New law, regulation mean slow start for commercial drone industry

August 30, 2015
This photo was pulled from high-definition video taken by an Unmanned Services Inc. drone camera high above Weisenberger Mill near Midway. Photo by Unmanned Services Inc.

This photo was pulled from high-definition video taken by an Unmanned Services Inc. drone camera above Weisenberger Mill near Midway. Photo Provided

 

MIDWAY — Standing beside South Elkhorn Creek with a remote-control device, Manfred Marotta uses joysticks and a video monitor to guide his small flying drone over and around a bridge, a waterfall and historic Weisenberger Mill.

The light is turning golden on this late-summer afternoon, and the tiny camera anchored to the drone’s belly captures stunning high-definition video.

Marotta is one of many people who think there is money to be made producing this kind of aerial imagery for a variety of clients, including utilities, real estate brokers, farmers, tourism promoters and news organizations.

But, so far, on-the-ground maneuvering with aviation regulators and government policy makers has been more complex than anything drone entrepreneurs face piloting their unmanned aircraft through the sky.

Marotta is chief executive of Versailles-based Unmanned Services Inc., which last month became the first Central Kentucky commercial drone operator to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration.

A drone operated by Midway-based Unmanned Services Inc. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Sky Drone Studios, owned by Lexington-based Post Time Productions, soon expects to get its FAA certification, known as a Section 333 Exemption, said Jeb Smith, one of the owners.

The field is likely to get more crowded, because of the growing popularity of relatively inexpensive drones and small video cameras. More than 1,300 FAA exemptions for commercial operators have been issued nationwide so far, including more than a dozen in Kentucky.

Aviation policy and privacy laws have struggled to keep up with drone technology, which has made big leaps thanks to military research and development investment during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Drones are limited to low-altitude flying, generally considered 400 feet or below. Ironically, though, commercial operators face far more FAA scrutiny than hobbyists, who usually have less skill and experience.

The FAA plans to announce new drone pilot training and certification rules in January. Currently, hobbyists flying small drones don’t need certification. But people flying drones commercially must have a civilian license to pilot manned aircraft.

Military drone pilot certification doesn’t count, although Unmanned Services has applied for an exemption until the new rules are issued. Until then, the company must hire a licensed pilot to do commercial jobs, but not free demonstrations.

150813Drones-TE011Marotta, 35, said he spent five years flying drones in the Navy and another three as a government contractor. Chris Stiles, 30, president of Unmanned Services, said he has a decade of drone pilot experience, as a government contractor and before that flying Army drones for battlefield surveillance during two tours of duty in Iraq. They said that, combined, they have logged more than 7,500 hours of drone flight time.

Marotta and Stiles met while they were government contractors. They started their company in 2011 and moved two years later to Versailles, where Marotta grew up before moving to Pennsylvania. His father, Manfred Marotta, played football for the University of Kentucky in the early 1970s.

Their business partner, Weston Amos, is learning to fly drones, but has no military or commercial drone experience.

“For the past two years, we’ve spent a lot of time building up potential clients,” Marotta said. “In the past month, we’ve been able to go out and actually have customers.”

So far, Marotta said, they have done commercial jobs for real estate agents and a television station. A typical job costs clients between $150 and $500.

In addition to high-definition video, from which still images can be made, Unmanned Services’ cameras can do video downlinks for live television broadcast and infrared and thermal imaging, which are useful in utility line inspection, field and crop analysis for farmers and search-and-rescue operations.

Marotta thinks a big market can be developed in utility line inspection, which must be done annually.

“We don’t believe that the drone can take over the entire market,” he said. “But it can sure save them a lot of money and save them a lot of time rather than using manned aviation.”

The Unmanned Services partners also are spending a lot of time meeting with government policy makers to try to prevent legitimate concerns about safety and privacy from resulting in what they would consider bad laws and regulations.

“Talking to the right people and finding those right people has been a lot of our workload,” Marotta said. “We’re trying to protect the industry and ourselves.”

Chris Stiles of Unmanned Services Inc. caught a videography drone as it came in for a landing. It was being controlled by Mickey Marotta, right. They were filming a demonstration video at Weisenberger Mill near Midway. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Chris Stiles of Unmanned Services Inc. caught a videography drone as it came in for a landing. It was being controlled by Mickey Marotta, right.  Photo by Tom Eblen

 

Mickey Marotta of Unmanned Services Inc. flew a drone shooting video high above the Weisenberger Mill near Midway. The control device is visible at lower right, and the drone at right surrounded by trees. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Mickey Marotta of Unmanned Services Inc. flew a drone above Weisenberger Mill near Midway. The control device is  at lower right, and the drone at right surrounded by trees. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

Mickey Marotta of Unmanned Services Inc. controled a drone that is shooting video high above the Weisenberger Mill near Midway. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Marotta operates the drone controls while standing beside South Elkhorn Creek.  Photo by Tom Eblen

 

Demonstration video by Unmanned Services Inc.


A century ago, this Lexington boy ran away and joined the circus

August 23, 2015
E.C. Fain of Lexington, who was assistant manager of the famous Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey annex, or side shows, during a decade with the circus is shown in the ticket booth at left in this undated photo from the early 1900s. Photo courtesy of Joe Petro III

E.C. Fain of Lexington stands in the booth at left while Zip the Pinhead performs at the Barnum & Bailey Annex in this photo from the early 1900s. Photos courtesy of Joe Petro III

 

It was a cliché of a more innocent age, a time when people didn’t travel much and before radio, TV and the Internet opened windows to a world beyond small-town America.

If a boy wanted adventure, he could run away and join the circus. And that is exactly what 17-year-old E.C. Fain of Lexington did in 1904.

What’s more, Fain kept running back to the circus for 14 seasons. For most of his career, he helped manage some of the biggest sideshow stars of the circus’ golden age.

The Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus makes its annual stop at Rupp Arena this weekend, so I thought it would be a good time to tell Fain’s story, or at least what I could find of it.

For years, Lexington artist Joe Petro III has collected vintage sideshow memorabilia. His collection has been shown at museums around the country, including the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport, Conn., and a 1997 exhibit at the University of Kentucky Art Museum.

E.C. Fain of Lexington, who was assistant manager of the famous Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey annex, or side shows, during a decade with the circus is shown in the ticket booth in this undated photo from the early 1900s. Photo courtesy of Joe Petro III

E.C. Fain of Lexington was assistant manager of the Barnum & Bailey Annex, or sideshow, during its heyday in the early 1900s.

Petro, my first cousin, mentioned one day that he had some personal papers and photographs of a Lexingtonian who really had run away and joined the circus. He didn’t know a lot about Elmore Crenshaw Fain except that he spent several years as assistant manager of Barnum & Bailey’s famous Annex, as the sideshow was called.

Petro had postcards Fain sent home from his circus travels, first to his mother, then to his girlfriend who later became his wife, and then to their son. He also had vintage photographs of Fain working the Annex, some of which were taken by the famous circus photographer Frederick W. Glasier.

There were snapshots of Fain with some of the Annex’s biggest stars, including Zip the Pinhead (William Henry Johnson) and the giant George Auger.

Fain also worked with such sideshow legends as Skeleton Dude (Eddie Masher), the midget Princess Wee Wee (Harriet Elizabeth Thompson) and “the armless wonder” Charles B. Tripp, who signed souvenir photos in perfect penmanship with his feet.

People have always been curious about human oddities, and in those days it wasn’t politically incorrect to stare. And this was before America had much of a social safety net, so performing in sideshows and selling souvenir photos was a way for these special-needs people to make a living — sometimes a very good one.

So-called “freaks” were a big part of low-brow American entertainment from the early 1800s until as late as the 1960s. Petro’s collection includes a handbill from the 1836 North American tour of Eng and Chang Bunker, who inspired the term “Siamese twins.” They appeared in a dozen Kentucky towns, including Lexington.

Fain seems to have liked the traveling life of a seasonal circus manager, but his postcards indicate that it got harder each year to leave his wife, Ruth, and young son, White, back home in Lexington.

“How is Daddy’s little man?” Fain wrote to his son from Stamford, Conn. “Take good care of Mother until I get home.”

The Lexington Leader wrote a brief about Fain in 1908, saying he was on his way to New York’s Madison Square Garden for his fifth season with Barnum & Bailey. Fain was mentioned several times in entertainment industry magazines, such as The Player and The Billboard.

The Billboard’s last mention of him was on March 30, 1918, noting that Fain had left the circus business “and become interested in an enterprise in his hometown, Lexington, Ky.”

In December 1917, Barnum & Bailey executive Charles R. Hutchinson wrote a recommendation letter for Fain to the Chicago meatpacker Swift & Co., calling him “a man of education, refinement, of excellent presence and a gentleman at all times.”

Fain spent the rest of his working life as a Lexington-based salesman and manager for Swift, living at 217 Catalpa Road with his wife, son and daughter, Barbara. He retired in 1951 after 34 years with Swift and died in 1973 at age 86.

Fain’s Herald-Leader obituary mentioned his career with Swift, that he was a charter member and former treasurer of the Church of the Good Shepherd and that he belonged to the Oleika Temple Shrine and another Masonic lodge.

But it never mentioned that Fain had once traveled the country with midgets, giants and Zip the Pinhead during the heyday of The Greatest Show on Earth.

E.C. Fain of Lexington, who was assistant manager of the famous Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey annex, or side shows, during a decade with the circus is shown in the ticket booth in this undated photo from the early 1900s. Photo courtesy of Joe Petro III

E.C. Fain of Lexington, right in ticket booth, at the Barnum & Bailey Annex.


Fifth book about Louisville’s Bingham family is the most revealing

August 22, 2015

The disintegration of the Bingham family’s Louisville media dynasty in 1986 prompted no fewer than four books about patriarch Robert Worth Bingham and the two talented but troubled generations he left in his wake.

Each book was revealing, but the basics were well-known: ambitious politico loses his wife in a tragedy and remarries America’s richest widow, who soon dies mysteriously. With his inheritance, he buys a newspaper and influence, which includes the ambassadorship to Great Britain. The Courier-Journal becomes a great newspaper until squabbling among his grandchildren prompts its sale to a chain.

150823Bingham002AThe juicy secrets revealed in previous Bingham books are nothing compared to those in this fifth one, the second written by a family member.

Emily Bingham’s Irrepressible: The Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham (Farrar, Straus and Giroux $28) is a thoroughly researched, well-written and frank biography of the great-aunt her elders never wanted to discuss.

Bingham, a Harvard graduate with a Ph.D. in history from the University of North Carolina, will talk about and sign her book at 3 p.m. Sunday at The Morris Book Shop, 882 East High Street.

Henrietta Bingham was intelligent, beautiful and seductive. But she was forever traumatized by witnessing her mother’s death when a commuter train hit their car, and she could never escape the emotional grip of her narcissistic father.

She also was bisexual. Her most intense relationships were with John Houseman, who later became a legendary film producer and Oscar-winning actor, and the 1930s tennis star Helen Jacobs.

Other lovers included three members of England’s famous Bloomsbury set: writer Mina Kirstein, painter Dora Carrington and sculptor Stephen Tomlin. Then there were the actresses: Hope Williams and, probably, Tallulah Bankhead. And, possibly, black musicians of both sexes in Harlem.

Henrietta spent the Jazz Age and Great Depression living high on daddy’s money. Had she been straight, she, rather than her younger brother Barry, would have inherited the family’s media empire.

