Alltech’s 30th symposium attracts 1,698 people from 59 countries

May 19, 2014

One of the city’s most interesting annual conventions gets into full swing today at Lexington Center: the 30th annual Alltech International Symposium.

Nicholasville-based Alltech, which makes food, beverages and animal nutrition supplements, puts on the symposium each year for customers and partners in the 128 nations where it does business. Alltech expects 1,698 attendees representing 59 countries at the event, which began Sunday and continues through Wednesday.

The symposium always has interesting presentations about innovations in the business of agriculture and science. And there is sure to be plenty of talk about Alltech’s title sponsorship of the FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France, Aug. 23-Sept. 7.

The Kentucky Horse Park hosted the last Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in 2010, and there has been some interest in Lexington bidding for the 2018 Games since facilities are already in place. Is anyone working on that?

Update on plans for finishing Lexington trails, adding bike lanes

March 22, 2014

Spring is finally here, which means better weather for bicycling. It also means more opportunities for my fellow cyclists to ask when the Legacy and Town Branch trails will be finished, and when there will be more trails and bike lanes.

Lexington has made progress in the past five years toward building a transportation system for more than motor vehicles, but it still has a long way to go.

Keith Lovan gets those questions more often than I do. And because he is the city engineer who oversees trail and bicycle/pedestrian projects, he actually has some answers. So I called him last week for an update.


The first section of the Legacy Trail, shown here going through Coldstream Park, opened in September 2010. Photo by Tom Eblen

The main 7.5-mile section of the Legacy Trail, between Loudon Avenue and the Kentucky Horse Park, opened in September 2010. It came together quickly thanks to good public-private partnerships, federal “economic stimulus” money and the urgency of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games the next month.

Since then, officials have been working through logistics and funding to bring the trail into town and east to the corner of Midland Avenue and Third Street, where the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden will be built this summer. “It’s all coming together,” Lovan said.

He plans to ask the Urban County Council in April to approve a land swap with R.J. Corman Railroad Group that will allow Legacy Trail construction to continue along a former rail line from near Loudon Avenue to Fifth Street near Jefferson Street.

If approved, work could begin in June and finished this summer, he said. Lovan also is working with the Hope Center on right-of-way near Loudon. That also could happen this summer.

The next step will be taking the trail east along Fourth Street’s existing right-of-way. Once paperwork is finished, design work can begin on that section, based on input from a 30-member citizens advisory group.

For that section, Lovan favors a two-way bike path separated from Fourth Street traffic by short posts or a similar barrier. If all goes well, that work could all be finished by the end of this year, he said.

Meanwhile, a Scott County group is working to extend the Legacy Trail north to Georgetown. That project was started by sports agent Dick Robinson before he died suddenly in 2011. His friends and family have continued the work. “We’re making good progress,” said Robinson’s widow, Christie.

She plans to schedule a public meeting in late April to announce a preferred route. A feasibility study by CDP Engineers of Lexington will be finished in May, she said. Then it will be a matter of raising money. Keep up with the group’s progress on its Facebook page.

Bringing Town Branch Trail into downtown is a more complicated project. Two miles of the trial are finished, from Bracktown off Leestown Road to Alexandria Drive.

Funding has been secured to bring the trail to the Bluegrass Community and Technical College’s Leestown Campus at New Circle Road, but other details must be worked out before construction can begin, said Van Meter Pettit, the trail board’s president.

Pettit is lobbying the state to include the trail’s crossing of New Circle Road and connection to a nearby development’s trails as part of a project this summer to widen that section of the road and its bridges.

Pettit says his plan would be quicker, cheaper and comply with federal directives to include bicycle/pedestrian facilities in highway improvement projects. So far, the state has agreed to accommodate a future trail crossing, but says its budget won’t accommodate what Pettit wants.

The only other trail project coming this year is a half-mile one between Armstrong Mill Road and the Tates Creek schools campus, Lovan said. But several bike-lane projects will be started or finished this year.

Those include bike lanes on Southland Drive, from Nicholasville Road to Rosemont Garden; on Todd’s Road, where 1.5 miles of sidewalks and bike lanes will be added from Forest Hill Drive to Polo Club Boulevard; and Clays Mill Road, where an additional 1,500 feet of bike lanes will be added.

Three bike-lane projects are planned around the University of Kentucky campus: Rose Street between Euclid Avenue and Rose Lane; Cooper Drive between South Limestone and Sports Center Drive; and Woodland Avenue from Euclid to Hilltop Avenue.

Celebrate Kentucky horses Saturday at Hats Off Day

August 1, 2012

Saturday is Hats Off Day, the one time each year when you and your family can enjoy a free day at the Kentucky Horse Park and special activities celebrating the state’s large and increasingly diverse equine industry.

In addition to the usual park attractions, free special events begin at 4 p.m.: rides on the mechanical horses used to train jockeys, pony rides for kids, educational booths from horse organizations and a giveaway of souvenir caps from local horse farms.

In the stadium at 7 p.m., Dan James of Australia will put on an exhibition with two specially trained horses. Then there is the $50,000 Rood and Riddle Kentucky Grand Prix, a 25-year-old competition for top-level show jumpers.

A group of equine organizations and businesses, including Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, started hosting Hats Off Day in 2005 to call public attention to the industry and its economic impact. They say horses contribute $4 billion to Kentucky’s economy, create more than 80,000 jobs and have an $8.8 billion impact on state tourism.

More than 128,800 people participate in Kentucky horse farming, racing and equine businesses, the industry claims. The state is home to 320,000 horses — nearly one for every 14 Kentuckians.

But in just the eight years Hats Off Day has been held, Kentucky’s horse industry has seen dramatic changes, for good and bad.

When we used to call Lexington the “horse capital of the world,” what we really meant was that Kentucky was the center of Thoroughbred breeding and racing.

The Thoroughbred industry has gone through some well-publicized changes as farms consolidated; other states lured away Kentucky horses with bigger race purses and breeding incentives; and the global economic downturn of 2008 seriously dampened the demand for race horses.

Kentucky’s Thoroughbred industry has stabilized and is beginning to bounce back. But it must find a way to compete with casino-financed incentives in other states and, ultimately, do a better job of marketing itself to create more fans.

While Thoroughbreds have struggled, Kentucky’s horse industry has become more diverse. Tom Riddle, a veterinarian and partner at Rood and Riddle, said the practice treated 82 breeds in 2006; this year, it will treat 108 breeds.

The growth has come in Saddlebred, reining, pleasure and especially hunter and jumper horses, attracted here by Kentucky Horse Park facilities built for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. Last year, the National Horse Show moved here.

“Those facilities are without equal in the world,” Riddle said.

The sport-horse world is centered around Wellington, Fla., in the winter. But now, rather than moving to the northeast and Canada in the summer, many big players, such as Spy Coast Farm, are setting up shop here.

Most of the U.S. Olympic Equestrian Team members now in London, have competed at the Kentucky Horse Park. Show-jumping star Reed Kessler, at 18 the youngest Olympic team member ever, is now based in Lexington. Her family bought a 150-acre parcel of Cobra Farm, just down the road from the horse park.

Horse-industry diversification has prompted local equine businesses to adapt. Riddle said six of his practice’s 52 veterinarians now treat only sport horses, and two follow the circuit to Florida each winter.

Hallway Feeds not only has expanded to serve the sport horse market in Kentucky, but half of its business now comes from national and international sales — up from zero not too many years ago, company president Lee Hall said.

“We have instant credibility where ever we go because we’re from Lexington,” Hall said. “You can’t put a price on that.”

