards ceremonies for sponsored and stakes races.

“There are no unhappy people in the winner’s circle,” he said.

Other times, Ellis ushers and acts as the “fashion police” on corporate-box row. Along the way, he has met celebrities such as actress Ashley Judd, NASCAR driver Michael Waltrip and legendary horse owners Bob and Beverly Lewis.

Bill Rice, 78, came to work at Keeneland after he noticed his neighbor loved the job so much. Now, he says, it’s the most fun he’s had since he was a UK cheerleader and went to the Cotton and Sugar bowls with Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant and the team in the early 1950s.

Tony Williams, a retired Lexington firefighter, leads a five-member team whose fleet of wheelchairs helps older patrons get to and from their seats. He’s been working at Keeneland for 35 years.

“There’s no place like Keeneland,” he said.

Robert Stoudemire, 69, is quick to agree. He spent 30 years on the UK police force, including several as Rupp’s body guard at home games. He retired in 1994 and was working at Keeneland the next year.

“I just love the horses, the scene, the good people,” he said. “I just love talking to people.”

The toughest part of Stoudemire’s job is keeping the grandstand aisles clear. But even that’s not too hard.

“If people are losing money, they’ll sometimes get rowdy,” Stoudemire said. “But they finally calm down. Sometimes, they even come back and apologize.”

Robert Stoudemire, a retired UK police officer who used to guard Coach Adolph Rupp at home games, talks with Keeneland patron Joan Jaber of Newport at the track Thursday.

Above photos:

Howard McKenzie, left, who has headed Keeneland’s guest services team for 21 years, greets old friend James “Smitty” Smith, who was enjoying the races Thursday. Smith was maître d’ at Columbia Steak House in Lexington for many years.

Charles Ellis retired as a top corporate executive with Ashland Inc. in 1998 and started working at Keeneland the next year. He manages the trophies and presentations for stakes races.

More CentrePointe questions worth asking

April 17, 2008


I continue to follow the conversation on your blog about CentrePointe with great interest.

Most of the comments, pro and con, are thoughtful and, I hope, move us closer to a compromise that will realize much of the developer’s vision while preserving the historic, architectural and cultural character of this block that many in Lexington treasure.

A couple of the commentators raised some very good questions that I thought were worth addressing.

On April 14 “UGDAY” wrote:

“Do any of you really believe that any of the old buildings could withstand the required blasting to dig the underground parking? The buildings are past their prime, they are beyond the tipping point where rehabilitation could make them profitable. How is one to recoup the cost to restore these buildings?”

These are good questions that merit much more discussion than a couple of lines here. Perhaps the best way to start, though, is with a few more questions.

Are there examples in Lexington, in Kentucky, or around the United States of large in-fill developments placed adjacent to historic buildings?

Have the developers prepared any expert engineering studies on these questions that they would share with the public?

Are there any independent engineering studies that would shed light on this question?

What is the actual square foot cost to restore some of the older and architecturally significant buildings on this block?

Have the developers investigated this? Have they prepared any feasibility studies on this issue that they would share with the public?

What is the square foot cost of new construction associated with CentrePointe?

How do these two costs compare?

Most of the existing significant buildings on this block are eligible for large state and federal tax credits to help fund rehabilitation.

More than 18 months ago, the Director of the Kentucky Heritage Council and the President of the Blue Grass Trust met with the developers to discuss the rumors then circulating about this project. Both the Heritage Council and the Blue Grass Trust made their concerns clear regarding the importance of incorporating the preservation of some of the significant buildings into any development. They also explained to the developers that many of the buildings on the block would be eligible for state and federal historic rehabilitation tax credits.

Have the developers contacted the Kentucky Heritage Council to learn more about how these tax credits could help to defray the costs of rehabilitation?

On April 16 “Obrian” writes:

“Where…are those historic old buildings on this block?”

Preserve Lexington has answered this question many times, in public and in writing. And I believe many of your commentators have addressed this as well. But we are more than happy to answer this question again.

At least 10 buildings on this block are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Eligibility for the National Register is the benchmark locally and nationally for determining the significance of a building. Determinations of eligibility are made by professional architectural historians.

In making these determinations, architectural historians consider the history of a building, the architecture of a building, and the evolution of that architecture over time. Each of these factors tells a story about a specific building, and about the time and culture that produced that building and the changes to it over time.