Instead, she lived a life of leisure, attracting lovers then pushing them away. Her only real accomplishment was a late-in-life career as a Thoroughbred horse breeder.

Despite years of psychoanalysis with Ernest Jones, a famous protégé of Sigmund Freud, Henrietta could never escape her demons. She died in 1968 at age 68 from the effects of alcoholism and mental illness.

Emily Bingham, author of "Irrepressible: The Jazz Age life of Henrietta Bingham." Photo by Leslie Lyons

Emily Bingham. Photo by Leslie Lyons

After reading this book, I had to ask Emily Bingham: what did the family think of her unflinching book?

“My generation has just all been fascinated,” said Bingham, 50. “We had only heard these sort of negative stories. It’s as if this whole part of our family tree is alive instead of shriveled.”

Her mother, Edie Bingham, and aunts, Sallie Bingham and Eleanor Bingham Miller, the last survivors of their generation, passed along photographs and heirlooms and have been very supportive of the book, she said.

“But if my grandparents (Barry Bingham Sr. and his wife, Mary) had been living, this would have been hard to do,” she acknowledged.

“I think they were quite understanding, actually, about that part of Henrietta’s life,” she said. “They also were the ones who bore the brunt of being worried for her, and the shame that came with that. People couldn’t talk about mental health, either.”

Emily Bingham said that every day growing up at the Binghams’ Melcombe estate she saw a framed photograph of an octagonal barn at her great-aunt’s horse farm, now the Harmony Landing Country Club at Goshen.

“I just remember being told she was an accomplished horsewoman,” she said. “It would be the one thing they would say and then the conversation would end. I got the feeling that she was sort of not very interesting. And that was obviously wrong.”

In an interview with her grandmother before she died in 1995, Mary Bingham finally talked about Henrietta.

Only after Emily Bingham and her husband, Stephen Reily, named their daughter Henrietta, because they liked the old-fashioned name, did her startled father, the late Barry Bingham Jr., discuss his aunt, whom he called “a three-dollar bill.”

He told his daughter there might be a trunk of Henrietta’s stuff in the attic. There she discovered personal possessions and old clothes, including one of Jacobs’ monogrammed tennis outfits. Then she found another trunk stuffed with nearly 200 love letters to Henrietta from Houseman and Tomlin.

That trunk, stored for decades above her childhood bedroom, led her to search out archives containing the revealing letters, diaries and memoirs of her great-aunt’s friends and lovers.

But Henrietta’s own voice is largely missing from this biography; she left no diary, and fewer than a dozen letters. She seems to have destroyed most evidence of her homosexuality.

“This project was like putting together a broken mirror and knowing that you were only going to see bits of the person in the end,” the author said.

Bingham would love to know more about Henrietta’s passion for black music in the 1920s and her relationships with famous performers she knew. She wishes she could have “been on the couch with her” during psychoanalysis, especially to understand more about Henrietta’s complex relationship with her father.

And, in a life with so many passionate, complicated relationships, she said, “I would want to ask her, ‘Who did you really love?”

Bingham thinks her great-aunt’s alcoholism and mental illness were fueled in part by social pressure to keep her lesbian relationships secret. Her efforts to live a lie included a brief, failed marriage in 1954.

Henrietta’s life could have been much different had she lived today, her great-niece thinks. She could have enjoyed openly gay relationships and become more independent from her controlling father.

Bingham hopes readers come away with a desire to find out more about the gaps and silences in their own family histories.

“They don’t not matter because they haven’t been talked about,” she said. “Often, they are creating some of the reality you are living with; you just don’t know how they shaped it.”


Former EKU VP’s retirement job: piloting the Valley View Ferry

August 16, 2015
James Street looks out from the pilot house of the Valley View Ferry. Street has always loved boating and earned his maritime licenses, so since he retired as an Eastern Kentucky University vice president he has worked a few days a month piloting the ferry across the Kentucky River between Madison County and Fayette and Jessamine counties.  Photos by Tom Eblen

James Street looks out from the pilot house of the Valley View Ferry. Street has always loved boating and earned his maritime licenses, so since he retired as an Eastern Kentucky University vice president he has worked a few days a month piloting the ferry across the Kentucky River. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

VALLEY VIEW — Some executives dream of retiring to a big boat on a big body of water, and that is just what James Street did.

Since retiring as Eastern Kentucky University’s vice president for administration in July 2013, Street and his wife, Stacey, have spent a lot of time on their 34-foot Beneteau 331 sailboat on Kentucky Lake and their Catalina 22 on Cave Run.

But several days a month, Street pilots a less glamorous craft: the Valley View Ferry.

The ferry is a small tugboat lashed to a barge and tethered to an overhead cable. It goes back and forth across the Kentucky River more than 100 times a day, carrying a maximum of three vehicles between Tates Creek Road in Madison County and Tates Creek Road on the Fayette-Jessamine line.

Valley View, the last of dozens of ferries that once plied the river, is Kentucky’s oldest continuously operated enterprise — seven years older than the state itself. The ferry’s first owner, John Craig, got a charter in 1785 from Virginia’s governor, Patrick Henry.

The three counties bought the ferry from private owners in 1991 and operate it with local and state government funding. Passengers are a mix of tourists and commuters crossing to jobs in Lexington, Nicholasville and Richmond.

“I’ve always wanted to be a captain since I was a little kid,” said Street, 60, who got his first sailboat at age 19.

Street last year earned Coast Guard certification to pilot ferries and charter boats. So Roger Barger, a Madison County magistrate who pilots and manages the ferry, asked him to help when he could.

“Oddly enough, you still need a full license to pilot a boat on a rope,” Street said.

Piloting the ferry is a 14-hour workday — 12 hours of operation and an hour on either end for maintenance.

Usually, the pilot has help from a Madison or Jessamine jail trusty, who secures the barge to cleats on each shore’s ramp so cars can load and unload. But when a trusty isn’t available, the pilot does that in addition to running the boat and recording each car’s license information and number of occupants.

Piloting the ferry is very different from the fast-paced, high-pressure jobs Street had at EKU for two decades. And that is what he likes about it.

“I don’t miss answering the phone and email and text messages,” he said, noting that Valley View is a cellphone dead zone. “It’s a real change-up from what I did for most of my professional life.”

Before joining EKU, Street was Lexington’s commissioner of public works.

“I actually administered the purchase of this boat,” he said of the John Craig, which was filling in for a newer tug, the John Craig II, which was having mechanical trouble. “Talk about coming full circle.”

Street prefers chatting with ferry passengers to wrestling budgets, employees and deadlines. “I grew up in Madison County,” he said, “so I see people here I’ve known all my life.”

The free ferry carries 200 to 400 vehicles a day, operating 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekends. It often is shut down for days at a time because of high water in the spring and summer, and ice in the winter.

What Street enjoys most about this job is the beauty of Valley View. Some mornings, especially in the early fall, the river is shrouded in fog until the sun rises from surrounding hills to burn it off.

“I love getting down here and watching the dawn break,” he said. “There’s a subtle palette. The light is never the same; the mist is never the same.”

Between the morning and afternoon rushes, there are times when Street is alone on the river. He shuts off the tug’s noisy diesel engine and enjoys the silence.

“It’s so peaceful here,” he said, nodding toward a flock of geese swimming nearby with their goslings. “I enjoy watching the geese grow up.”

As the morning rush subsides, Street and I talk. He suddenly realizes it has been 10 minutes since his last trip. He steps into the pilot house and kills the engine — just as a car appears across the river looking for a ride.

“Almost had some silence,” he said with a sigh as he restarted the engine.

James Street piloted the Valley View Ferry across the Kentucky River for Madison County commuters on their way to Lexington before sunrise on Aug. 7.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Street piloted the Valley View Ferry across the Kentucky River for Madison County commuters on their way to Lexington before sunrise on Aug. 7.

James Street looks out from the pilot house of the Valley View Ferry. Street has always loved boating and earned his maritime licenses, so since he retired as an Eastern Kentucky University vice president he has worked a few days a month piloting the ferry across the Kentucky River between Madison County and Fayette and Jessamine counties.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Street looks out from the pilot house of the Valley View Ferry.

When James Street, a former Eastern Kentucky University vice president, pilots the Valley View Ferry, he usually has help from a prisoner trusty from Madison County. When they are unavailable, he must do everything, from piloting the boat to helping vehicles on and off.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

When Street pilots the ferry, he usually has help from a jail trusty. When one is not available, he must do everything, from piloting the boat to helping vehicles on and off.

Valley View Ferry pilot James Street waved to a friend driving onto the ferry. He grew up in Madison County, where he retired last year as a vice president at Eastern Kentucky University, so he knows many of the patrons.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Street waved to a friend driving onto the ferry. He grew up in Madison County,  so he knows many of the regular passenger.

When James Street, a former Eastern Kentucky University vice president, pilots the Valley View Ferry, he usually has help from a prisoner trusty from Madison County. When they are unavailable, he must do everything, from piloting the boat to helping vehicles on and off.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Street secures a safety rope on the ferry between trips.

While piloting the Valley View Ferry, James Street records the license information of vehicles that use the free service across the Kentucky River between Madison County and Fayette and Jessamine counties. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Street records the license information of vehicles that use the free service across the Kentucky River.


CentrePointe deal looks promising, but city must scrutinize details

August 11, 2015
CentrePointe

CentrePointe is bounded by Main, Limestone, Upper and Vine Streets. Photo by Charles Bertram.

 

At first blush, this deal would appear to have the potential to write a dream ending for Lexington’s biggest downtown development nightmare.

Two young men with finance and development experience and access to big money say they are taking over CentrePointe, the mixed use project that after seven years of false starts is nothing more than a giant hole in the center of the city.

But due diligence is needed, because dreams often don’t come true.

Investor Matt Collins and Atit Jariwala, who heads the New York development firm Bridgeton Holdings, seem to be saying all the right things to try to turn this disaster of a project into a civic asset.

Collins said he and his family aren’t just invested in CentrePointe; they have an agreement to take over the project. (I’m holding my breath until all of the papers are signed.)

Property owner Joe Rosenberg and Dudley Webb, the previous developer, will no longer have control or decision-making roles, Collins said. They will only be minority equity partners, reflecting the current value of their investments.

“We’re calling the shots,” Collins said.

Collins and Jariwala also are thinking about renaming the development, since CentrePointe and its pretentious spelling carries a lot of baggage. Good idea.

The partners said they want to make this project a landmark, an iconic piece of architecture, but one that looks like it belongs in Lexington. Another good idea.

This was one of Webb’s mistakes. He had a chance for great architecture with the design developed by Studio Gang of Chicago and later adapted by Lexington’s EOP Architects. But Webb’s sixth and latest version of CentrePointe’s design was barely better than his first three attempts, which were generic and forgettable.

I hope, though, that Collins and Jariwala won’t limit their vision to a look that mimics Lexington’s historic buildings. To be a landmark, a contemporary structure needs to be contemporary, not a riff on architectural history.

Collins and Jariwala said they plan to stay with plans for an underground garage, hotel, apartments, shops and restaurants. But rather than a commercial office tower, they want a new government center, which the city would lease.

Lexington needs a new government center to replace the old Lafayette Hotel building, which badly needs renovation and would be better suited for a hotel, condos or apartments.

City officials have been exploring the idea of selling the old hotel and constructing a new government center on city-owned land downtown. Would it make sense to lease from a private developer instead? Maybe, if the numbers work.

With Webb essentially out of the picture, there is no political reason not to consider incorporating city hall into this development. But Collins and Jariwala will have to negotiate a long-term lease that makes financial sense for taxpayers.