But unless the local Thoroughbred industry remains strong, Kentucky risks losing most of its equine economic impact, Riddle said.

When Riddle moved to Lexington in 1978, he remembers that there were more than 100 trotter and pacer stallions standing at stud in Central Kentucky. Now, almost all of the Standardbred studs and breeding mares have been lured away by incentives to New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Canada. Along with them went millions of dollars for Kentucky’s economy.

“The demise of the Standardbred industry here needs to be a lesson for all of us,” Riddle said.


If you go

Hats Off Day

Where: Kentucky Horse Park

When: 9 a.m. Saturday. Special activities begin 4 p.m. Stadium shows begin at 7 p.m.

Cost: Free, includes admission to the Kentucky Horse Park, the International Museum of the Horse, the Hall of Champions, and the Parade of Breeds.

More information:

Will Lexington leaders act on Greenville’s lessons?

June 19, 2011
Knox White, left, the mayor of Greenville, S.C., leads a group of people from the Commerce Lexington across the Falls Bridge, a suspension pedestrian bridge that replaced an ugly highway bridge over a waterfall that has become a city park. Photo by Tom Eblen

Greenville Mayor Knox White, left, leads a group from Commerce Lexington across Falls Bridge, a suspension pedestrian bridge that replaced a highway bridge over a waterfall that has become a city park. Photo by Tom Eblen

One of the most valuable things about Commerce Lexington’s annual “leadership visit” is that it brings together nearly 200 people who spend three days looking at Lexington’s strengths and weaknesses through the lens of another city.

Last week’s trip to Greenville, S.C., was my fourth, and I found it the most useful. Perhaps that was because Greenville’s relative size, assets and challenges are more similar to Lexington’s than are those in Pittsburgh, Madison or Austin.

In many respects, Lexington is better than all of those cities. It was easy to sense some of Greenville’s shortcomings, despite city leaders’ positive spin. But the point of the trip was to learn from what they do better than we do.

The primary lesson was that beautiful, high-quality urban development can improve both quality of life and economic vitality. Since the 1970s, Greenville has transformed an ugly, car-choked downtown into a garden spot where people want to live, work and play. Economic prosperity has followed.

Greenville is more politically and socially conservative than Lexington, and much of what city leaders did was controversial. But they did it, and it worked.

The city transformed a Main Street the size of Lexington’s from a sun-baked, four-lane highway into a pleasant two-lane, two-way gathering place. It is shaded by big trees and filled with shops, restaurants, sidewalk dining and plenty of parking in diagonal street spaces and artfully disguised garages. A neglected riverfront and waterfall became a gorgeous public park surrounded by new development.

Downtown is now beautiful, inviting, unique to Greenville — and twice as big as it was. Old buildings have been restored and adapted to new uses. Contemporary mixed-use developments have been built and are successful. There are a variety of performance halls, sports venues and museums. The renaissance is growing in all directions, and nearby towns are emulating it.

What can Lexington learn from Greenville? Here were my takeaways:

Articulate a simple vision that almost everyone can embrace. That is different from launching a task force or commissioning a detailed study that will gather dust on a shelf. Simply agree on a vision such as this: Lexington’s urban and suburban spaces should be worthy of the beautifully unique countryside that surrounds them.

Leaders must lead. As the Lexingtonians saw in Greenville, that means taking risks, working together and figuring out creative ways to accomplish goals. It means entrepreneurial partnerships among government, business and nonprofits. It also means inclusive, transparent planning and long-term strategies.

Demand excellence. Greenville raised the bar for downtown development with design guidelines and an architectural review process. Developers know they must meet high standards — and that city officials will work with them to overcome obstacles to mutual success.

Remember when the developer who wanted to build a one-story, suburban-style CVS drugstore on Lexington’s Main Street said the retailer wouldn’t do better? Well, a two-story, urban-style CVS is under construction on Greenville’s Main Street. When finished, it will look like it has always been there.

I asked Mayor Knox White to explain Greenville’s redevelopment vision in a nutshell. “Downtown is all about the walking experience,” he said. “The architectural guidelines, the landscaping, everything. It’s a religion with us.”

Build on success. Greenville’s revitalization was an intentional, long-term process. Partnerships were formed to create world-class anchor projects and beautiful public spaces that would attract private investment around them. Civic leaders were not afraid to dream big and take risks.

Greenville leaders said they always have a “next big thing” on the horizon. Lexington achieved much during the three years before last fall’s Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. We need a “next big thing” on which to focus.

This is a time of great opportunity for Lexington. Over the next couple of decades, Lexington will redevelop three huge tracts of urban land: the 46 acres around the Civic Center and Rupp Arena; the adjacent Distillery District; and the area surrounding the new Bluegrass Community and Technical College campus at the old Eastern State Hospital site.

Greenville shows what can be done, and the visitors from Lexington left talking like converts at a tent revival. But as we all know, even the most sincere believers can backslide when distracted.

Will Lexington stop being satisfied with good enough and try for great? Can those who went to Greenville help articulate a clear vision for Lexington and mobilize the community behind it? Will our leaders lead?

Click on each thumbnail to see complete photo:

Much new to see and do at Kentucky Horse Park

April 27, 2011

People who haven’t been to the Kentucky Horse Park in a while will see some big changes, thanks to a major makeover for last fall’s Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

Improvements include the $40 million indoor Alltech Arena, the $25 million Rolex Stadium and $14 million in other improvements, plus a $15 million widening of Iron Works Pike and the nearby Interstate 75 exit. Some additional facilities and attractions will open this summer.

The 1,224-acre park in northern Lexington will be a center of attention this week, as the popular Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event begins Thursday and continues through Sunday.

“The infrastructure that is here now will help the quality of competition, from the irrigation systems to the fiber optics that will really benefit the television productions,” said John Nicholson, the park’s director.

New this year at Rolex is tailgating Saturday during the cross-country competition, which draws more local people to the park each year than perhaps any other event.

This week also marks the debut of the Ariat Kentucky Reining Cup in Alltech Arena on Thursday and Friday and Saturday. The western horse sport was a big hit during last fall’s Games, and this competition will feature competitors from that Gold Medal team.

The new reining competition is one of about two dozen horse events the park has attracted, either because of the facility improvements or news accounts from the Games. Major new competitions this year include the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association National Championship, May 5 to 8, and the Adequan FEI North American Junior and Young Rider Championships, July 27 to 31.

“It was a long time coming here, and I think it was the new facilities that persuaded them,” Nicholson said of the North American Championships. “It’s like a junior Olympics. The riders you see there will be in the World Equestrian Games and the Olympics in five or 10 years.”

The park also has attracted the National Horse Show, one of the nation’s top hunter-jumper events, to Alltech Arena, Nov. 2 to 6. It also includes the top competition for judging the form and control of U.S. riders younger than 18. The show was in Syracuse, N.Y., for the past eight years after leaving New York’s Madison Square Garden, where it began in 1883.

Nicholson also hopes to attract more non-horse events, such as the Festival of the Bluegrass, the popular bluegrass music gathering at the park each June. Talks are under way with a major mountain bike competition and several dog events. The park also wants more trade shows, such as the New Home & Remodeling Marketplace that was there in February.

In addition to events, everyday visitors to the park will see improvements, such as the Arabian expansion at the International Museum of the Horse.

The park will soon reopen the restored Big Barn, a 475-foot-long barn built in 1893. The barn will become the hub of the park’s horse-drawn transportation system and collection, and have an exhibit telling the colorful history of Iron Works Pike.