Do we erase that story, do we erase that history and architecture, or do we marry it with a vision of our future?

Do we repeat the development mistakes of the past, or do we, along with vibrant cities like Charleston and Asheville and Ann Arbor, wed yesterday with tomorrow?

I hope that my comments and questions will be helpful in moving us a step further from pointless debate and a step closer to compromise.


Hayward Wilkirson

President of the Board of Directors

Preserve Lexington

CentrePointe: More thoughts, national coverage

April 16, 2008

The controversy over the proposed CentrePointe development in downtown Lexington is generating more opinions at home and some coverage nationally.

Ned Crankshaw, a professor in UK’s landscape architecture department who specializes in urban design in historic districts, wrote this commentary piece in Monday’s Herald-Leader. He discussed how the building should relate to street activity.

And on Wednesday, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which publishes Preservation magazine, posted this this article about the CenterPointe situation on its Web site.

Historian’s memo as current as today’s headlines

April 16, 2008

I always think of Thomas D. Clark in the spring.

Perhaps it’s because, soon after I returned to Lexington in the spring of 1998, I asked Kentucky’s historian laureate to speak to the Herald-Leader staff. He stood and lectured for nearly an hour without notes, putting Kentucky’s array of issues, controversies and quirks into the context of history’s great sweep.

It was an impressive performance, especially for a man about to turn 95.

While cleaning out files recently, I found a 15-page autobiographical memo Clark sent so I could introduce him properly that day. Hammered out on his manual typewriter, it was filled with typos and seemed to be missing a page or two. Mostly it was his exposition of Kentucky problems that need to be fixed.

It was classic Clark. He didn’t study history to bask in the glow of a romanticized past. Rather, he saw history as the recipe for who we are and as a guide to the future that could help us learn from the mistakes of the past.

After Clark retired from a long and distinguished teaching career, he became even more active and outspoken. He drove himself around the state, speaking to legislative committees and garden clubs alike — anyone who was willing to listen. And he never pulled punches. Herald-Leader reporter Andy Mead wrote my favorite description of Clark, calling him “a sort of unofficial state grandfather – but not the kind who spoils you.”

Clark didn’t let up until his death on June 28, 2005 — 16 days short of his 102nd birthday.

Perhaps I also think of Clark this time of year because spring is a time of renewal, a time to sort through old things and get serious about the future.

This is an especially good day to read Clark’s observations, as the General Assembly heads home from Frankfort, having left so many of Kentucky’s needs unmet.

Here are some excerpts:

“I thoroughly abhor the political corruption which has so often stained the democratic process in Kentucky’s history. Every vote “bought”, every private driveway paved at public expense, every mean and selfish act of a public school board, failure of the courts and criminal act by a public official has soiled Kentucky’s image and diluted its integrity. One has only to examine the electoral statistics of past elections to see how much Kentuckians lack faith in their governing process.

“There has ever run through Kentucky history the not-so-subtle impact of provincialism. Often this has been a costly thing. Communities have been set against communities, there have been failures in the creation and operation of regional institutions …

“On the broader statewide scale, sectionalism has often generated a shortsightedness which has kept many Kentucky public institutions in a state of mediocrity, or has involved a wasteful use of limited financial and other resources. …

“It is highly frustrating to see Kentuckians fail to live up to the potentials of their land and place. They have at once a passion for the past and too often have revealed a shortsighted indifference to their potentials. Too often they have been slow if not actually resistant to changes, changes which are exerted largely by local native inertia, and, paradoxically, by outside forces which may too often have been of an exploitative nature.

“Never at any moment have Kentuckians been fully alerted to the fact its human population is as much a resource as are the land and its forests and mineral resources, all demanding effective processing. …

“It is painful to see the very bosom of the state desecrated with trash in myriad forms, to see sloven domestic premises, pollution of streams, erosion of the hills and ravenous log and lumber exploiters rob that forest twenty years ahead of profitable harvest time. …

“ … democracy in Kentucky is stained often by weak-kneed political opportunists who failed to discuss intelligently and openly the major issues of the moment, often preferring to make personal and scurrilous attacks on opponents rather than tackling devitalizing problems. Too often the Kentucky gubernatorial administrations and legislators have failed their constituents by not exerting forthright and honest political leadership.

“Every time the General Assembly adjourns without having resolved basic and nagging problems, it leaves behind a body politic suffering a chronic condition of public cynicism.”