Mayor Jim Gray and the Urban County Council will have to look closely at those numbers, and at something else: Collins and Jariwala said they may want the city to guarantee $25 million in tax-increment financing bonds to build the garage.

City officials weren’t willing to guarantee those bonds for Webb, viewing the risk as too great. If these men want the city to do it for them, they will have to make a case that they are a better risk and structure a deal that protects taxpayers.

After several years of work in banking and international development, Collins said he moved to Lexington two years ago to attend law school at the University of Kentucky. When he finishes school, Collins said he wants to make his home in Lexington, where his Frankfort-born father, international financier Tim Collins, spent part of his childhood.

I think local ties are important. I agree with Collins’ belief that Lexington has a lot of untapped potential, and that it needs a more vibrant downtown to achieve it. I also agree that a landmark building on the CentrePointe block would be a catalyst.

CentrePointe doesn’t just need new financing — it needs new vision, talent and leadership. I am hopeful that Collins and Jariwala can offer that. But city officials must evaluate this deal and its many complexities with open eyes and a clear head.

The big mistake Lexington leaders made seven years ago when CentrePointe was announced was to take everything Webb said at face value. We can’t afford to make that mistake again.


Ignore political scare tactics; EPA’s Clean Power Plan will be good for Kentucky in the long run

August 9, 2015

Here’s some advice for Kentucky politicians freaking out about the Environmental Protection Agency’s new Clean Power Plan: Calm down, take a deep breath and face reality.

On second thought, maybe they shouldn’t take that deep breath. Kentucky has some of America’s dirtiest air, and most of that pollution comes from the coal-fired power plants those politicians are trying to protect.

Kentucky leads the nation in toxic air pollution from power plants, according to a 2012 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council. Those plants also are the main source of man-made greenhouse gasses that are causing climate change.

The Clean Power Plan, unveiled in final form last week, is the Obama administration’s better-late-than-never attempt to fight climate change. Its goal is to cut carbon dioxide emissions from the nation’s power plants by 32 percent from 2012 levels by 2030. That is tougher than the 30 percent in an initial proposal, but states would be given more flexibility and two additional years to meet their targets.

Still, the EPA’s goal is modest by international standards. Many European nations have pledged to do more, and scientific studies show carbon emissions must be cut dramatically if the world hopes to curb the disastrous effects of climate change.

Despite the politicians’ howling, Kentucky was on track to meet its initial EPA target of an 18 percent cut in carbon emissions. That’s because utilities already were planning to phase out old coal plants or convert them to natural gas to save money.

The final plan calls for Kentucky to cut emissions by nearly 30 percent — a tougher goal, but still one of the least-stringent among the states. In addition to phasing out coal-fired power plants, Kentucky can meet its target by adding more renewable power sources and improving the energy efficiency of buildings, two areas where it lags behind many other states.

As with previous environmental rules, segments of corporate America and the politicians they sponsor are fighting back.

Kentucky is one of 16 states suing to block the Clean Power Plan, with Attorney General Jack Conway taking a lead. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has urged states to simply ignore the EPA’s requirement to submit a compliance plan — and risk having one imposed on them if the new rules are upheld in court.

It is no coincidence that Kentucky, West Virginia and other states leading opposition to these rules are places where the coal industry dominates the economy or politics, or where energy-intensive manufacturers have long enjoyed cheap electricity subsidized by damage to the environment and public health.

It will be up to the federal courts to decide whether the EPA’s modest and long-overdue plan to cut carbon emissions, clean the air and water, and improve public health will take effect next year.

But Kentuckians should ignore the scare tactics of politicians, who know they must toe the coal industry’s line if they want to get campaign contributions and votes.

The EPA’s Clean Power Plan won’t ruin the economy or “kill jobs.” It will require some difficult transition. But a number of studies predict that, in the long run, the move toward cleaner, renewable power will create a stronger economy with more jobs. At least for those states that embrace inevitable change rather than fight it.

Think about it: Since environmental laws first were enacted 40 years ago, each new regulation, from cutting automobile emissions to curbing acid rain, has been met with corporate and political opposition and dire predictions of economic disaster.

Those predictions have never come true. In fact, just the opposite. That is because environmental regulations have stimulated innovation, creating jobs and growing the economy. Since 1970, air pollution nationwide has been cut by 70 percent and the size of the U.S. economy has tripled.

Regardless of your views on climate change, cleaner air and water mean a better quality of life, a stronger work force and better public health. Those are not small issues in a state like Kentucky, which has some of the nation’s highest cancer and asthma rates.

Kentucky and its leaders have a simple choice. They can cling to the past and fight a losing battle to preserve pollution. Or they can face reality and realize that change is inevitable, pollution is unhealthy, global warming is a threat, renewable energy is the future, and innovation will create a stronger economy.


If CentrePointe developer can’t get investor, city should get tough

August 4, 2015
Not much has changed at CentrePointe since this photo was taken Jan. 27, except that weeds have grown up along the pit's walls. Photo by Tom Eblen

Not much has changed at CentrePointe since this photo was taken Jan. 27, except that weeds have grown up along the pit’s walls. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

Ninety days ago, city officials gave developer Dudley Webb 90 days to try to make a deal with an unidentified investor to rescue his long-stalled CentrePointe project.

Unlike previous unidentified investors, city officials know who this one is, and Mayor Jim Gray says he has the necessary deep pockets.

But here’s the question: Will Webb be willing to take a financial hit to get a bailout? He is hardly in a strong negotiating position after more than seven years of false starts and mounting expenses.

Webb couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.

“We don’t really have any news to report right now,” said Mason Miller, an attorney representing the city on CentrePointe. “I suspect by later this week we should know more.”

Webb unveiled plans for CentrePointe in March 2008: a massive skyscraper complex with a Marriott hotel, luxury condos, offices, glitzy restaurants and shops.

Most city officials were dazzled, with the notable exception of then-Vice Mayor Gray, a veteran construction executive. The city allowed Webb to demolish an entire downtown block on no more than promises.

Preservationists were outraged at the loss of historic buildings, several of which were supposed to have been protected by the city. Architects were appalled by Webb’s design, a throwback to generic 1980s architecture that had no relationship to the city around it.

Real estate and hotel experts questioned Webb’s business plan. Details of his financing were sketchy, including a hard-to-believe story about an unidentified foreign investor who died without a will.

Under pressure from city officials, the empty block was planted with grass, creating a pasture that became popular for city festivals. As he searched for financing, Webb toyed with better designs from respected architects, then chose mediocrity.

Nearly two years ago, Webb claimed he had enough capital to excavate the pasture for the first step of his project, a three-story underground parking garage. A skeptical city government agreed to let him dig, but only if he pledged $4.4 million to restore the site if he ran out of money and work stopped. That’s just what happened more than a year ago.

CentrePointe is now CentrePit — a block-square hole in the heart of Lexington. In December, Webb brought in two tower cranes, indicating work might begin. But the cranes have done no work on CentrePointe. They and weeds are all that have risen from the pit.

In April, city officials sent Webb a default notice and threatened to begin foreclosure. A week later, he began talks with the potential investor. City officials gave him 90 days to make a deal. That time is now up.

If Webb makes a deal, we can only hope the investor insists on a better design and business plan.

It doesn’t take a genius to look around Lexington and see what has succeeded while CentrePointe languished: modestly scaled businesses in creatively renovated buildings that speak to Lexington’s history and culture. If Webb hadn’t been so hasty with the wrecking ball, a good architect could have combined old and new to create an attractive, successful development on the CentrePointe block.

Real estate experts say there is demand for first-class office space, high-end rental apartments and perhaps an extended-stay hotel downtown. But a third convention hotel several blocks from the convention center makes no more sense now than it did in 2008.

As people keep pointing out, Lexington needs a new city hall. The current one, in the old Lafayette Hotel building, is long overdue for renovation and would be better suited for a hotel or condos. But I sense little political appetite for building a new city hall at CentrePointe as long as Webb is the developer. A skeptical public would view that as rewarding bad behavior.

If Webb doesn’t strike a deal with this investor, what happens then?

I think city officials should play hardball. Begin foreclosure. Explore options for condemning the block as a public nuisance. That would surely spark a court battle, but it also might prompt Webb to get realistic about a private equity bailout.

It has been painfully obvious for too many years that Webb is in over his head with CentrePointe. But that doesn’t mean Lexington should let his folly continue to suck life out of the downtown renaissance occurring all around it.


For rare coin dealer, ‘every day is almost like Antiques Road Show’

August 2, 2015

When Jeff Garrett was about 12 years old, he was given an album so he could start collecting Lincoln head pennies. But unlike many other boys in the 1970s, he never stopped.

His hobby became a passion, then a business. For more than 30 years, Garrett has owned one of the nation’s largest dealerships, Mid-American Rare Coin Galleries in Lexington.

“I love the thrill of the chase,” he said. “When I finished that first album, I wanted to do another album. When I start something I just get obsessed by it.”

Garrett, 57, is the author of many books about rare coins. He is on the advisory board of the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History, where he helped organize the rare coin exhibit that opened in July. On Aug. 12, he will begin a two-year term as president of the American Numismatic Association, the nation’s largest organization of coin collectors with about 25,000 members.

“I’ve been lucky,” he said. “I’ve been able to turn a hobby into a living.”

garrettThe ANA presidency is an unpaid job that comes with a lot of responsibility: the 124-year-old organization has a $6 million annual budget and more than 30 employees. Its mission is numismatic education and promoting the hobby.

Garrett said he is proud to head the organization responsible for his first airplane trip. As a boy, he won a scholarship to an ANA summer seminar in Colorado Springs, the organization’s headquarters.

“That really helped jump-start my interest in coins,” he said, adding that the organization gives away 50 seminar scholarships each year to young collectors.

His main goal as ANA president is to bring more young people into the hobby — and bring back “dormant” collectors who lost interest or got busy with other things.

When Garrett was growing up in Florida, there were several local coin shops, and their owners became his mentors. By age 17, he was a full-time dealer.

“By the time I was 19 or 20, I owned part of the biggest (coin) company in Florida,” he said. “I just had a knack for it.”

Garrett’s interest also was fueled by a Florida coin-collecting club. That prompted him to help start the Bluegrass Coin Club in 1994. It meets at 6:30 p.m. on the third Monday of each month at Joseph-Beth Booksellers. More information: Bluegrasscoinclub.com.

As a young man, Garrett became friends with Jonathan Kern, who has been a rare coin dealer in Lexington for decades. “I had a blind date with his sister-in-law,” Garrett said. They married and settled in Lexington.

“Lexington is a great place to live,” he said. “And because I travel to big cities a lot, it’s a great place to come home to.”

Much of Garrett’s work is buying and selling coins with other dealers around the country and doing appraisals.

“Sometimes a rare coin might show up that hasn’t been around for 20 years and you’ve got to do some research and find out how really rare it is,” he said. “It’s one of the things I love about my business. Every day is almost like an Antiques Road Show.”

Garrett specializes in American gold coins, which were made from 1795 until 1933. They are rare because, during the Great Depression, federal officials urged people to turn them in so they could be melted into bars and stored at Fort Knox.

“That gold would be worth a whole lot more if they had just put the coins in bags and stashed them away,” he said.

Garrett made international headlines in 2013 when, on behalf of a client, he paid more than $3 million for a 1913 Liberty nickel, one of five made by a rogue mint employee. It was once owned by an heir of Hetty Green, the infamous “Witch of Wall Street,” and later belonged to a collector who died in a car wreck. The nickel went missing for decades amid speculation that it was a fake.