Built in the early 1800s to haul products from a Bath County foundry to the Kentucky River, the seven-mile stretch of Iron Works Pike between the park and Paris Pike is the gateway to some of the Bluegrass’s oldest and most famous horse farms, and was the site of a Civil War skirmish at the intersection with Newtown Pike.

Reopening the Big Barn will create space elsewhere for a new children’s area, which will feature horse-related activities that were popular with young Games visitors last fall, such as pony grooming.

In addition to giving local people more new things to see and do, the park is in a good position to repay Kentucky’s investment, Nicholson says. The park’s last impact study, in 2003, estimated its contribution to the state’s economy at $163 million. Nicholson guesses that is now closer to $200 million.

“The place has never looked better,” he said. “It is as if it is 1978 all over again — a new facility.”

WEG inspired teacher’s unique geography lesson

January 18, 2011

Michelle Jackson was so excited about the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games that she signed up to volunteer. Then, a week before the Games began last September, the fifth-grade teacher thought: How can I share this experience with my students?

After quickly consulting colleagues at Sts. Peter and Paul Regional Catholic School in Lexington, Jackson came up with a plan.

She asked students in her classes and in the school’s other fifth-grade class, taught by Peyton Nunley, to write letters welcoming WEG visitors to Lexington and telling them something about Kentucky.

Jackson, 24, a Centre College graduate, carried some of the 50 or so letters with her while she worked with journalists, athletes and spectators in media zones at the Kentucky Horse Park competition venues. Whenever she encountered people from other states or countries who she thought might appreciate a letter, she gave them one.

She didn’t have any idea how much the letters were appreciated until a few weeks later, when people started writing back from as far away as New York, Scotland and Australia.

A photojournalist from Australia sent the class a postcard with a picture of a koala. The mother of a para-dressage competitor from Scotland sent a letter and a big envelope full of brochures about Scottish parks and nature areas.

A sixth-grader wrote the class a detailed letter about what her life is like in Richfield Springs, N.Y., and she included several drawings of horses.

Jackson gave one letter to an Alabama family that included a fourth-grade girl. The girl took it to school to show her teacher, and one thing led to another.

On Friday, Jackson’s students will use Skype software to have a video conference with Amanda Gibson’s class at Liberty Park Elementary School in Vestavia Hills, Ala., a suburb of Birmingham.

Both classes have prepared for the computer-assisted meeting by sending questions back and forth, drawing posters and gathering maps and flags. “We’ve talked a lot about how we’ll have to take turns and that everyone can’t talk at once,” Jackson said.

The Alabama students want to know about Kentucky’s state bird, fruit, flower and fish, as well as the nearest amusement parks. They are curious about what burgoo is and what Sts. Peter and Paul School is like. They want to know whether any of the Kentucky kids own or ride horses, and whether they had been to the Kentucky Derby.

Because Sts. Peter and Paul is a regional school, several students do live on farms with horses. And the whole class will be able to tell the Alabama kids about WEG, because they were among more than 62,000 Kentucky students who got to attend, thanks to donations that Alltech raised from its suppliers.

Jackson’s students are interested in Alabama’s state bird, flower, tree and animal. But they also want to know about Alabama football and the space center in Huntsville.

“I asked what their favorite historical figure was, and I told them mine was Henry Clay,” Victoria Parrish said. Why Henry Clay? She said she lives near and has visited his Ashland Estate.

The fifth-graders are curious about the Alabama students’ favorite foods and plan to talk about theirs. Max Sparkman wants to tell them about Ale-8-One — “it’s my favorite soda ever” — which led several students to suggest that they send a case of the Winchester-made soft drink to Alabama. “I told them we’ll see about that,” Jackson said, making no promises.

Thanks to this letter-writing assignment, Jackson’s students said they learned a lot about other places and people — and know a lot more than they did before about Kentucky and their hometown.

“I thought it was interesting that one piece of paper we wrote on went to the other side of the world,” Mason McCollum said.

“Yeah, and I didn’t think any of them would write back,” Elli Spanier said.

All of which makes their teacher smile.

“I wanted them to learn that the world is very accessible to them,” Jackson said, “that adults in Australia and Scotland thought it was important to write back to 11-year-olds in Kentucky.”

2010: My Year in Pictures

January 2, 2011

As we begin 2011, a slide show of some of my favorite photos of 2010.

2010 column subjects that would make great gifts

December 15, 2010

It is almost holiday crunch time, those frantic days right before Christmas when you can no longer put off deciding what you will give family and friends.

Rather than buying more generic stuff made in China, many people are searching for gifts that are more local and meaningful. They want to give a Kentucky-made piece of art or a book by a local author. Or they want to make a donation on someone’s behalf to a local group that is making a difference.

How do you choose from so many options? Here are a few suggestions based on people and organizations I wrote about this year. Just consider it a place to start.

Good works

Two organizations used the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games to help tackle global problems, and they still could use help.

■ Kentucky Rotary clubs hosted Rotarians from around the country who put in a combined 22,632 volunteer hours at the Games’ concession stands. That work raised $142,000 for Rotary International’s polio- eradication efforts in the Third World. More information:

■ Alltech, the Nicholasville biotech company that was the Games’ title sponsor, responded to January’s earthquake in Haiti by adopting a school and promising to create sustainable jobs in that impoverished nation. It worked with University of Kentucky Opera Theatre to start a children’s choir, which performed several times in Lexington. Alltech is selling Haitian coffee, proceeds from which benefit the effort. More information:

■ Seedleaf is making a big impact closer to home by helping Lexington’s inner-city residents learn to grow and prepare nutritious food. A little goes a long way at this community garden group, so your donation gift can make a big difference. More information:

■ Another great grass-roots effort is Broke Spoke Community Bicycle Shop at East Sixth Street and North Limestone. Volunteers repair old bikes and sell them cheap to people who can use them for basic transportation to become more self-sufficient. The shop also teaches bike repair. More information:

■ Horses aren’t just for racing or showing; they make great therapists. Central Kentucky Riding for Hope, which has a facility at the Kentucky Horse Park, uses horses for therapy with disabled and special-needs people. A new program will help disabled war veterans. More information:

Good art

■ Lexington has many fine arts organizations, but in the past year, a new one has made a big impression on a shoestring budget. Institute 193, with a small gallery at 193 North Limestone, is the brainchild of a young Lexington native, Phillip March Jones. His goal is to bring attention to the region’s best underappreciated artists. Among the non-profit organization’s projects this year were several inspired shows and the publication of Lexington photographer Guy Mendes‘ book, 40/40: 40 Years, 40 Portraits. More information:

■ Larkspur Press in Monterey has a devoted following among people who appreciate fine books and fine Kentucky literature. Grey Zeitz’s handmade books by Wendell Berry and other writers are themselves works of art. More information:

■ If you attend Gallery Hop, you know Lexington’s visual-arts scene is dynamic and growing. Lexington native John Lackey, a painter and woodblock printmaker, recently opened a studio and gallery in the old Spalding’s Bakery at 574 North Limestone. More information:

Good reads

This region has many talented writers. Two good local books I read and wrote about this year, from The University Press of Kentucky, would make great gifts for local history buffs. More information:

How Kentucky Became Southern: A Tale of Outlaws, Horse Thieves, Gamblers, and Breeders by Maryjean Wall. The award-winning Herald-Leader racing writer, who retired to finish her doctorate in history, tells the fascinating story of how Kentucky became the world’s Thoroughbred breeding capital after the Civil War. You will learn a lot from this book, even if you have lived here all your life.