To download a PDF copy of Clark’s whole memo — wisdom, typos and all — click here.

Thomas D. Clark at his typewriter, 1998. Above, in front of the governor’s mansion in Frankfort, 2002. Photos/Charles Bertram

Look at this design concept for CentrePointe

April 13, 2008
The proposed international competition to come up with a better design for the CentrePointe development in downtown Lexington has yet to be launched. But we already have our first unofficial entry, sent to me by Robert Snyder of Lexington, who earned a BArch in Architecture from UK in 1996. (Click photo to enlarge.)
Here is Snyder’s explanation of his concept:
I’ve long had an interest in the value of architectural design within the context of good urban design. I offer the following ideas as a possible beginning of a resolution for the CentrePointe Development, for the consideration of the Webbs and everyone else interested in the design proposal:

1. Retain the design of the Hotel and the Condominium tower as is, except as modified below.

2. Jettison the 4-story base buildings at the perimeter of the Webb’s properties (the perimeter of the block).

3. Bisect the block with a new street, north-south, perpendicular to Main, connecting Main and Vine Streets through the center of the block. Name this new street in honor of the World Equestrian Games.

4. Rotate the Hotel and Condominium tower 90 degrees so that the hotel faces this new street that divides the block in half. This provides better access to the hotel.

5. Begin construction of the hotel and condominium tower immediately, to allow for occupancy prior to the 2010 games.

6. Retain and renovate the historic buildings on the west end of the block (The Dame, Busters, Rosenbergs). The hotel and condominium tower will be built behind these existing buildings, will not require their demolition, and will face primarily the new street bisecting the block.

7. Excavate under the new proposed location of the hotel and condo tower, under the new street, and under the entire eastern half of the block (the other side of the new street), for underground parking.

8. Initiate an international design competition for the eastern half of the block, on the eastern side of the new street. Design proposals for the eastern half of the block can proceed on their own schedule without delaying the immediate commencement of renovation of the historic buildings on the western half of the block and the immediate commencement of construction of the new hotel and the new condo tower.

You can download a 3-dimensional PDF view of Snyder’s concept, which allows you to zoom in and out and see the rendering from all angles, by clicking here. To see it properly, though, you’ll need the latest version of Adobe Acrobat Reader 8.0, which you can download for free here. Also be advised that the PDF is nearly 5 megabites, so if you’re on a slow Internet connection, it could take a few minutes to download.

I’m no architect, but this seems like an intriguing compromise and a good start to a broader discussion about CentrePointe’s design.

What do you think?

Interesting reading on a cold, rainy Sunday

April 13, 2008

After I finished reading the Herald-Leader and went to church, I had some time on this cold and rainy Sunday. So I went in search of more good reading. Here’s what I found:

As if airline passengers and employees didn’t have enough to worry about, the long-discussed merger of Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines could be getting closer. The Financial Times is reporting that a deal could come as early as Monday. The merger could have a big impact on Kentucky as the airlines try to merge operations to cut costs. Some aviation consultants think Delta’s Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky hub may take a hit. Fasten your seatbelts; it could be a bumpy ride.

Casino promoters may have come up with a losing hand in this legislative session, but they’re sure to return, especially with a state budget like this one. Christopher Caldwell has an interesting piece In the New York Times Magazine about the economics of state-sponsored gambling.

In The Courier-Journal, Erik Reece, the UK writing professor and anti-strip mining author, draws his own analysis from the industry publication Kentucky Coal Facts.

The Bowling Green Daily News follows up on that city’s worst storm, which caused a half-billion dollars worth of damage 10 years ago this week.

In the Truth is Stranger than Fiction Department, this report comes from Pikeville, which will host its annual Hillbilly Days festival Thursday through Sunday. The Appalachian News-Express reports that federal officials have recalled 26,000 sets of plastic “Hillbilly Teeth.”

Could Wal-Mart thinking improve healthcare?

April 13, 2008

Wal-Mart revolutionized the way we shop by making America’s retail trade system more cost-efficient. Could it do the same with our dysfunctional health care system?

That’s a big question being asked these days at the headquarters of the world’s largest retailer.

One of the bright minds trying to answer it belongs to Marcus Osborne, 32, a Transylvania University graduate from Frankfort.

The way Osborne and other Wal-Mart executives are thinking about that question has huge implications.