“What makes really rare coins expensive are the stories attached to them,” he said. “The better a story a coin has, the more desirable it is.”

Precious metal prices rise and fall, but the value of rare coins has remained steady.

“I don’t encourage people to buy coins as an investment,” Garrett said. “I encourage people to collect coins. And if you collect coins, I think they’ll become a good investment. It’s like anything: you need to understand what you’re buying. Do it at your own pace and enjoy the journey.”


She wanted classic style, he wanted a net-zero energy house.

July 26, 2015
Jamie Clark, a Lexington energy consultant and contractor, renovated an older home in Chevy Chase to see if he could create a "net zero" energy house that looks like a typical house most people in Lexington want to own. So far, his project has been a success.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Jamie Clark, a Lexington energy consultant, renovated a circa 1958 house in Chevy Chase to see if he could create a “net zero” energy house that looks like a typical Lexington house. Photos by Tom Eblen

The solar panels that help power Jamie Clark's renovated house in Chevy Chase are hidden on the back roof, visible only from the very back of his back yard.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

The solar panels that help power Clark’s renovated house in Chevy Chase are hidden on the back roof, visible only from the very back of his back yard.

 

When Jamie and Haley Clark decided to move closer to town and Christ the King School, where their two young daughters are students, they each knew what kind of house they wanted. Trouble was, they didn’t want the same thing.

“She wanted a very Southern Living house,” Jamie Clark said, referring to the lifestyle magazine. “I wanted a net-zero house.”

Kentucky doesn’t have many net-zero houses, which use insulation, solar power and other technology to create as much energy as they use over the course of a year. And few of them look like the traditional homes that most Lexington buyers want.

Jamie Clark of Lexington is an energy-efficiency consultant and contractor.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Jamie Clark

Clark, who works as an energy-efficiency consultant and sells geothermal systems for Climate Control Heating & Air, took that as a challenge.

“Part of my goal was to prove that you could build net zero in Chevy Chase,” he said as he stood outside the house they bought two years ago and drastically renovated. “This would fit in in any neighborhood in Lexington.”

Clark searched Chevy Chase for a house for sale with the right orientation to the sun. He found a one-story ranch on Prather Road, built in 1958 with salvaged brick, and began renovations. Haley Clark sketched what she wanted, and architect Van Meter Pettit turned her ideas into construction drawings.

The Clarks rearranged the existing house and added about 1,000 square feet. The result was 2,978 square feet of living space above ground, plus 1,856 in the finished basement.

They put the master suite on the first floor and added a second story with Cape Cod dormers in the bedrooms of their daughters, Alexandra 8, and Catherine, 5. The girls’ double bathroom was designed with their teenage years in mind.

“I just turned 40 and I never plan to move again,” Clark said. “We were really mindful of growing in this house.”

The first step in creating a net-zero house is insulation; less energy used means less must be generated. The Clarks’ contractors installed Icynene spray-foam insulation and energy-efficient Anderson 400 Series low-E windows.

Clark drilled five, 200-foot wells and put in a geothermal system for heating, cooling and hot water. He installed a Climate Master Trilogy 45 heat pump and a highly insulated iGate water tank.

Clark said he spent about $900 on LED light bulbs, whose light quality is comparable to traditional incandescent bulbs. LEDs cost 10 times more than traditional bulbs but use 1⁄10 the electricity and last 10 times longer.

The only incandescent bulbs in the house are on chandeliers that look better with “pretty” bulbs. And there are motion sensors in the girls’ playroom to turn lights on and off automatically.

Jamie Clark installed a super-insulated water heater that works off the geothermal system.

Clark installed a super-insulated water heater that works off the geothermal system.

“It makes a lot more sense to just conserve than to put more solar panels on the roof,” Clark said. “Back in February, when we hit minus 18, I was using less power than the microwave at Super America to heat my house.”

Clark installed new Energy Star-rated appliances. The only natural gas the house uses is for the kitchen stove, and Clark said his monthly meter fee is much higher than the cost of the gas.

To create electricity, Clark installed 20 solar panels on the back roof. They are on the Kentucky Utilities grid, so the house draws power on cloudy days and adds power on sunny days.

Clark wired the system for 40 panels and plans to add more if he needs them. “I’m trying to talk my wife into a Tesla (electric car), and if we do that then I’ll put 20 more panels up there for charging it,” said Clark, who drives a Toyota Prius.

Like other energy systems in the house, the solar panels aren’t visible. “The only place you can see them is if you stand at the back fence line,” he said.

The Clarks moved in last Thanksgiving, so it will be at least a few more months before they know if their house is net zero. Early results are encouraging. The electric bill in December, when there were only six days with more than six hours of sunshine, was $153. But the bills were $11 in March, $30 in April and $9 in May.

Clark did some of the work himself, and he has good contacts in the industry. For an average consumer working with a contractor, Clark’s energy-efficiency measures would cost about $50,000 more than conventional systems, adding about $200 a month to a 30-year mortgage.

“They will more than pay for themselves,” he said, adding that federal tax credits for solar and geothermal systems would reduce costs further.

Over time, savings will be even greater. Electricity costs in Kentucky typically double every decade, but as utilities move away from high-pollution coal, rates could rise more sharply.

“It’s a dream home, that’s for sure,” Clark said of the project that has made him and his wife happy. “It’s everything we wanted.”

A state-of-the-art geo-thermal heating and cooling unit in the basement is a big reason Jamie Clark's renovated house in Chevy Chase is close to net-zero energy usage over the course of the year.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

A state-of-the-art geo-thermal heating and cooling unit in the basement is a big reason Clark’s renovated house in Chevy Chase is close to net-zero energy usage over the course of the year.

Jamie Clark's wife wanted a "Southern Living" house, and the energy consultant and contractor wanted a super energy-efficient house. So his renovated house in Chevy Chase has both high style and almost no net energy use over the course of the year, thanks to solar panels, geo-thermal heating and cooling and high-level insulation. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Clark’s wife wanted a “Southern Living” house, and the energy consultant and contractor wanted a super energy-efficient house. So his renovated house in Chevy Chase has both high style and almost no net energy use over the course of the year, thanks to solar panels, geo-thermal heating and cooling and high-level insulation.


Sculptor seeks more statues of notable Kentucky women, minorities

July 25, 2015
Sculptor Amanda Matthews and her husband, sculptor Brad Connell, operate Prometheus Foundry on their farm outside Lexington. They posed in their studio with a commissioned statue of early Kentucky aviator Solomon Van Meter, the inventor of the backpack parachute, and a personal sculpture Matthews is creating.  Photo by Tom Eblen

Sculptor Amanda Matthews and her husband, sculptor Brad Connell, operate Prometheus Foundry on their farm outside Lexington. They posed in their studio with a commissioned statue of early Kentucky aviator Solomon Van Meter, the inventor of the backpack parachute, and a personal sculpture Matthews is creating. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

A bronze statue of Catherine Spalding, a Catholic nun who led the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in creating early schools, orphanages and hospitals in Kentucky, will be unveiled Sunday outside the Cathedral of the Assumption in Louisville.

It is the first public statue honoring a woman in Louisville, and one of only a few in Kentucky.

In the Capitol rotunda in Frankfort, there are no statues of women or minorities. There are statues of five white men there, although officials are discussing whether to evict Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

In 2010, Gov. Steve Beshear and the Kentucky Commission on Women announced a 10-year project to add two statues of women in the rotunda. The effort was to begin with a feasibility study.

But when Amanda Matthews checked on the progress of that study last year, she was disappointed. She decided to launch her own effort to show that statues of notable Kentucky women are feasible — and to start creating them.

Matthews, majority owner of Prometheus Foundry in Lexington, has formed the non-profit Artemis Initiative to sponsor creation of such statues for display in public spaces throughout the Commonwealth.

“Because of historical gender inequity, women’s history just doesn’t have the depth and breadth of men’s history,” Matthews said.

To help demonstrate feasibility, Matthews has created a model for a statue of education pioneer Nettie Depp. She was elected Barren County’s schools superintendent in 1913, seven years before women were allowed to vote.

Depp’s four years in office revolutionized that school system. She renovated schools and built new ones, created libraries, improved curricula and a tripled enrollment by aggressively enforcing truancy laws.

Sculptor Amanda Matthews' model for a statue of Nettie Depp. Photo by Tom Eblen

Sculptor Amanda Matthews’ model for a statue of Nettie Depp. Photo by Tom Eblen

She was one of 40 Kentucky women profiled in the film “Dreamers and Doers,” which Lexington filmmaker Michael Breeding produced this year for the Kentucky Commission on Women. It is now showing on Kentucky Educational Television.

Matthews said she chose Depp as her example because she had access to family photographs. Depp was her great-great aunt — a relationship she shares with actor Johnny Depp.

“But the entire idea behind the sculpture of Nettie Depp has very little to do with Nettie Depp,” Matthews said. “It has everything to do with me as a sculptor and us as a foundry showing people that it’s feasible to create statues of women.”

In studios at their small farm on Russell Cave Road, Matthews and her husband, sculptor Brad Connell, create their own work, cast other artists’ sculptures into finished bronzes and repair statues. They were recently in the news for restoring the bronze children on the James Lane Allen fountain in Gratz Park.

“Foundry work is a very male-dominated industry,” Matthews said. “It has not been without its challenges to be a female owner of a foundry.”

The Artemis Initiative, named for the goddess of ancient Greek mythology, has formed a board of directors and received non-profit tax status. Matthews said she soon hopes to get state approval to begin fundraising.

The organization’s goal is to fund proposals for creating public art in Kentucky that “elevates the status of women, children, minorities, nature and animals.” Matthews believes that public art creates conversations and that a broader representation in that art will lead to improvements in Kentucky society.

“So many under-represented groups of people have contributed to the rich history of Kentucky,” she said.

Kentucky has only a few public statues of notable women. Among them: Alice Lloyd, on the Knott County campus of the college named for her; riverboat pilot Mary B. Greene on the Riverwalk in Covington; Mary Draper Ingles, a pioneer woman who escaped Native American captivity, outside the Boone County Public Library in Burlington; and educator Elizabeth Rogers in a Berea park.

There are many Kentucky artists capable of producing this work. For example, there are two noted Louisville sculptors: Ed Hamilton, famous for his statues of great African Americans; and Raymond Graf, who created the Spalding and Lloyd statues.

Matthews emphasizes that she isn’t pushing for a memorial to her relative; it is just an example of what can be done.

“My involvement has only been to say that there are people in Kentucky, like myself, and there are businesses in Kentucky, like Prometheus Foundry, who can absolutely make this happen.”


Two Lexington food entrepreneurs share their secrets to success

July 19, 2015

When I first wrote about Ilias Pappas and Lesme Romero several years ago, they had a lot in common. Both were 30-something immigrants, former chefs and new food entrepreneurs with a passion to succeed.

Since then, their businesses have grown well beyond expectations. Both recently opened new restaurants and have more projects in mind.

So I thought this would be a good time to check back with them and ask what advice they have for other food entrepreneurs. As it turns out, their advice has a lot in common, too.

Many people dream of opening a restaurant or food business. But it is a lot harder than it looks. Many open and most of them close, despite their owners’ passion and hard work. How have these guys succeeded when so many others have failed?

First, a little about them.