Lessons in Likeness: Portrait Painters in Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley, 1802-1920 by Estill Curtis Pennington. Later this month, I will write more about this book, which shows that fine art has flourished in the Bluegrass longer than most people think.

Now, aren’t these more interesting than some of the stuff you would have found online or at a big-box store?

Lexington tourism officials look beyond WEG

November 15, 2010

The people who market tourism and conventions for Lexington think the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games will be a gift that keeps on giving. But here’s the challenge: How do we take advantage of the many lessons learned from the Games?

David Lord, who will retire March 31 after 17 years as president of the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau, has been thinking a lot about that. His biggest lesson from WEG was the value of having shared community goals — and a firm deadline for accomplishing them.

“Can we embrace that, so the next time we’re looking at something like a new farmers market location it doesn’t take 20 years?” Lord said. “When it comes to something we’re excited about like the Distillery District, does it have to take another 20 years?”

The Lexington Distillery District along Manchester Street is slowly turning long-abandoned distilleries and run-down industrial buildings into nightclubs and arts and entertainment venues. Lord, who studies these things, thinks the Distillery District has huge potential because it reflects Lexington’s unique heritage and culture — and because it isn’t so much designed for tourists as for local people.

When such places become popular with locals, tourists like them better than artificial “tourist districts” because they are authentic. The same thing applies to impromptu restaurant districts popping up downtown, such as Cheapside and Jefferson Street.

“I love watching what is happening on Jefferson Street, which is not a planned development,” Lord said. “The synergy of those little places playing off each other is wonderful.”

Lord said Lexington should consider what other quality-of-life improvements could have similar “crossover” potential for locals and tourists alike. Those could include more events and festivals, such as the successful Spotlight Lexington concerts downtown during the Games. They also could include more passive recreation facilities like the Legacy and Town Branch trails.

Lexington could also do more to promote and develop the assets it already has, Lord said. Those include such things as the Woodsongs and Red Barn Radio shows staged downtown weekly. Or things as simple as Central Kentucky’s network of scenic country roads, which are becoming increasingly popular with cyclists who travel from all over the country to ride them.

That kind of thinking is important because tourism and conventions are big business. State officials estimated they were worth $1.66 billion in economic impact for Fayette County and $2.4 billion for the Bluegrass region in 2009.

Lord and his colleagues also have a few other ideas about how Lexington can build on the priceless international exposure and momentum from the Games:

Make Lexington more beautiful: Tourists may come primarily for horses, bourbon, history and the scenic beauty of our countryside, but when convention planners look at Lexington, “the look of downtown becomes the primary decision-making factor,” said Dennis Johnston, who oversees convention sales for the bureau. “The downtown streetscape project we just finished is huge, but it’s only a start.”

Continue to improve the look of downtown: This involves a lot of big issues, from better architecture to historic preservation to public art. It also includes small things, from the artistic quality of temporary banners to cleaning up litter, an issue recently taken on by the new Keep Lexington Beautiful Commission.

Create more public-private partnerships: These are for everything from improving downtown to staging big events like WEG. “If we didn’t have a strategic alliance with Alltech, the state would be having a lot of bake sales to pay off the Games,” Lord said.

Capitalize on the $30 million worth of Games-related improvements at the Kentucky Horse Park: This can attract more and bigger equestrian events. The park has huge potential as an economic engine for the region.

Capitalize more on the horse industry and the ways it is changing: The Thoroughbred racing business is struggling, but the Horse Park and Lexington are well-positioned with the growing popularity of other equestrian sports.

“That could be a saving grace 20 years from now,” Lord said. “And maybe one of these days there will be a place where (a visitor) can actually ride a horse.”

Gray, Gorton combo could be good for Lexington

November 6, 2010

A successful team requires talented people in roles that play to their strengths. Lexington voters seem to have achieved that last week by electing Jim Gray as mayor and Linda Gorton as vice mayor.

Gray and Gorton have complimentary strengths and good communications skills. They both enjoy working with people and solving problems, and they have a good relationship with each other. They met for coffee soon after the election, and they plan to make it a habit.

That is important, because Lexington has suffered from poor communications and collaboration between the executive and legislative branches of city government over the past four years. Changing that dynamic will make it easier to tackle tough issues. It also will help Lexington take full advantage of its newfound confidence and energy coming out of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

Gray comes to the mayor’s office with a perspective that outgoing Mayor Jim Newberry didn’t have. After losing his first race for mayor in 2002, Gray was elected vice mayor in 2006 and has served four years on the Urban County Council.

“That was an unexpected benefit of me losing that mayor’s race,” Gray said. “I’ve now got that experience.”

The legislative role didn’t always play to Gray’s strengths. Being mayor could be a better fit. Gray has an executive background; he is on leave as chief executive of Gray Construction Co., an innovative and successful family-owned company.

Gorton, a registered nurse, has become a superb legislator in her dozen years as both a district and at-large council member. She has often been willing to take on tough jobs and master the minutia of issues and process. She has an exceptional ability to bring people together and help them reach consensus.

When I met separately with Gray and Gorton last week, each said they don’t expect to agree on everything, but they are confident they will work well together.

“We can have good conversations,” Gorton said. “I think Jim Gray and I come from the same mold of being inclusive, wanting to hear other people’s ideas. And we’re both very much into laying things out in the open and talking about them.”

Recent changes in council procedures will give Gorton more influence than Gray had. The vice mayor, rather than the mayor, will chair council work sessions. And there will be fewer work sessions, because more work will be done in committees.

Those committees, which the vice mayor appoints, will be organized to more closely relate to the city’s administrative structure. “I think that will make our legislative process much more efficient and much clearer,” Gorton said.

The election also added three new council members — Steve Kay, Chris Ford and former Councilman Bill Farmer Jr. All bring a deep knowledge of Lexington and strong people skills to the job.

Gray said he will work hard to gain council members’ trust and respect. “My dad used to say that people do business with people they like,” he said. “It’s true in business, in politics and in life. My job is to reach out and listen.”

Much work must be done before Gray, Gorton and the three new council members take office in January. Gray’s first order of business is appointing key administration officials.

Gray knows he is better at ideas and vision than details, so he plans to restore the job of Chief Administrative Officer. He expects to make that appointment this coming week.

Before making other appointments, Gray wants to assess those already in place — many of whom are quite talented, he said. Gray, who was endorsed by all of the city’s employee organizations, said improving communications and employee morale is a priority. Shaking things up isn’t necessarily the best way to improve performance.

“I know better than to be a bull in a china shop,” he said.

Gray’s longer-term goals include more public-private partnerships, which were used so effectively during the Games. He also wants to engage the philanthropic community more, and encourage all segments of Lexington to get involved in civic life.

“I want to have everyone working together, because we want (Lexington) to come out of this recession stronger,” Gray said. “We want to increase the level of confidence about what this city can achieve with the resources we have.”

Dreams of profit replaced by wealth of memories

November 1, 2010

Tim Jenkins is in the money and investment business. As the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games approached, all he could think of was how to profit from them.

Jenkins did not end up making a lot of money, but he gained something he now considers much more valuable.

“Most of my conversations with friends and my thoughts leading up to the Games were about how much money do you think we can make from renting our house, our car, whatever we have,” said Jenkins, 29, a principal in Keystone Financial Group LLC in Lexington.

Jenkins had a rental agency look over his modest 1950s home. He was told that he could get $1,000 a night if he signed up and paid some fees. He declined. “That seemed outrageous,” he said. “I wouldn’t pay that to rent my house.”