Rising health care costs stung Wal-Mart several years ago when critics pointed out that many of its workers were on public assistance because they didn’t have health insurance. Rather than keep trying to avoid rising healthcare costs, Wal-Mart decided to attack them.

The company revamped its insurance plans to cover more employees. The company says nearly 93 percent of its workers now have health insurance, more than half of them through Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart also began launching initiatives to cut health care costs for customers. It started selling hundreds of generic prescriptions for $4, forcing other retailers to do the same. It started a chain of in-store medical clinics, which it hopes to have in 400 stores by 2010. In those clinics, nurse practitioners from local hospitals will provide basic medical services, and Wal-Mart will design and manage the business systems behind them.

Those ventures could be just the beginning.

“We’re looking at things like how could we work with providers to increase productivity, increase efficiency,” said Osborne, who joined Wal-Mart last June and is now senior director of business development/healthcare.

Other initiatives that Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott has talked about include contracting with other U.S. companies to help manage how they process and pay prescription claims. Wal-Mart also is promoting the use of electronic health records and prescriptions, which Scott says would improve quality and safety while driving down costs.

Fixing inefficiency

“I’m personally amazed by the sheer inefficiency in the (American health care) system,” Osborne said. “I’m amazed by the lack of transparency, particularly to the customer. With all the political, business and social rhetoric around the need for change in the health care industry, I’m just astounded how little change is occurring.”

Wal-Mart doesn’t seem to be looking for big profits in health care. Rather, it wants to protect its core business. If customers can spend less on health care, they’ll have more to spend on the zillions of products Wal-Mart stores sell.

The company is looking for market solutions to rising health care costs, as opposed to government solutions, which Osborne also knows something about. After graduating from Transylvania in 1996, he worked in the White House for Clinton adviser Ira Magaziner and his public policy team. The team was then working on Internet policy, having just flamed out in its controversial effort to reform health care.

“I learned a lot from their pain,” Osborne said.

After leaving the White House, Osborne worked as a corporate consultant and earned an MBA at Harvard University. What led him to Wal-Mart were the opportunities he saw in both the company’s huge size and its innovative corporate culture.

“It strikes me as one of the few entities around capable and willing to take the action necessary to deliver meaningful change,” Osborne said.

Wal-Mart has been successful — and often controversial — because it knows what it does well and how to make the most of it. It creates efficiencies by squeezing costs, streamlining systems and giving customers what they want at the cheapest possible price.

Osborne thinks the problem with American health care is that companies and whole industries profit by exploiting inefficiencies in the system. That leaves little incentive to make the system efficient.

Lessons for Kentucky

That sounds a lot like Kentucky, where some people have prospered for generations by exploiting the inefficiencies of a small state with 120 counties and even more school districts.

And it makes you wonder: What could Kentucky learn from Wal-Mart? What core strengths could Kentucky government and industry leverage to solve health care problems and maybe even grow the economy?

Osborne notes that parts of Kentucky have an excellent health care infrastructure, yet the state overall has huge problems with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, poor dental health and substance abuse.

“Are there opportunities in business to actually create solutions from a wellness point of view?” he wondered. “Is there some way to make a business out of engaging people to take action?”

As it happens, Osborne’s wife, Cara, is part of one such Kentucky effort.

The 28-year-old Grayson native, who graduated from Transylvania and earned a doctorate in public health from Harvard, works from their home in Arkansas as a professor in the distance learning program of Frontier Nursing Service. The Hyden-based service is one of the nation’s largest trainers of nurse practitioners and midwives.

Whatever Wal-Mart does has a big impact. It is Kentucky’s largest private employer, with nearly 32,000 workers at 99 stores and two distribution centers. Wal-Mart’s approaches also could serve as models for other Kentucky companies, as well as government agencies, non-profits and entrepreneurs.

Like Wal-Mart, Kentucky must face up to some tough issues it has always preferred to avoid. If we are ever to improve health care in Kentucky, we must squeeze out unnecessary costs, invest wisely and encourage creative thinking by our brightest minds — minds like the Osbornes, the Kentuckians who now live in Arkansas.

Precious bottles of bourbon they’ll never drink

April 11, 2008

It has to be one of Kentucky’s stranger traditions: Buy a couple of expensive bottles of bourbon you would never think of opening and stand in line all night so famous people can sign the labels.