Ilias Pappas of Athenian Grill started with a food truck and how owns two restaurants, a catering business and manages two Kroger food kiosks and will soon be opening the cafe at Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate. Photo by Tom Eblen

Ilias Pappas of Athenian Grill started with a food truck and how owns two restaurants, a catering business and manages two Kroger food kiosks and will soon be opening the cafe at Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate. Photo by Tom Eblen

Pappas, 35, came to Lexington from Lamia, Greece, to attend college. After transferring to Florida International University, he worked in several Miami restaurants. His aunt and uncle, George and Louiza Ouraniou, lived in Lexington, and they made and sold Greek food on the side.

When his uncle was killed in a car wreck in 2011, Pappas moved back to Lexington to help his aunt. The next year, he started the Athenian Grill food cart, serving homemade Greek specialties at local brewpubs and Thursday Night Live.

Pappas was part of Lexington’s first wave of food trucks. I wrote about him in May 2013, when he became one of the first to transition his cart into a sit-down restaurant. He opened Athenian Grill in what was originally a two-car garage at 313 South Ashland Ave., and it has flourished.

On May 13, Pappas added a much larger Athenian Grill restaurant at 115 North Locust Hill Drive. He bought La Petite Creperie to open kiosks at two new Kroger stores on Euclid Avenue and, this week, in Versailles.

He continues to do a lot of catering, as well as an occasional food truck gig for the brewpubs that helped him get started. He now has about 30 employees, most of them full-time.

In addition, Pappas has agreed to open a 600-square-foot Greek rotisserie food stand late next year in the Summit shopping center under construction at Nicholasville Road and Man O’ War Boulevard. And he said he has been approached by franchisers interested in taking his concepts to other cities in the region.

Lesme Romero began Lexington Pasta with his business partner, Reinaldo Gonzalez, in a former one-car garage on North Limestone Street. After building a large wholesale business in fresh pasta, Romero recently opened Pasta Garage, a fresh fast-food Italian concept they hope to expand. Photo by Tom Eblen

Lesme Romero began Lexington Pasta with his business partner, Reinaldo Gonzalez, in a former one-car garage on North Limestone Street. After building a large wholesale business in fresh pasta, Romero recently opened Pasta Garage, a fresh fast-food Italian concept they hope to expand. Photo by Tom Eblen

Like Pappas, Romero and his business partner, Reinaldo Gonzalez, started their business in a former garage.

Both had grown up in South America with Spanish fathers and Italian mothers. They became friends at college in Cleveland and worked in Italian restaurants there. Gonzales eventually became an industrial engineer in Lexington, while Romero worked in finance in Florida.

Through their shared love of fresh pasta, they saw a business opportunity. They started Lexington Pasta in a small garage at 227 North Limestone in 2009, selling fresh pasta there, at the Lexington Farmers’ Market, in markets and restaurants.

In addition to retail sales, they developed a regional wholesale pasta business and outgrew the garage. So they leased an 8,000-square-food building at 962 Delaware Ave. in 2013 and renovated it into a production kitchen with room for growth.

The low profit margins of wholesale pasta led them to decide to create a restaurant concept. Three weeks ago, Romero, who now manages the business, opened Pasta Garage in the front of the building.

The fast-casual concept serves made-to-order pasta bowls for lunch six days a week. Business has been so good, he already is looking to expand the dining room and add evening and Sunday hours.

Future plans call for Pasta Garages in the Hamburg and Beaumont areas, as well as behind the original Limestone garage, which they plan to convert into an Italian market later this year. They also have been approached by regional franchisers. Lexington Pasta now has five employees.

Pappas and Romero say several things contributed to their success:

Their food concepts were new to Lexington, and their timing was right. They started small and grew in phases by providing high-quality food with fresh ingredients and building relationships with business partners, customers and peers.

Both businesses developed a close partnership with Alt32, a Lexington architecture and design firm that created their restaurant interiors.

Romero and Pappas have become friends and advisers to each other. They also are part of a network of local food entrepreneurs who share ideas and learn from one another.

Both men say they are their own worst critics. They listen to customers and are constantly looking for ways to improve. They value customer relationships more than short-term sales. Those relationships contributed to successful online fundraising drives to help them raise expansion capital.

“Every customer needs to understand you are there for them,” Pappas said, adding that the same goes for employees. “I want to hire people who know that if this business does well, they will do well.”

Both Romero and Pappas work constantly, but they know they can’t do it forever. That is why they hire good people and trust them.

Pappas, who married June 20, said delegating responsibility isn’t just about work-life balance; it is about being smarter in business. “You should not be making important decisions at 1 a.m. when you’re exhausted and beat-up,” he said.

Romero and Pappas said their work is more about self-fulfillment than money. But successful food entrepreneurs must love both food and business — one or the other isn’t enough. And they must stay focused on achieving their vision.

“You will have your ups and downs,” Romero said. “Just make sure you work for what you believe in.”


Kentucky priest thankful for Pope Francis’ environmental message

July 18, 2015
Father Al Fritsch, a Jesuit priest with a doctorate in chemistry and a long history of environmental activism, stands on the porch of the rectory at St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Ravenna. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Father Al Fritsch, a Jesuit priest with a doctorate in chemistry and a long history of environmental activism, on the porch of the rectory at St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Ravenna. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

RAVENNA — Pope Francis’ pronouncements about the immorality of social injustice and environmental degradation have rattled economic conservatives worldwide, and nowhere more than in King Coal’s Appalachia.

But the message isn’t new for Catholics in some parts of Kentucky, where Albert Fritsch — Jesuit priest, scientist and activist — has been writing, preaching and teaching for nearly four decades.

“I call myself a true conservative,” Fritsch, 81, said when I visited him at his home beside St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Estill County. “I am fiscally and socially conservative.”

But the jovial minister with a shock of white hair, who most people call Father Al, has always been a critic of economic conservatism. Now, he has some powerful backup.

Pope Francis, the Argentine cardinal elected pope in March 2013, issued an encyclical, or statement of church doctrine, last month that sharply criticized capitalism, consumerism, pollution and denial of human-induced climate change.

These are not political issues, the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics said, but moral and religious issues. Christians must start behaving differently, he said, or risk destroying the Earth.

Father Al Fritch, a Jesuit priest with a doctorate in chemistry and a long history of environmental activism, stands on the porch of the rectory at St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Ravenna. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

I thought this would be a good time to visit Fritsch. As expected, he is pleased with Pope Francis’ leadership. “What he says is, to me, great stuff,” he said. “We need him in this age very badly.”

Fritsch said his interest in the environment began on his family’s farm near Maysville, where his father grew their food and cared for the land. His love of nature led him to science.

Fritsch earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Xavier University and a Ph.D. in chemistry at Fordham. He did post-doctorate research at the University of Texas.

But Fritsch became disillusioned that advances in chemistry were being used and abused for corporate profit. He went back to school to become a priest, studying theology at Bellarmine and Loyola universities.

Fritsch threw himself into advocacy, first as a science adviser with Ralph Nader’s Center for the Study of Responsive Law and then, in 1971, as a co-founder and co-director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C.

By 1977, Fritsch decided he could have more impact in Kentucky. He moved to Mount Vernon and started Appalachia Science in the Public Interest, which focused on environmental issues.

Since 2002, Fritsch has ministered to Catholic congregations in Frankfort, Somerset and, currently, Ravenna and Stanton. But half his time is still spent on environmental work through his non-profit Earth Healing Inc.

He has authored or contributed to dozens of books and articles. Berea College Special Collections recently came to get his personal papers for preservation.

Fritsch writes daily reflections and records videos for his website, Earthhealing.info. His website manager thinks that Francis, before his election as pope, was among Fritsch’s online readers.

laudato-si400-255x363By focusing on wealth and its moral consequences, the Pope has made a lot of powerful people nervous. “The system that we have today, the capitalistic system as such, is really a state religion,” Fritsch said.

Pope Francis’ message is especially tough to hear in Kentucky, where the coal industry has a big influence in politics and the economy.

“A lot of Catholics are not taking this too well,” Fritsch said. “So many of them are committed to their way of life. One fellow got up and called me a communist and walked out.”

The man came back, Fritsch said, and asked him to lead a series of congregational meetings to discuss the encyclical. They begin next month.

Fritsch said one of the things that frustrates him most is that environmentalism has been politicized.

“When I started in environmental work in 1970, both Democrats and Republicans were in favor of the environment,” he said, noting that Republican Richard Nixon presided over creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. “Only after Reagan and with time did it become a partisan issue.”

The real issue is money, which is why Fritsch thinks politicians in both parties and institutions that depend on corporate money are dragging their feet. Renewable energy threatens investments in fossil fuels.

The Pope’s encyclical doesn’t offer solutions. Rather, Fritsch said, it calls for society to change and for people to frankly discuss these problems and seek solutions.

“We need to do a lot of talking in Kentucky,” he said. “This is a new frontier in theology, that we have a duty to save an earth that is threatened with destruction. Our grandparents didn’t have this. It’s a secular thing, but it’s also deeply religious.”

The biggest challenge, Fritsch thinks, is that the pace of climate change leaves us no time to waste.

“Things are changing, and we’ve got to be prepared for these changes,” he said. “I think that’s what Pope Francis is trying to say. And I think people are listening, because there’s a whole world out there that knows something is deeply wrong.”


Renovating old market helps new owner discover her family history

July 12, 2015
Workers renovated the circa 1894 addition to the Buchignani Meat Market. The builder's great-granddaughter, Mary Ginocchio, recently bought the building across from her Mulberry & Lime shop and is having it renovated for commercial space.  Photos by Tom Eblen

Workers renovated the circa 1894 addition to the Buchignani Meat Market. The builder’s great-granddaughter, Mary Ginocchio, recently bought the building across from her Mulberry & Lime shop and is having it renovated for commercial space. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

Mary Ginocchio recently bought an old commercial building across North Limestone from her house and home furnishings boutique. After a major renovation, she hopes to lease the first floor to restaurants and rent out the two apartments above.

But this project is much more than a real estate investment. It is restoring a key piece of her family’s history.

Ginocchio bought the building for $300,000 in May from Charles Whittington, whose family had owned it since 1986. Whittington operated a used bookstore there for years and lived above the shop.

Ginocchio hopes to spend no more than that on the renovation, which is being led by contractors Dudley Burke and Mica Puscas; Puscas is also finding new homes for tens of thousands of books that were left behind.

“There’s work to be done everywhere,” she said. “But they’ve gotten so much done in just a month. I’m conservative with my money, but I’m getting over it quick.”

Martin Ginocchio and his daughter, Mary, stand in the doorway of what was originally the Buchagnani Meat Market.

Martin Ginocchio and his daughter, Mary, stand in the doorway of what was the Buchagnani Meat Market.

Ginocchio will have an open house from 1 to 4 p.m. July 26 to show off the renovation in progress. The contractors are trying to save as much historic fabric as possible — from pine floors and woodwork to the tin ceiling on the main floor.

The building dates to 1887, when the first section was constructed for Ginocchio’s great- grandfather, Hannibal Buchignani. His meat market had outgrown its previous location on South Broadway. (A large 1880s photo of that shop hangs in Spalding’s Bakery on Winchester Road.)

Buchignani came to the United States from Italy as a child. When he grew up, he decided to move to California. On his way there, he stopped to see a friend in Lexington who persuaded him that this would be a good place to start a business and raise a family.

Buchignani’s grocery prospered. In 1894, he built an addition, part of which housed a bicycle shop. He was one of Lexington’s first bicycle enthusiasts, and Ginocchio said he asked several manufacturers to make a triple bicycle for his sons, Hugo, Leo and John.