Still, Jenkins found a renter. A client who runs a bed-and-breakfast had filled her rooms, so she referred a family coming from South Africa to him. They negotiated a price that Jenkins said was a good deal for him and a substantial savings from the hotel bookings they were able to cancel. “It was worth it for my wife and I to do it, but it really wasn’t that much money,” he said.

As the Games drew nearer, Jenkins started catching the spirit. He volunteered as a driver, picking up international team members at the airport and taking them to their hotels. On one trip, he pulled into a gas station to buy beer for some thirsty Argentines.

When Leon and Elizabeth van Tubbergh arrived from Johannesburg, South Africa, with her mother, sister and brother, Jenkins settled them into his home and drove them around Lexington to help them get their bearings.

“They said, ‘Where can we get some fried chicken?’ and ‘What about biscuits and gravy?” Jenkins said. “They had been looking forward for four years to coming to where we live every day. It dawned on me that we needed to be good hosts.”

As it turned out, the van Tubberghs were the same ages as Jenkins and his wife, Lisa. “We had a lot in common,” he said.

Soon it was the van Tubberghs’ turn to play host. They invited the Jenkins family to their own home for a barbecue, or what South Africans call a “braai.” The van Tubberghs cooked lamb and sausages on the Jenkinses’ grill. They also invited the neighbors, who brought Derby-Pie, bourbon balls and bourbon cream sauce.

“We were having an international experience right on our itty-bitty deck,” Jenkins said. “And it was just because people wanted to get together and learn about each other. It was just about life, but it really opened up our minds.”

In an e-mail message from South Africa, Elizabeth van Tubbergh wrote last week that her family was impressed with the Games, Kentucky’s beauty, and Bourbon Cream liqueur, “which is to die for — it’s going to become a staple in our family!”

But what impressed her most were average Kentuckians, “the utter friendliness we encountered,” she wrote. The Afrikaans word for it is “grasvry,” which she said translates roughly to “hospitable.”

“Tim was an amazing host, and we wanted for nothing while we stayed in his and Lisa’s home,” she wrote, adding that he borrowed a bike so her husband could ride the Legacy Trail. “That we could stay in their home was just lucky. Or fate maybe?”

The Jenkinses now have their home back, and a little extra money in their pockets. But they need more, because they are saving for a trip to South Africa next fall. They will visit the van Tubberghs and tour their country. “Elizabeth is mapping it all out for us,” he said.

Jenkins said he has been reflecting on how much the Games enriched his life.

“When it was all over, I realized that value doesn’t always come in the form of that dollar,” he said. “I deal with people and their money every day. But this was a unique opportunity to put money behind us and just be people, people who have a lot in common even though they live on the other side of the world from each other.”

The next time Lexington has an opportunity like the Games, Jenkins said, “I would encourage everyone to focus on the experience and the opportunity to be gracious hosts. If you focus on the money, you’re missing the point.”

Readers’ advice on lessons from WEG

October 27, 2010

What were the hits and misses of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games? What can we learn from the experience?

That is what I asked readers last week, and more than three dozen sent thoughtful, detailed responses.

Almost everyone thought the Games were a success, and there were several ideas for the future.

Everyone agreed that the competitions were amazing, the Kentucky Horse Park venues excellent and the LexTran shuttles outstanding. Kentuckians were praised as friendly and hospitable hosts.

“It was an amazing experience — the people, the state, the athletes — we took home lifetime memories,” wrote Hillary Hulen of Medford, Ore. “My niece is even considering a Kentucky college as a result of this trip.”

Kudos went to the International Museum of the Horse’s Gift From the Desert exhibit, and the Kentucky Experience and Alltech Experience pavilions. Alltech’s drew special praise for its science exhibits, kids’ activities and designer Deirdre Lyons’ inclusion of Kentucky artists.

Alltech employees received praise from people familiar with how they helped shore up weaknesses in the Games organization. And several readers thanked the company for bringing 64,000 local schoolchildren to the Games.

What could have been done better? Readers complained that many people were kept away by high ticket prices. Stands were often filled at the last minute with discounted and even free tickets, and that angered spectators who had paid full price.

Everyone thought the food was overpriced and mediocre. “There should have been a greater emphasis on local food and regional specialties,” wrote Sarah Gaddis of Frankfort. “I agree that Papa John’s (pizza) is both local and tasty, but we could have done better.”

There should have been more maps and signs at the Kentucky Horse Park. Jane Jacobs of Georgetown had a great idea: Every person who bought a ticket should have received a “daily sheet” with a map and a schedule of events that day.

Games volunteers did a great job of shuttling elderly and disabled people around in golf carts, and a few tractor-pulled wagons were added, but readers thought more public shuttles were needed between venues. And there should have been a drop-off point at the front gate.

The biggest complaint, by far, was about price-gouging by some hotels and car-rental companies. A modest price increase was expected, but when visitors are charged several hundred dollars a night for a room at a budget motel, that’s just greed.

Readers had some good ideas about how Lexington can build on the Games’ legacy. The Kentucky Horse Park now has some of the world’s best equestrian facilities — built at great public expense — and care must be taken to maintain and use them for long-term economic payoff.

LexTran was widely praised for excellent performance and getting thousands of locals on a bus for the first time. Several readers mentioned that Keeneland should partner with LexTran for a similar shuttle service, reducing the need to turn Keeneland’s lovely meadows into vast parking lots during racing meets.

“What about a Legacy Horse Trail at the Kentucky Horse Park?” suggested Cynthia Day of Lexington. “It would be great for citizens and visitors alike to be able to actually ride a horse. Perhaps volunteers could assist in the development, building and maintaining a horse trail system at the park.”

The Games showed what can be accomplished with good public-private partnerships, readers said, especially when led by local business dynamos such as Jim Host, the Games’ first chairman, and Alltech president Pearse Lyons.

Several readers suggested that Lyons would make a good governor, mayor or University of Kentucky president. He might not be interested in any of those jobs, but his vision, energy and ability to get things done make him Lexington’s top go-to guy for civic projects.

I thought Lexington developer Tom Padgett had the best idea of all: “The Games gave us a set of goals and, most important, a deadline. Perhaps the city and Commerce Lexington need to come together to establish a list of 10 things that need to be accomplished over the next five years, with various timetables. They should span a variety of categories, from the arts to infrastructure.”

Before we move on from WEG, let’s take stock

October 17, 2010

As the dust settles from the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, we should take stock of what we learned.

For the most part, the Games went well. But, as with any big undertaking, there were hits, misses, near-misses and things we would do differently next time.

That is why, before the holidays, someone needs to get all of the principals together — as well as a diverse group of engaged bystanders — to record and analyze the experience before our collective memory fades and life goes on.

This isn’t a job for elected officials, especially in an election season. A better choice to lead this effort might be a small task force from Commerce Lexington, the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau and the United Way of the Bluegrass.

Some of the knowledge we would capture could help Central Kentucky attract and host other big events in the future. But the focus should be bigger than that. Lessons learned from the Games could be applied to broader goals of economic and community development.

For example: What did the Games teach us about our region’s strengths and weaknesses? How could the public-private partnership models used for WEG be applied for other endeavors? How could LexTran’s success during the Games be leveraged to re-imagine the role of public transportation in Central Kentucky? How could the Games’ volunteer spirit be kept alive and used in other ways?

We don’t have to wait for the big shots, though. What do you think were the Games’ hits and misses? What lessons did you learn? Where should we go from here? Email your thoughts to: If I get enough good responses, I will write about them.