That was the attraction that drew 1,000 people to Keeneland for this year’s limited edition Maker’s Mark bottle. More than an hour before dawn on Friday, the line to the autograph table finally started moving.

Most of those in line under the Keeneland grandstand had been there all night, through wind and rain. Some had come as early as Thursday morning for a choice spot. They carefully carried a precious bottle or two, juggling them amid folding chairs, blankets and coolers.

The destination was a long table where former University of Kentucky basketball Coach Joe B. Hall, Keeneland President Nick Nicholson and Maker’s Mark President Bill Samuels were chatting with fans and signing bottles as fast as they could.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Jerry Cummins of Cynthiana, who was there to have bottles signed for his brother and a friend.

“They’re not going to be around here next week,” Cummins said of Hall, Nicholson and Samuels. “And they’re getting old like me, so they won’t be around forever.”

Cummins, 58, was especially excited about seeing Hall, a fellow Harrison County native. He said his grandfather and Hall’s father once had adjoining farms, and he had done work for the Hall family.

This year’s blue bottle honored Hall on the 30th anniversary of his team’s 1978 NCAA championship. The limited edition of 18,000 bottles went on sale April 4.

“They were gone in Lexington in about 40 minutes,” said Maker’s Mark spokesman Alan Kirschenbaum. “Statewide, they were gone by the end of the day.”

The blue bottles sold for $45 to $47. All profits, when combined with matching funds, will raise $3 million for the Markey Cancer Foundation.

Fans could have only two bottles signed. Some who waited in line all night were serious collectors. Some planned to sell their bottles or give them to friends. Others were there because they — or someone they love — thought it would be fun. After all, this event combines everything Kentuckians love: basketball, bourbon and talking all night. Plus, it happens at Keeneland.

“I’m a big basketball fan,” said Trinity Schafstall, a Richwood native and UK graduate who drove up from her home in Nashville to wait in line with friends. “We listened to music and talked all night.”

Neil Tewes of Big Bone didn’t know what he would do with his bottles. “Probably put them in a display case and save them for the grandkids, if I ever have any,” he said.

Steve Head came with four relatives from Louisville and spent the night sitting in a folding chair watching DVDs and visiting. This was the fourth year in a row his family has made the trip. But Head didn’t have a bottle of his own to be signed. “I’m just here for the ride,” he said.

Cindi Lindsay of Lexington was on a more serious mission: Add two new bottles to her collection, which is so big she can’t remember how many she has. Lindsay has been coming to this event for 10 years, and she had been waiting in line since 4:30 p.m. Thursday.

Asked if she would ever consider opening one of her bottles, she shook her head and laughed. “They’re off limits.

Steve Head of Louisville watched DVDs to pass the time during his all-night wait.

Above photos: Former U.K. Coach Joe B. Hall signed a bottle for fellow Harrison County native Jerry Cummins. Keeneland President Nick Nicholson signed bottles beside Hall and Maker’s Mark President Bill Samuels. Cindi Lindsay of Lexington has been coming to the event for 10 years to add bottles to her collection. Photos/Tom Eblen

Rendering shows Webbs’ impact on Lexington

April 10, 2008

Developer Dudley Webb has been irritated by some of the anonymous comments readers have left on my blog about his CentrePointe development. What really set him off were the ones criticizing the previous buildings he and his brother, Donald, have added to Lexington’s skyline.

The Webb Companies‘ motto is “Developing Tomorrow’s Landmarks.” And the company is headquartered in perhaps its most distinctive local project, Lexington Financial Center, better known as the “Big Blue Building.” At 410 feet, it is Lexington’s tallest building.

Webb sent me an interesting artist’s rendering that groups the many buildings he and his brother have built in Lexington since they moved here from the Hot Spot community of Letcher County several decades ago. The buildings are grouped into a single village set in a rolling bluegrass landscape.

“As they used to say back in Hot Spot, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words,’ and this one best tells this story,” Webb wrote in an email.

Speaking of CentrePointe, Webb and representatives of the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation and the citizens group Preserve Lexington met Thursday afternoon.

“This was the first of what we hope will be several meetings to discuss possibilities for compromise related to the proposed development,” Preserve Lexington said in a statement. No other details were released.

On March 4, Webb announced plans to build CentrePointe as a 40-story hotel, condo and retail development that would cover a block in the center of Lexington bounded by Main, Vine, Upper and Limestone streets. He later scaled back the tower to 35 stories.