“They wouldn’t do it, so he built it himself,” she said. “We still have the frame in the basement.”

Buchignani never lost his childhood desire to live in California. So, in 1905, the family sold its furniture (but kept its Lexington real estate) and moved to San Francisco. They arrived six months before the famous 1906 earthquake devastated the city and left them living in a tent in a park.

According to family lore, one of Buchignani’s sons asked: “Papa, what are we going to do?”

“We’re going to take the first train back to Lexington,” he replied.

Three years after reopening his market, Buchignani bought the mansion across the street when it went up for auction. It was built about 1818 as the home of Matthew Kennedy, Kentucky’s first professional architect.

Ginocchio now lives in the back of the Matthew Kennedy House. She uses the front rooms for her Mulberry & Lime home furnishings shop. The mansion also houses the office of interior designer Anna Marie Lewis, who is helping with the renovation.

Next door is a modest house built in 1813 by Kennedy and his business partner, John Brand. It was moved down Constitution Street years ago to prevent its demolition, and it is now the home of her father, retired architect Martin Ginocchio.

When he was young, his father, Louis Ginocchio, ran The Tavern on South Limestone, where Two Keys Tavern is now. His grandfather died 16 years before he was born in 1931, but Ginocchio recalls many visits to the meat market run by his uncles, John and Hugo, a short trolley ride up Limestone.

“I remember this structure from way back, the smells and everything,” he said. “All the produce was in large, tall baskets. There were cookies in big cans with glass tops. There was a refrigerated room where my uncles would hang whole sides of beef to age.”

At Christmas, the uncles had special Italian candy to give him when he visited.

The Buchignanis’ market shared its building with other businesses over the years, including an ice cream shop, a confectioner, a shoemaker and an electrician. The meat market closed in the 1960s, and the building was sold out of the family.

Buying and renovating the meat market has prompted the Ginocchios to look for old photographs and talk more about their family history, memories and relics. A glass-topped cookie can and tall basket have been around the house forever, but Mary Ginocchio didn’t realize where they came from.

“I didn’t think I would be that attached to the building,” she said. “But I am now.”

If you go

Buchignani Meat Market sneak preview

What: See renovation in progress

When: 1-4 p.m. Sunday, July 26

Where: 215-219 N. Limestone

Cost: Free, but donations accepted for the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation

More information: (859) 231-0800 or Mulberryandlime.com

A worker in the 1894 addition to the Buchignani Meat Market, which once housed a bicycle shop. Mary Ginocchio, whose great grandfather Hannibal Buchignani built the building, recently bought it and is having it restored for use as commercial space.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

A worker in the 1894 addition to the Buchignani Meat Market, which once housed a bicycle shop.

Martin Ginocchio and his daughter, Mary Ginocchio, looked through the remains of a bookstore that operated in the old Buchagnani Meat Market until about 1996. The building's downstairs has been unused since then. Their ancestor, Hannibal Buchignani, built the commercial building about 1887, adding an addition about 1894. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Martin Ginocchio and his daughter, Mary Ginocchio, looked through the remains of a bookstore that operated in the old Buchagnani Meat Market.

Martin Ginocchio and his daughter, Mary Ginocchio, looked through the remains of a bookstore that operated in the old Buchagnani Meat Market until about 1996. The building's downstairs has been unused since then. Their ancestor, Hannibal Buchignani, built the commercial building about 1887, adding an addition about 1894. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Martin Ginocchio and his daughter, Mary Ginocchio, looked through the remains of a bookstore that operated in the old Buchagnani Meat Market.

Apartments above the Buchignani Meat Market are being remodeled into two rental units, which include natural light from two skylights in the roof.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Apartments above the Buchignani Meat Market are being remodeled into two rental units, which include natural light from two skylights in the roof.

Apartments above the Buchignani Meat Market are being remodeled into two rental units, which include natural light from two skylights in the roof.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Apartments above the Buchignani Meat Market are being remodeled into two rental units.

The two apartments over the old Buchignani Meat Market on North Limestone Street overlook owner Mary Ginocchio's Mulberry & Lime shop. It is housed in the circa 1818 mansion where Kentucky's first professional architect, Matthew Kennedy, lived. Ginocchio's great-grandfather, meat market owner Hannibal Buchignani, bought the house at auction in 1909 and it has been in the family ever since.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

The two apartments over the old Buchignani Meat Market on North Limestone Street overlook owner Mary Ginocchio’s Mulberry & Lime shop. It is housed in the circa 1818 mansion where Kentucky’s first professional architect, Matthew Kennedy, lived. Ginocchio’s great-grandfather, meat market owner Hannibal Buchignani, bought the house at auction in 1909 and it has been in the family ever since.

Hannibal Buchignani built the right side of this commercial building on North Limestone Street for his meat market about 1887 and added the left side about 1894. The street-level space has gone unused since a bookstore there closed in 1996. Buchignani's great-granddaughter, Mary Ginocchio, recently bought the building and is renovating it for commercial space.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Hannibal Buchignani built the right side of this commercial building on North Limestone Street for his meat market about 1887 and added the left side about 1894.

The Buchignani Meat Market is shown in this 1921 photo by Lexington real estate agent Asa Chinn, whose documented the city's downtown streetscape that year.  Photo provided

The Buchignani Meat Market is shown in this 1921 photo by Lexington real estate agent Asa Chinn, whose documented the city’s downtown streetscape that year. Photo provided


Efforts to move, repurpose People’s Bank building are getting close

July 11, 2015
People's Bank on South Broadway must be moved or it will be demolished to make way for a 12-screen movie theater. Photo by Tom Eblen

People’s Bank on South Broadway must be moved or it will be demolished to make way for a 12-screen movie theater. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

The former Peoples Bank building, with its zig-zag roof and walls of glazed turquoise tile,seems to have captured people’s imaginations.

Fans of the Mid-Century Modern structure are within $75,000 of the $850,000 in cash and in-kind services they need by July 30 to save it from demolition by moving it off the South Broadway site where it was built in 1962.

“We’re in the home stretch,” said Laurel Catto, board chair of the Warwick Foundation, which plans to renovate the building into the People’s Portal, a public space for promoting cross-cultural understanding.

The building is owned by Langley Properties, which has agreed to donate it to the foundation if it can be relocated. Otherwise, Peoples Bank is slated for demolition to make way for a 12-screen movie theater.

One piece of the puzzle could fall into place July 17, when the Lexington Center board votes on whether to allow the building to be moved to the corner of West High and Patterson streets at the far front end of the Rupp Arena parking lot. The board also will consider putting $150,000 toward site preparation.

Plans call for much of that surface parking lot to be redeveloped eventually, and the Peoples Bank building would make a nice transition in scale from large, new structures to the historic Woodward Heights neighborhood to the west.

The Warwick Foundation, created from the estate of the Lexington-born architectural historian Clay Lancaster, has pledged $300,000 toward the Peoples Bank relocation and renovation.

Most of that came from a $250,000 grant the foundation must raise money to match. So far, it has raised all but $75,000 of the match. The most recent major donation, $30,000, came from the Josephine Ardery Foundation in Paris, which promotes historic preservation.

The Urban County Council has appropriated $150,000 for the project. The Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation also has been active. More than $11,000 has been raised in small donations, Catto said. To give, go to: Warwickfoundation.org.

To help with fundraising, Langley Properties will allow the foundation to give tours of the building from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on July 18, the first time it has been open to the public in years. Tours cost $20 each, with all proceeds going toward the building fund. More information: Facebook.com @People for the Peoples.

The planned new use for the building is something Lexington needs and Lancaster, who died in 2000 at age 83, would have loved, Catto said.

“Everybody knows Clay Lancaster as an architectural historian and preservation pioneer, and he was,” Catto said. “But he did an enormous amount of work in cross-cultural and inter-religious study. And he considered that his most important work. So it has always been baked into the Warwick mission.”

Plans call for the People’s Portal to be a public space for lectures, art exhibits, films and other events centered around promoting community values of respect, compassion, understanding and inclusion.

“You can’t pick up a newspaper today or hear the news without understanding the importance of that message,” she said.

The foundation has formed a high-profile advisory board for the People’s Portal, co-chaired by former Kentucky first lady Libby Jones and architect Tom Cheek.

Among the initiatives Catto would like to see the People’s Portal involved with is helping Lexington become a signatory to the Charter for Compassion, which has been signed by 62 cities worldwide, including Louisville and Cincinnati, and is in process with more than 200 others.

Also, she said, the People’s Portal could become an outpost for the Festival of Faiths, a 20-year-old event held in Louisville each May.

Catto thinks this building, designed by Lexington architect Charles Bayless for the People’s Federal Savings and Loan Association, is a perfect structure for this use. Modernist design has become especially popular among young adults.

“Young people have really engaged with preservation in a big way over this building,” she said. “It resonates with them, much like the Hunt-Morgan House and other Antebellum buildings did with adults in the 1950s.”


Like minimum wage increase, new overtime rule long overdue

July 5, 2015

Hard work should pay off. That belief is at the heart of the American dream.

It also is why the U.S. Labor Department’s plan to make more salaried workers eligible for overtime pay is good news for both workers and the overall economy.

Like an increase in the minimum wage, it is long overdue.

Since 1938, federal law has required hourly workers to be paid time-and-a-half for each hour worked beyond 40 hours per week. There is an exception for managers and professionals, who are presumed to get good pay in return for more flexibility and, often, longer work weeks.

But here’s the problem: the salary level at which that exemption kicks in has been increased only once in 40 years.

In 1975, more than 60 percent of salaried workers were eligible for overtime pay. Because of inflation, that figure has fallen to 8 percent, according to a recent analysis by the Economic Policy Institute.

As a result, salaried “managers” who earn as little as $23,660 a year often work many extra hours for no extra pay. Some end up earning less per hour than the hourly employees they manage. This happens most often in retail and service industries, such as fast food.

This antiquated threshold salary of $23,660 is below the poverty line for a family of four, which is now set at $24,250. As a result, some of these managers are eligible for public assistance, which means taxpayers are directly subsidizing business profits. That makes no sense.

President Barack Obama last year told the Labor Department to review the overtime rule. That resulted in a proposal, announced last week, to raise the salary threshold for workers exempt from overtime next year to $50,440, returning it to roughly the 1975 level, accounting for inflation.

The new rule calls for that threshold to rise over time with inflation, linking it to the 40th percentile of income, which is where it was when the Fair Labor Standards Act became law in 1938.

The White House says the rule change would increase pay for nearly 5 million workers in the first year, 56 percent of whom are women and 53 percent of whom have a college degree.

The president’s action, which does not require the approval of Congress, has drawn howls from business interests and the politicians who receive their campaign contributions and loyally push their agendas.

As with almost every regulation Obama has proposed to help average workers, expand health insurance coverage and clean up the environment, these politicians argue that it will “kill jobs” and hurt the economy. In fact, the opposite is true.

Under this rule, if businesses don’t want to pay overtime to low-salaried managers, they can hire more hourly workers at straight time. That also would give those managers more time for a second job to supplement their income or spend time with their families, as they choose.

Opponents argue that businesses can’t afford to pay workers more, that this isn’t a good time. Have you ever known them to say anything else?

The United States has had 63 straight months of job growth, with businesses creating more than 12.5 million jobs. The Labor Department reported Friday that 223,000 jobs were created in June and the unemployment level fell to a seven-year low of 5.3 percent.