In the hot-glass studio with Stephen Rolfe Powell

October 17, 2010

DANVILLE — Stephen Rolfe Powell prepares to create art the way the former semi-pro tennis player used to get ready for a match: push-ups, sit-ups and a lot of stretching.

Powell does his quick workout on the floor of an empty classroom near his Centre College studio, where a furnace is heating clear glass to more than 2,000 degrees. His four-person crew arranges tools and gets ready for action.

Powell is soon skillfully wielding a hollow steel rod, gathering more and more glass from the furnace and rolling it smooth on a stainless-steel table. When the glob on the end of Powell’s rod weighs nearly 30 pounds, he carefully rolls it over a heated mosaic of more than 2,000 bits of colored glass that will determine the finished piece’s pattern and texture.

The pace quickens as Powell and his team add just the right amounts of fire, air and motion to manipulate the glass. By the end of this increasingly frantic dance, they will have created a graceful vessel with two squiggly necks that is a symphony of light and color.

“For me, the making of the work is more important than the end,” Powell said. “If I couldn’t go in the studio and make work, I’d be a basket case. It’s a drug for me. When I’m in that process and things are going, especially at the end, I’m aware of nothing else.”

The finished vessel, which might sell for $25,000 or more, is the kind of work that has earned Powell an international reputation as a glass artist. This year, it also earned him the Artist Award as part of the Governor’s Awards in the Arts. He will accept the prize Oct. 28 at a ceremony at the state Capitol with his wife, Shelly, and their two sons, Hawk, 11, and Oliver, 9, by his side.

“I sort of feel humbled by it,” Powell said, “When someone says, ‘What do you do?’ I rarely say I’m an artist. I say I work with glass. There’s no question winning this award gives some kind of legitimacy to what I do.”

The award caps a big year for Powell, 58. The Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga recently presented a major retrospective of his work. Several of his pieces were shown in The Alltech Experience pavilion at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. Powell, who is on partial sabbatical from his job as an art professor at Centre, recently bought the old Coca-Cola plant in Danville and is converting its 23,000 square feet into artistic work space.

When singer Tony Bennett performed at Centre’s Norton Center for the Arts earlier this month, he spent some time creating glass art with Powell. Bennett, an accomplished painter, also worked with Powell the last time he sang in Danville.

Powell said his success sometimes seems surreal because it wasn’t until age 28 that he even discovered hot glass.

As a student at Centre, Powell studied painting. After graduation in 1974, he returned to his hometown, Birmingham, Ala., to coach and play tennis and paint. “I got this studio in an old office building and kept waiting for somebody to discover me, but it never happened,” he said, laughing.

Powell taught art at his old high school and an Alabama state prison. Then came graduate school at Louisiana State University, where he was attracted to ceramics because it allowed him to do new things with color and light.

Then he discovered glass.

“I fell in love with it immediately,” he said. “I like fire and excitement and spontaneity and I have an athletic background. So glass was just it.”

Powell returned to Centre to teach in 1983 and created a hot glass studio with local corporate help. “It turns out this is a glass mecca,” he said. “Corning, General Electric, Phillips — they all have plants in this area.”

Powell’s father was a teacher, and he surprised himself by becoming one, too. “I don’t know why teaching is so satisfying and such a strong part of what I do, but it really is,” he said.

Powell said most of the Centre students who take his glass classes don’t plan artistic careers. Even among the art majors, only one or two each year will focus on glass. Still, several have risen to the top of their craft.

Two former students now run university glass programs: Ché Rhodes at the University of Louisville and Lexington native Patrick Martin at Emporia State University in Kansas. Two others are rising professionals: D.H. McNabb of Seattle and Brook White, who started Flame Run studio in Louisville.

Powell’s current crew, except for business manager Mitzi Elliott, are former students. “I really depend on that crew,” he said. “What I do is a real team effort.”

Powell said Centre’s support also has been critical to his success. “I just can’t imagine I would have had the same experience at another college,” he said.

One example: Centre awarded an honorary doctorate in 2004 to Powell’s mentor, Lino Tagliapietra, a Venetian glass master who never attended college. “When I said he’s the best in the world, they trusted me,” Powell said. “That meant a lot.”

Powell has focused his artistic expression on creating vessels because it is a form everyone can relate to. But he tries to keep experimenting with shape, color, pattern and effect. His vessels often have sensuous shapes, and he gives them wacky three-word names, such as Autumn Jealous Cleavage and Bombastic Moxie Gulp.

Now that he has more work space in the old Coca-Cola plant, Powell is interested in experimenting with large installation pieces. He recently completed one for the newly expanded and renovated Boyle County Public Library: 365 colored glass globes hung from the ceiling with aircraft cable.

What does Powell want people to take away from his art?

“I hope my work makes you step back and take a breath and pull away from the rest of the world and just have a moment of pleasure,” he said. “That’s about all I can come up with.”

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We pulled off WEG; what could we do next?

October 12, 2010

We did it. Now, what do we do next?

After five years of planning and anticipation, the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games have come and gone. The Games went well, and almost every visitor I met remarked on how friendly Kentuckians were.

There were a few glitches, of course — and there would have been more without last-minute infusions of money and skill from the title sponsor, Alltech. But the world’s top equestrians seemed to be pleased with the Games, and they raved about the Kentucky Horse Park’s facilities.

The Games attracted a half-million people, including several hundred journalists, 6,000 volunteers and 63,000 students whose admissions were paid by Alltech’s business partners. I suspect more paying spectators would have come had it not been for some overpriced tickets and hotels.

We don’t know yet if the Games made or lost money, but such calculations usually involve a lot of fuzzy math. We may never know if the estimated $107 million in public investment in facilities and infrastructure was immediately recouped in overall economic impact.

But the new facilities at the Kentucky Horse Park — already a big economic engine for this region — will pay dividends for decades as the park is able to attract more, bigger and better events.

“This is not about the next 16 days,” park director John Nicholson told me on opening day. “The success and notoriety of these Games will ensure that we remain the horse capital of the world for the next 50 to 100 years.”

That is important, especially considering the growth of the sport horse industry in Kentucky as Thoroughbred racing battles decline. Veterinarian Tom Riddle of Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital estimates there are twice as many sport horses in the region as there were five years ago.

Beyond the horse industry, only time will tell how successful the Games were at attracting long-term economic development to Kentucky. They certainly didn’t hurt. The Games showed visitors Kentucky at its best, and NBC’s television coverage amounted to a long video Valentine.

When it is all said and done, though, the Games’ most significant legacy may be what they taught Kentuckians — and especially Lexingtonians — about themselves.

The Games forced politicians to get serious about long-needed infrastructure improvements. Good planning and logistics prevented the traffic jams many had feared.

LexTran was a star performer. Thousands of locals rode LexTran buses for the first time — and all of those I talked with were impressed. Just as the beautiful new Legacy Trail has promoted fitness and alternative transportation, LexTran’s performance helped affluent Lexingtonians see the value and potential of good public transportation.

Lexington’s investment in downtown paid off as more than 175,000 people, according to police estimates, flocked to the city center for Games-related concerts and festivals, as well as new bars and restaurants.

The entertainers were good. But what impressed me most were the large crowds, which, for the first time I can recall, truly reflected Lexington’s diversity. “I think we witnessed something really interesting downtown,” said Urban League President P.G. Peeples.

I lived in Knoxville before, during and after the 1982 World’s Fair and in Atlanta before, during and after the 1996 Olympics. Neither event went as smoothly as Lexington’s WEG.