Critics say CentrePointe would be too tall, too massive, would not promote street-level activity and would look out of place amid the buildings that surround it. Many people also are upset that Webb proposes to demolish 14 structures on the block that date as far back as 1826 and house several popular night spots and The Dame music hall. (Click on the rendering to enlarge it.)

An update: Dudley Webb on Friday clarified that this rendering was done in 1986. Since then, all of these projects were completed, except for Lake Lexington. The company has done a few others since then, too.


From Kentucky to India, with love

April 10, 2008

It’s a long journey from a childhood in the Kentucky governor’s mansion to a wedding in India, complete with elephants and a white horse to ride in on.

But that’s the path of sculptor Edward Breathitt III, 48, who last month took an Indian bride in an elaborate Hindu ceremony.

Breathitt, whose late father Edward “Ned” Breathitt Jr. was Kentucky’s governor from 1963-1967, met his wife Prachi, 22, in an art and book store where she worked when he was on vacation last year in New Delhi.

Don Mills of Lexington, who was the governor’s press secretary, was among about 20 family members and friends who came from Kentucky, California and Arizona to attend a week of wedding events that included hundreds of guests.

“I went to represent his father,” said Mills, who has remained close to the Breathitt family. “I’ve been to a lot of weddings, but never one like this.”

Festivities began March 9 with a ceremony where the bride and groom exchanged rings. Breathitt arrived riding a ceremonial elephant. That evening, the bride’s older sister was married. (By tradition, she had to be married before her younger sister, Mills said.)

Breathitt’s wedding ceremony was on March 13 at a hotel in downtown New Delhi. Breathitt rode to the wedding on a white horse. Mills and others in the party rode in on three elephants, although Mills finished the journey on a white horse.

When Breathitt arrived, he was met at the door by his future inlaws and ushered into a room where he was surrounded by a group of men called pundits.

“Edward sat on the floor with them to participate in a prayerful ceremony,” Mills, a former editor of the Lexington Herald, wrote in an email the next day. “First of all, Edward’s feet were washed by his future father-in-law to cleanse sins of the past, as the pundits sat cross-legged, chanting ever-increasing rhythmic hymns. The ceremony covered a number of personal matters related to Breathitt, including his future prosperity, his religious thinking and what he hopes to contribute to the marriage and life in general.”

Breathitt, who was born in Hopkinsville, has lived and worked in Sedona, Ariz., and been an artist in residence at Murray State University. The bride is attending law school after earning an economics degree. The couple will live in New Delhi and a second home Breathitt renovated north of there in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Here are more details Mills sent the day after the wedding:

Prachi, his bride-to-be, entered the ballroom escorted by a number of Indian women, both young and old, including her mother. She joined Breathitt at the well-decorated, flowery stage to participate in the exchange of the garland, wrapping them together with a necklace-like arrangement of flowers. Then, countless photographs were taken of the sitting couple with just about everyone who attended the wedding coming to the stage.

The religious ceremony, including dinner but no liquor, went on for hours with one centered around a burning fire discussing seven vows for a happy marriage. Another one featured a marriage event, which took place in the 1800s between the Cherokee Indians. A special friend of Edward’s — Standing Bear, who knew the Hopkinsville native when he lived in Arizona — conducted the ceremony.

The evening ended with two events, both humorous and meaningful to the wedding. One involved dropping a ring into a bowl of water and flowers with Prachi catching the bouncing ring twice, meaning that she would be dominant in the marriage.

The other was the playful stealing of shoes worn by Edward by some young cousins of the bride. Breathitt’s sister, Linda, had to pay 5,500 rupees ($140) for their return. The wedding, finally, ended at about 2:30 a.m. It was a long and tiring day, which included an elephant ride to top it off.


Edward Breathitt III and his bride, Prachi Pratap, at the ring ceremony. Photo/Don Mills


Breathitt and wife at the wedding. Photo/Don Mills


Don Mills rides an elephant to the wedding. Photo/Albaelena Wejebe

Where else to buy rain barrels?

April 9, 2008

I’ve been flooded (no pun intended) with calls and emails today from readers wanting to know where else they can buy rain barrels in Kentucky. Or good plastic or wooden barrels with which to make rain barrels. If you can offer help and advice on that subject, please post a comment below.