But the problem is that, for nearly four decades, wages have not kept pace with improvements in worker productivity. They haven’t even come close. Middle-class pay has stagnated and been eroded by inflation.

Meanwhile, stock prices are near all-time highs. Executive compensation has soared into the stratosphere. And corporate profits have roughly doubled over the past three decades, rising from 6 percent to 12 percent of gross domestic product.

A recent study found that 90 percent of income growth since 2009 has gone to the richest 10 percent of families.

Why has recovery from an economic crash caused mostly by financial speculation been so slow and uneven? Here is a big reason: consumer spending is the largest driver of the economy, and most people don’t have much extra money to spend.

Like a minimum wage increase, this would help fix that problem and show average Americans that hard work does pay off.


Entrepreneur thinks he has a new angle for office furniture

June 21, 2015

Lexington software developer Wayne Yeager has spent a lot of time sitting in front of computers since he got his first one, a primitive Radio Shack TRS-80, at age 11.

“Thirty five years or so,” he said. “That’s a lot of sitting.”

Yeager knew studies have shown that sitting for long periods is unhealthy. It also became painful, so he looked for alternatives.

“I thought, I’ve got to get a standing desk; all the cool kids are getting them,” he said. “It was awful. I lasted about an hour.”

He tried sitting on a balance ball. Then he tried a standing desk with a treadmill, but found it hard to walk and concentrate on writing code at the same time.

Wayne Yeager demonstrates the LeanChair in his garage workshop. Photo by Tom Eblen

Wayne Yeager demonstrates the LeanChair in his garage workshop. Photo by Tom Eblen

“Then I saw where Hollywood actresses used to use these leaning boards between takes so they wouldn’t mess up their costumes,” he said. “I thought, that’s not a bad idea. I wonder if I can get any work done while doing that?”

After two years of tinkering, Yeager, 49, soon hopes to begin production of the LeanChair he designed. A user stands on an angled platform while leaning back and resting against a padded back and seat, which Yeager says takes about 25 percent of weight off the feet.

The pads are supported by two bent steel pipes with some spring. At arm level is a small, swing-out desk for a computer keyboard, mouse or writing pad. Yeager has his computer monitor on an adjacent standing desk at eye level.

The angle of lean is one of many things Yeager keeps experimenting with in prototypes he has made for himself and friends. So far, he hasn’t consulted with ergonomic experts.

“I have read three ergonomics textbooks, but that does not an expert make,” he acknowledged. “I am the world’s first guinea pig on this. I’ve been doing it for hours a day for a couple of years.”

Yeager launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $25,000 to begin manufacturing the chairs, which he plans to sell through his website, LeanChair.com. He reached his 30-day fundraising goal in a week, but is still accepting backers. (More information: Kickstarter.com and search for “LeanChair”.)

Some of Yeager’s backers are friends from Lexington and Salvisa, his hometown in Mercer County. He also has promoted the campaign on social media, which paid off when the technology website Gizmag.com noticed and wrote about it.

Among Yeager’s early backers was Warren Nash, director of the Lexington office of the Kentucky Innovation Network at the University of Kentucky’s Gatton College of Business and Economics.

Nash saw the LeanChair campaign on LinkedIn and was intrigued. He said he knows Yeager, but he isn’t a client.

“I always try to back entrepreneurs in the community,” Nash said. “In this case, it hit home because I’ve got a back problem and I’ve been looking for a solution. I liked that he knows the problem he’s trying to solve and has done a lot of customer validation. I think he’s on to something.”

Yeager’s biggest challenges may be how to scale up manufacturing to meet demand and lower costs, and how to make the LeanChair adjustable and customizable to meet a variety of customers’ needs, Nash said.

Yeager, who said he has started and sold several small technology companies, plans to use his Kickstarter funding to buy more tools and supplies. He joined Kre8Now Makerspace, a shared membership workshop that opened recently at 903 Manchester St., and plans to work from there.

He is getting help from his wife, Karen, a Lexmark retiree with a master’s degree in manufacturing engineering. He also plans to outsource some aspects of production.

“I don’t know anything about upholstery or esthetics,” he said, noting that prototypes so far have used backs scavenged from office chairs.

Yeager wants to keep tweaking the design even after he begins manufacturing. In addition to experimenting with angles, he wants to look at padding, lumbar support and knee rests. He also wants to make the chair lighter so it can be more easily moved. He is taking advance orders for LeanChairs online, at $295 each.

“I imagine most of the users are going to be computer desk jockeys,” he said. But anyone who spends hours at a desk could be a customer.

“Robots haven’t replaced us yet,” Yeager said. “We still have to find a comfortable way to get work done.”


Chattanooga offers good lessons for Lexington’s downtown

June 16, 2015
In one of Chattanooga's most ambitious recent adaptive reuse projects, a former movie theater was transformed into The Block. The theater's garage is now faced with a 5,000-square-foot climbing wall, one of the nation's largest. The $6.5 million project is one of many that has transformed downtown Chattanooga from decay into a popular destination for both residents and tourists. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

A former movie theater has been transformed into The Block. The theater’s garage is now faced with a 5,000-square-foot climbing wall. The $6.5 million project is one of many that has transformed downtown Chattanooga from decay into a popular destination. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

Downtown has made a lot of progress in recent years. But when I travel to other cities in the region, I realize how much further and faster Lexington needs to go.

Each June, I meet more than a dozen friends from Lexington and Atlanta somewhere in between for a week of bicycling. We look for a place with scenic, bicycle-friendly rural roads, not far from an urban center with great restaurants and interesting places to visit after each day’s ride.

I was impressed two years ago with Asheville, N.C. I was even more impressed last year by Knoxville, Tenn., whose downtown has improved dramatically since I lived there in the 1980s. This year’s destination was Chattanooga.

Lookout Mountain has been a tourist attraction since the Civil War, but Chattanooga’s downtown was long known for industrial grime and urban decay. In the 1960s, it was one of America’s most-polluted cities.

Boy, has that changed. Outside magazine readers recently voted Chattanooga as America’s Best Town.

Since 2002, a $120 million effort called the 21st Century Waterfront Plan has transformed the city’s once-derelict riverfront into a local amenity and tourist destination. That, in turn, has attracted private construction, new business and jobs.

Chattanooga is a great example of the concept that smart public infrastructure investment attracts private capital. It’s the same idea behind Town Branch Commons, the proposed linear park through downtown Lexington.

The waterfront plan helped prompt Chattanooga’s Hunter Museum of American Art to invest in a $22 million expansion. The Hunter is an excellent museum, and its prominent spot on a downtown bluff makes it easy to visit, unlike Lexington’s good but well-hidden University of Kentucky and Headley-Whitney art museums.

The Hunter is one of Chattanooga’s many examples of historic buildings being restored and adapted for new uses. The original portion of the museum is housed in a 1905 Classic Revival mansion, which since 2005 has adjoined a beautiful piece of contemporary architecture.

Another example is the Walnut Street Bridge, a 2,376-foot steel truss span built in 1890 and closed to vehicular traffic in 1978. After 15 years of neglect, it was converted into a pedestrian bridge that has become a popular gathering place.

Like the Old Courthouse in Lexington, it might have been easier and cheaper to just tear down the bridge rather than restore it and find a creative new use for it. But it is obvious now that Chattanooga made the right choice.

Chattanooga’s most famous example of historic preservation and adaptive reuse is Terminal Station, the 1908 Beaux Arts train depot that in the 1970s was converted into the Chattanooga Choo Choo, a hotel and convention center.

The Choo Choo struggled over the years, but as surrounding old buildings have been converted into trendy restaurants and shops, the area is coming back to life. An $8 million project is underway to restore the rest of the old depot and create more commercial space.

One of Chattanooga’s newest adaptive-reuse projects is The Block, near the Tennessee Aquarium. The $6.5 million project transformed the old Bijou Theater into a fitness and climbing complex. The cinema’s renovated parking garage is now faced with a 5,000-square-foot climbing wall that is both an eye-catching piece of architecture and a popular tourist destination.

Some of Chattanooga’s most important new public infrastructure isn’t visible. In 2008, the city-owned electric utility defied the cable-company monopoly and installed a gigabit broadband system that has attracted high-tech jobs.

Chattanooga’s population is a little more than half that of Lexington (168,000 vs. 310,000), although its metro area is a bit larger (528,000 vs. 473,000). But Tennessee’s fourth-largest city offers Lexington some great examples of how public-private partnerships can invest wisely in infrastructure that can attract economic development.

Chattanooga set a clear vision: Clean up the environment; showcase natural amenities, such as the Tennessee River; preserve history and local culture; encourage outstanding contemporary architecture; make it easy for people to live and work downtown; promote outdoor activity; and invest in beauty and public art.

Meanwhile, back in Lexington, last week marked six months since the Webb Companies had two giant tower cranes installed at CentrePointe, where they have done nothing toward turning the block-square pit into an underground garage.

The Hunter Museum of American Art is a prominent downtown destination in Chattanooga, perched on a bluff above the Tennessee River. Originally located in Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

The Hunter Museum of American Art is a prominent downtown destination.

Moccasin Bend of the Tennessee River, as seen from Lookout Mountain, with Chattanooga to the right. While Lookout Mountain has been a tourist attraction since after the Civil War, Chattanooga has made substantial improvements to its downtown in recent decades, making it popular with both residents and tourists.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Moccasin Bend of the Tennessee River, as seen from Lookout Mountain, with Chattanooga to the right. While Lookout Mountain has been a tourist attraction since after the Civil War, Chattanooga has made substantial improvements to its downtown in recent decades.


Third-generation Lexington clothier Carl Meyers expands his shop

June 7, 2015
Carl Meyers, whose family has been a clothing retailer in Lexington since 1920, is expanding his upscale women's wear shop on Clay Street.   Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Carl Meyers, whose family has been a clothing retailer in Lexington since 1920, is expanding his upscale women’s wear shop on Clay Street. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

Every time Carl Meyers thinks he is retiring from the clothing business, a new opportunity comes up.

That’s what happened five years ago when Meyers, 63, moved back from New York and opened what he planned as a temporary shop at 111 Clay Ave. for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

Instead of closing at the end of the Games, the shop became Carl Meyers Sophisticated Style for Ladies. He just finished doubling the shop’s size and will celebrate with an open house from 4 to 8 p.m. June 11.

“I just can’t seem to stop,” Meyers said. “I’ve always had retail in me.”

His grandfather, Emanuel Meyers, was one of 11 sons of a Louisville vest tailor. In 1920, he and his brother Edward moved to Lexington to sell World War I Army surplus from a store on North Mill Street.

Much of their business was selling surplus khaki pants and boots to horse farmers. Through that, they got to know a lot of saddle horse people and eventually began making and selling custom riding apparel.

From 1938 to 1967, Meyers’ was on West Main Street beside Purcell’s department store. Carl Meyers’ parents, Marvin and Sydelle, burnished the brand with fine men’s and women’s clothing. In 1967, the store moved further east on Main Street, to the corner of what is now Martin Luther King Boulevard.

“They had just terrific taste,” Meyers said. “My mother ran the designer department and my father was the menswear guy.”

From childhood, Meyers seemed destined to be a retailer.

“I was ‘selling’ out of my mother’s attic when I was like 6 years old,” he said. “I had a little store with a little cash register up there. All of our friends would come up and ‘buy’ something.”

A few years later, Meyers started hanging around the riding apparel tailors at the Main Street store, learning about sewing, patterns and suit construction. After earning a fine arts degree at Boston University, Meyers joined the business.