Those events’ most important legacy to Atlanta and Knoxville, even beyond significant infrastructure improvements, was civic confidence. Leaders and citizens in those cities gained the confidence to again try new, different and ambitious things. I sense that same confidence in Lexington this week, and it must not be allowed to dissipate.

The Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games showcased Kentucky and underscored the value of preserving its beauty and developing its potential. The Games showed what we can accomplish by working together with specific goals and firm deadlines.

After a few good nights’ sleep, Kentuckians must get back to work. We must figure out how to harness this energy and confidence to achieve bigger, more important things than a sporting event — things that will improve Kentucky’s long-term economy and quality of life. We need specific goals and firm deadlines.

Lexington and Kentucky performed well for 16 days in the international spotlight. If we can do that, what else can we do?

Blind rider’s reining lesson a dream come true

October 9, 2010

Anne Cecilie Ore began riding at age 11 and was soon a show-jumping competitor. Trouble was, she could barely see the jumps in front of her and had no peripheral vision.

Ore’s eyesight kept getting worse. By age 14, she was totally blind.

But blindness has never stopped Ore, who turns 32 on Monday, from achieving her equestrian dreams.

The resident of Olso, Norway, trains in Germany and is an active para-dressage rider in Europe. She competed last week as part of the Norwegian para-dressage team at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, but was disappointed with her 6th and 7th-place scores.

Before leaving America, Ore had one more goal to achieve. She had always wanted to learn reining — that Western-style sport of flashy horsemanship where riders gently guide their mounts through dizzying spins and sliding stops in a cloud of dirt.

When WEG board member Becky Jordan heard about Ore’s wish, she knew how to make it come true. She arranged for Ore to have a reining lesson with her daughter, Lyndsey, 22, a two-time world champion who performed at the Games’ reining exhibition Sept. 30.

Ore arrived at the Jordans’ Scott County farm Saturday morning with a delegation from the Norwegian team in tow. Lyndsey Jordan introduced her to Blazin, a laid-back, 10-year-old quarter horse who wore the first Western-style saddle Ore had ever used.

With Jordan calling out cues, Ore walked Blazin around the ring, then they cantered. Within 15 minutes, Ore and Blazin were a team. There was no obvious sign that the rider couldn’t see where she was going.

“It was just amazing to me how well she was able to go around the arena,” Jordan said afterward. “Once she made the first couple of laps around she knew exactly where she was.”

Within a half hour, Jordan had given Ore the spurs off her boots and was teaching her to guide Blazin through spins and sliding stops.

“The cues are a little different from sport to sport,” Jordan said. “But I would tell her what my cues were and she just had it. She knew exactly what she was doing. Her posture and positioning on the horse were just beautiful. She’s a very good rider.”

When it was time to dismount, Ore was all smiles.

“It was like a dream since I was 11,” she said. “The really fun stuff was the sliding and the spins. When the spins are slow you get really dizzy, but when you go faster you are not so dizzy. Not like I had imagined it.”

Ore wasn’t the only one smiling.

“She is fearless,” Becky Jordan said. “That was just amazing.”

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Volunteers make the Equestrian Games work

October 8, 2010

Some of the key performers at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games won’t win a medal — or even get on a horse.

But the show could not go on without the 6,000 volunteers who came from around the world to assist competitors, take tickets, direct traffic, drive golf-cart shuttles and perform a million other vital but unglamorous tasks.

“These people are absolutely critical in the entire scheme of the Games,” said Alltech President Pearse Lyons, whose company has been giving volunteers donuts each morning and snacks each afternoon. “They are the face of the Games, and without them we could not have put on such a successful show.”

You see volunteers everywhere at the Kentucky Horse Park, wearing yellow or blue Ariat polo shirts and caps — and, usually, a big smile.

Unfailingly cheerful volunteers greet me each morning as I step off the LexTran shuttle and each evening as I leave the park. All day, I see volunteers managing lines, giving directions, answering questions and ferrying people around this giant obstacle course of pedestrians, golf carts and bicycles.

“People just need information and direction; that I’ve got,” said Amy Waddingham, a volunteer from Colorado, who was energetically organizing school groups and moving them through the front gate like a veteran traffic cop.

The volunteer corps is getting good reviews.

“Some of them are a little bit too strict to the rules, but they are very friendly,” said Giel Hendrix, a journalist from the Netherlands. “They have made a good impression.”

“We’ve been getting a lot of good reports,” said Erin Faherty, WEG’s volunteer services director, whose management team arrives at 4:30 a.m. each day to begin checking in that day’s volunteers. “But there have been some logistical challenges, especially getting people where they need to be, when they need to be there, on a 1,200-acre park.”

About 1,200 volunteers work the Games each day. A record 1,700 volunteers were on duty last Saturday, when the park had its highest attendance of 51,000 people for the cross-country competition.

Volunteers work at least six nine-hour shifts. In return, they get food and free grounds-pass access for any day of the Games they’re not working. They get to keep their uniforms.

Volunteer planning and coordination began several years ago. By January, Games officials had confirmed about 1,200 volunteers.

Last winter, officials launched an aggressive campaign to recruit general and security volunteers — especially Kentuckians who wouldn’t have to spend a lot of their own money for lodging during the Games.

“My husband is always going on fishing trips with the boys, so this is my to-do,” said volunteer Becky Kauffman of Southern Pines, N.C., who was driving media shuttles. She was lucky to have a high school friend in Lexington to stay with, she said.

The trick for organizers is having enough volunteers at the right places and the right times so they are neither swamped nor bored.

Most volunteers said they were well-trained, except when it came to enough familiarity with the park layout to give directions. “There have been some issues, but I’ve been surprised by how well it’s going,” said volunteer Sue Stodola of Frankfort.

But Nadja Davidson of Carp, Ontario, was critical of the training, organization, food and logistics for volunteers. Davidson said she drove 16 hours from Canada and was spending $1,600 to stay in the area to volunteer. She felt Games organizers had been “inhospitable to volunteers … I would treat strangers in my own home better.”

“The organization for us has not always been on the top, but, on the whole, it is working,” said Sven Hedberg of Sweden, who is a volunteer translator. His sister lives in Mount Sterling, so he and his wife had a free place to stay.

“It’s been wonderful,” said volunteer Tom Timm of Niles, Mich. His wife, Linda, a teacher, agreed: “I had to take an unpaid leave to do this, but it has been well worth it.”

In addition to the Games volunteers, several hundred Rotary Club members from across the country have worked concession stands to raise money to fight polio.

Many Rotarians are professionals — such as the lawyer behind the checkout counter at lunch the other day, and the architect who was cleaning up trash at picnic tables. They both told me they were having a great time.

“We’ve had so much fun!” said former Lexington Vice Mayor Isabel Yates, an 80-something Rotarian who spent four days working at coffee stands with her friend, Beanie Pederson. “We’ve met people from everywhere — New Zealand, Australia, Brazil. It has really been something.”

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Some nice scenics from WEG today

October 8, 2010

The temporary stands at Rolex Stadium were reflected in the lake as people passed by Friday evening on their way to the jumping competition at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. The photo below shows just how big those horse murals are. Photos by Tom Eblen

Foreign guests giving Kentucky a thumbs up

October 5, 2010

When you invite thousands of people from around the world to visit your home, the question is always in the back of your mind: What do they think?

Since the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games began 10 days ago, I have been asking international athletes, team officials, journalists and spectators what they think of the Games, Kentucky and its people.

The answers have been remarkably consistent — and overwhelmingly positive, except for a few complaints about some price-gouging or the occasional glitch.

The first thing everyone comments on is the Kentucky Horse Park, with “fantastic” being the most common adjective. Athletes and team officials especially like having all of the venues in one place — even though the park’s vast size means a lot of walking.

Rana Omar, left, of the United Arab Emirates played Monday with Brianne Beerbaum, 7 months, who was with her nanny, Nina Leonoff of Germany.  Photo by Tom Eblen

Rana Omar, left, of the United Arab Emirates played Monday with Brianne Beerbaum, 7 months, who was with her nanny, Nina Leonoff of Germany. Photo by Tom Eblen

The next thing mentioned is the friendliness and genuine hospitality of Kentuckians — from the army of always-cheerful WEG volunteers to folks on the street.

“We haven’t met a sour-faced person yet,” Canadian spectator Jan Simmonds said, then gave me a sly smile. “Oh, wait, I did see one lady frowning yesterday.”

Games officials are getting high marks for organization, even if some Europeans don’t think they are quite up to the German efficiency of the 2006 Aachen Games, which were at a much smaller park.

“Very, very good organization and very friendly people,” said Miguel Angel Cardenas of Seville, breeder of the top Spanish dressage horse Fuego XII. How do these Games compare with the 2002 Games in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain? “This is bigger and better,” he said.

Oliver Lazarus, a show jumping competitor from South Africa taking part in his first World Games, rode the LexTran shuttle with his mother and grandmother one day last week.

“We came into the city to have a look, and it’s really nice. I’m enjoying it a lot,” said Lazarus. “Three people came up and introduced themselves and asked if we were having a good time.”

Annika Wulff of Sweden was getting to see more of Kentucky than many international visitors. She had rented a car and was staying at a bed-and-breakfast in Mount Sterling.

“It’s a lovely, lovely place, and all of the people are so friendly,” Wulff said. “We like Kentucky very much.”

Simmonds, Joann Beger and Chris Collins came down from Edmonton, Alberta, and were having a terrific time. The three friends were staying in a guest house and trying a different restaurant each night.

They took a carriage ride around downtown one evening — “We felt so elegant!” Beger said — and planned to visit a couple of art museums and take in a performance of La Bohème at the Opera House.

“We’ve just had loads of fun,” Beger said. “We’re just overwhelmed by the hospitality.”

The only significant complaints I heard were about the high prices of food at the Games and expensive rates for mediocre motel rooms around Central Kentucky.

Lodging was a sore point for some international journalists, who were paying high rates for normally budget-priced motels in Richmond and taking WEG shuttles to the Horse Park. (Officials had tried to house the media in Lexington but couldn’t find enough hotels willing to negotiate acceptable rates.)

Just like many Kentuckians, internationals find the weather this time of year baffling. “It is cold, then hot, in the same day,” said Yasukazu Chatani, an eventing manager with Japan’s team.

Michael Barnes, a salesman from Sydney, Australia, had to be in the United States for a couple of trade shows and came to the Games while he had a few days free. Having been to the last two Kentucky Derbys, he was worried about traffic snarls and shuttle bus snafus.

“To be honest, I was concerned about the infrastructure,” he said. But Barnes was pleasantly surprised by how smoothly the Games were running and by the fast, efficient and cheap LexTran shuttles.

“The Games are great, and the countryside around here is just stunning,” he said.

Barnes noted that this past weekend marked the 10th anniversary of the close of Sydney’s 2000 Olympic Games, the success of which brought an enormous boost in civic confidence. He predicted the same for Lexington.

“It boosted our confidence because Sydney was able to pull it off,” he said. “Kentucky seems to be pulling this off quite well.”

Cross-country Saturday was the day to ‘do’ WEG

October 2, 2010

The Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games had been in town for a week, but this seemed to be the day everyone said, “Let’s do it!”

And why not? It was Saturday. The weather was perfect. And it was cross-country day. Even locals who aren’t equestrians know that cross-country is the annual highlight of the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event — horses and riders racing across fields, splashing through water and making breath-taking jumps.

The record crowd of 50,818 started building early, creating the closest thing to a traffic jam Lexington has seen during the Games. Cars waiting to exit Interstate 75 North at Ironworks Pike backed up for more than a mile at times.

As usual, some of the happiest spectators were those on one of the LexTran shuttles running continuously from downtown to the Kentucky Horse Park.

“This is a historic event,” said Holly Codell of Lexington, and not just because she was taking her son, Jack, 12, to one of the world’s great sporting events.

“We’re riding a LexTran bus for the first time,” she said, snapping an iPhone photo of Jack, who looked ready to die of mother-induced embarrassment. “This was so easy, and the bus is nice and clean.”

After several days of entertaining horse-crazy friends from Boston, Codell said she was developing new appreciation for her hometown. “You forget living here how beautiful Lexington is,” she said.

The horse park’s advantage — a huge facility with all of the venues in one place — has also been its curse during the Games, forcing visitors to walk long distances to see everything. But there seemed to be more directional signs and shuttles on Saturday. There were many more maps, posted at strategic locations or being passed out by volunteers.

On the cross-country course, cheers went up each time a horse and rider cleared a jump. Locals smiled each time the announcer mentioned one of the Kentucky-named jumps in his proper British accent: Fort Boonesborough, Red River Gorge, Land Between the Lakes.

Everyone seemed to be an amateur photographer. Crowds gathered around each jump with fancy cameras, small point-and-shoots and even cell phones waiting to capture the decisive moment.

“I’m getting some good shots with my wimpy little camera,” said Vanessa Deroux, who came from Seattle to see the Games. “This is great. I couldn’t miss the opportunity.”

For those who needed a diversion from horses, Land Rover was offering free test drives on its own cross-country course. Several hundred people waited in line to drive a Range Rover through water, over hills and across a tilting wooden bridge.

While much of Lexington’s population seemed to be at the park, there were plenty of internationals, too. Many proudly wore their national colors, or literally wrapped themselves in their flag.

Monika Gottschalk and Christiane Somerfeldt of Cologne, Germany, were decked out in tri-color clothing and had German flags sticking out of their backpacks. This was their fourth World Equestrian Games, and they were having a blast: spending all day at the horse park and shopping downtown and at Fayette Mall each evening. “All of the people here are so friendly,” Somerfeldt said.

The Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau’s “Big Lex” blue horse stickers seemed to be especially popular with Europeans. One Italian journalist had a dozen decorating her backpack.

After leaving the crowds on the cross-country course, I was surprised to see so many people in the other side of the park. The giant food tent was packed at lunch for the first time during these Games, and the Normandy, France, pavilion was jammed with people trying to watch the cooking demonstrations.

The trade fair was doing a booming business, and the Alltech Experience and Kentucky Experience pavilions and Equine Village were comfortably crowded.

“Come on ladies — you need a Corvette. Your hair would look so good in the wind!” Daryl Lyons called out to passersby at the Kentucky Experience, where he was selling $20 raffle tickets for the $80,000 Bowling Green-made sports car.

“We’re having fun,” said Christian Hahn of Prospect as he and his three children, ages 2, 4 and 6, took a pizza break. “We did the kidzone, rode a pony, pet a penguin and now we’re going to find some horses to watch.”

As John Morgan and his wife, Linda Carroll, wandered the cross-country course, they said they had been going to WEG events all week, from the endurance race to one of the James Beard gourmet dinners.

“We’re about WEG’d out,” he said. “But it has all been just fantastic.”

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