“Then downtown kind of went bust,” he said, as retailers went out of business or moved to the new suburban shopping malls.

Meyers’ opened stores in Fayette and Lexington malls, but the changing business landscape doomed them. The downtown store closed in 1982 and the mall stores followed two years later.

Carl Meyers then refocused on custom riding apparel from a shop he ran for two decades on Walton Avenue, later moving to Romany Road. His flair for adding style to traditional riding “habits” earned him an international clientele.

In 2007, Meyers decided to mostly retire. He moved to New York for three years to oversee the riding apparel factory and enjoy big-city life.

“When I was in New York, I worked with a lot of young designers who would come in and get their samples made through me,” he said. “I really enjoyed it a lot, but I wasn’t making a whole lot of money.”

He started a short-lived menswear line with Crittenden Rawlings, a Kentuckian who had been president of Oxxford Clothes, a prestigious men’s suit label. (Rawlings now has his own menswear line, which he sells at his store in Midway and at more than 40 other retailers around the country.)

Meyers eventually sold the factory to his former employees and moved back to Lexington to help care for his elderly mother, who died in 2013.

“I thought I had retired,” he said, but the store he opened for the Equestrian Games attracted a following. “The women I was dealing with liked what we were doing.”

Meyers soon started adding dresses to his sportswear lines. With the expansion, he will carry more designer clothing and add shoes and furs.

Clothing trends keep getting more casual. “But when people get dressed up today, they really want to do it right, like for Derby and other occasions,” he said. “That’s where we’re finding the growth in the business.”

At this point, Meyers has no plans to retire again. In fact, with his non-compete agreement up soon, he is thinking about getting back into riding apparel — so long as he doesn’t have to travel the horse show circuit again.

“I signed a five-year lease with another five year option, so we’ll see how it goes,” he said. “And there’s an upstairs here.”

 

Meyers' clothing store was at this Main Street location in Lexington from 1938 to 1967. Photo provided

Meyers’ clothing store was at this Main Street location in Lexington from 1938 to 1967.


Historical Frankfort church, once threatened, is saved for a new role

June 6, 2015
Developer Joe Dunn has renovated the former Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Frankfort, which was built in 1850, for event space. The work included fixing water-damaged brick and plaster and refinishing the original heart-pine floors.    Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Developer Joe Dunn has renovated the former Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Frankfort, which was built in 1850, for event space. The work included fixing water-damaged brick and plaster and refinishing the original heart-pine floors. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

FRANKFORT — When Good Shepherd Catholic Church and School moved to a new suburban campus in 2011, many people worried about what would happen to its former site, a downtown landmark since before the Civil War.

First, the old church was in the way of construction for the Franklin County Judicial Center, which took out the school gymnasium next door. In the end, the church wasn’t harmed, but the Judicial Center wrapped it on two sides.

Then there was a lack of maintenance. Water seeped through brick, damaging plaster and endangering the church’s structural integrity. Roof leaks caused sections of the heart-pine floors to rot. A tree sprouted from the bell-tower steeple.

The Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation listed Good Shepherd on its 2013 “eleven at the eleventh hour” list of Central Kentucky historic buildings in danger of demolition after plans fell through to convert it into a museum.

“That building has been threatened for years, and there was a lot of concern that we were going to lose it,” said Craig Potts, executive director of the Kentucky Heritage Council and the state’s historic preservation officer.

“I was particularly concerned,” he added. “I was married in that church and live just a few doors down from it.”

Unlike some other recent preservation stories, this one seems headed toward a happy ending. Joe Dunn, an Oldham County developer who specializes in adaptive reuse of old buildings, is finishing a beautiful renovation of the circa 1850 sanctuary.

It has been leased to event venue operator Denise Jerome, who this summer will reopen it as The Lancaster at St. Clair, a place for weddings, receptions, music performances and other gatherings. A public preview is planned 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Aug. 20. Rental information: michaelisevents.com.

The remaining part of the old gymnasium’s lot at the corner of Wapping and St. Clair streets is being converted into a garden-like outdoor event space enclosed by a wrought-iron fence.

After that is finished, Dunn will renovate the school building, which opened in 1923, and lease it for office space.

Dunn and his son, John, were already familiar with downtown Frankfort, having renovated the McClure Building, a 1906 office building, and the Market Square Apartments, a former Odd Fellows lodge built in the 1850s.

When Dunn first looked at the Good Shepherd campus, he was only interested in the school building. But the real estate agent insisted that he walk inside the church.

“I thought, what would I do with a church?” he recalled. “But, being raised Catholic, I thought I should look at it, and, wow! You could just feel the reverence of the place.”

Dunn was captivated by the old sanctuary’s Gothic Revival arches, colorful stained-glass windows, bell tower and working pipe organ.

“I had the same feeling he did when I walked into the space,” said Jerome, who manages several event venues in metro Louisville.

So, in May 2014, Dunn bought the church, school and what was left of the former gymnasium lot. He expects to spend about $500,000 on the church and garden renovation.

Dunn and Jerome named the venue for Father J.M. Lancaster, who came to Frankfort in 1848 to lead a 20-year-old Catholic congregation that was suddenly swelling with immigrants escaping military conscription in Germany and famine in Ireland.

The next year, he paid $5,000 for a small Presbyterian church on Wapping Street, where the congregation worshiped as its members literally built their new church around it. When the new church was finished, the old one was dismantled. Since then, Good Shepherd has played a big role in Frankfort society.

“He has done a good job with the renovation,” Potts said of Dunn. “And I think he has a good idea for its reuse that is going to help all the revitalization efforts already underway downtown. Frankfort is kind of buzzing right now.”

While restoring Good Shepherd was a big job, Dunn said the project has gone more smoothly than many do.

“There was a lot of damage, and I did have to say a few prayers, ‘Is this what you want me to do?'” Dunn said. “But the pieces fell into place pretty easily. Sometimes you feel like there are other hands guiding you.”

Joe Dunn, who is renovating the former Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Frankfort for use as event space, plays a few notes on the organ, which is in good working order. The building was built about 1850.   Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Joe Dunn, who is renovating the former Good Shepherd Catholic Church for use as event space, plays a few notes on the organ, which is in good working order.

Developer Joe Dunn has renovated the former Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Frankfort, which was built in 1850, for event space. The work included fixing water-damaged brick and plaster and refinishing the original heart-pine floors.    Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Developer Joe Dunn has renovated the former Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Frankfort, which was built in 1850, for event space. The work included fixing water-damaged brick and plaster and refinishing the original heart-pine floors.

The tower bell in the former Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Frankfort still works.   Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

The tower bell in the former Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Frankfort still works.

Developer Joe Dunn has renovated the former Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Frankfort, which was built in 1850, for event space. The work included fixing water-damaged brick and plaster and refinishing the original heart-pine floors.    Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Developer Joe Dunn has renovated the former Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Frankfort, which was built in 1850, for event space.

Developer Joe Dunn has renovated the former Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Frankfort, which was built in 1850, for event space. The organ is in good working order. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Developer Joe Dunn has renovated the former Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Frankfort, which was built in 1850, for event space. The organ is in good working order.

The event venue in the former Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Frankfort, which was built in 1850, will be named in honore of Father J.M. Lancaster, the first priest there, who was memorialized in a stained-glass window.   Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

The event venue in the former Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Frankfort, which was built in 1850, will be named in honore of Father J.M. Lancaster, the first priest there, who was memorialized in a stained-glass window.

The former Good Shepherd Catholic Church, built in 1850 at the corner of St. Clair and Wapping streets, had suffered water damage from a leaking roof and deteriorating brick walls. The building was surrounded when the Franklin County Justice Center was built.   Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

The former Good Shepherd Catholic Church, built in 1850 at the corner of St. Clair and Wapping streets, had suffered water damage from a leaking roof and deteriorating brick walls. The building was surrounded when the Franklin County Justice Center was built.

Developer Joe Dunn, who is renovating the former Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Frankfort, also bought the nearby parish school building, circa 1920. He plans to renovate it and lease it as office space.   Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Developer Joe Dunn also bought the nearby parish school building, circa 1923. He plans to renovate it and lease it as office space.


New workshop offers tools, space for entrepreneurs and tinkerers

June 2, 2015
Rob Savard, left, Doug Clarke and Ben Van Den Broeck on Saturday will open Kre8now Makerspace in the Distillery District, a monthly membership workshop with tools and space for people who like to make things.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Rob Savard, left, Doug Clarke and Ben Van Den Broeck on Saturday will open Kre8now Makerspace in the Distillery District. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

People who like to make things often share a common problem: They never have enough tools or a big enough workshop.

Kre8Now Makerspace, which has its grand opening 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at 903 Manchester Street, has a solution.

For $35 a month, members will have access to every tool in the 12,000-square-foot workshop they can demonstrate competency to safely use, from sewing machines and saws to 3-D printers and welding equipment.

“It’s like a gym membership for your creativeness,” said Doug Clarke, one of three partners in the business. “We want to have a creative community where people can learn new skills and get hands-on experience through collaboration.”

Kre8Now also offers individual work and storage space next to the shared shop at $1 per square foot. The business also has a shared lounge and a classroom.

“We’re going to be teaching classes for both members and the general public in anything and everything that has to do with making,” said Clarke, a welder, machinist and former project engineer.

The partners see the space as both a place for tinkerers to hang out and for people to start businesses. They have about 40 members so far, about one-fourth of their goal.

While the space is still coming together, there is a complete wood shop, a metal shop with welding and steel-cutting equipment, a shop for building and using 3-D printers, a costume-making shop, a shop for making drone aircraft, and a variety of tools for other uses.

Many of the tools so far belong to Clarke and his two partners, Rob Savard and Ben Van Den Broeck. They all ended up in this venture because, well, they needed more tools and workshop space.

“I had my own machine shop for the better part of two decades, but I was at the point where I was going to have to invest a small fortune to expand it,” said Savard, who makes prototypes for others in addition to his personal projects.

“I also have a background in woodworking,” he added. “So my wife is expecting some furniture out of this.”

Savard thinks Kre8Now’s success will depend a lot on fostering a creative community. “It’s good to come in and see what other folks are doing and get inspired,” he said.

Van Den Broeck said he was a visual effects artist for the Cartoon Network for seven years, where he learned to use 3-D printers for prototyping cartoon characters that might work as toys. He then started a 3-D printing business, making objects for various corporate clients. Now he makes 3-D printers for various uses.

The three partners began the business with 1,800 square feet in the Old Pepper Distillery complex, another piece of Manchester Street property owned by Distillery District developer Barry McNees.

As membership increased, they outgrew the space and rented their new space from McNees. It is a former wholesale food warehouse that also houses photographer Mary Rezny and The Grand Reserve, an events venue.

“I’ve spent a lot of money bringing this place up,” Clarke said. “But it’s a great location. I see a lot of potential in the Distillery District.”

The Grand Reserve and Rezny have bought their space from McNees, who is now trying to sell the former 1860s bourbon warehouse next door that used to be Buster’s night club.

McNees and his partners bought up a lot of vacant industrial property along Manchester Street nearly a decade ago, hoping to create a mixed-use entertainment district just west of Rupp Arena.

The turnaround has been slow, mostly because of the area’s antiquated public infrastructure,. But it has become more viable and popular in the past couple of years as businesses such as Barrel House Distillery and Ethereal Brewing opened.

“What’s happening now is what I hoped would happen in the first couple of years,” McNees said. “But at least it’s happening.”