• John McGary, Woodford Sun Staff

State fair opens in a 'Uniquely Woodford' way

Thousands visiting the first day of the Kentucky State Fair Thursday, Aug. 18, had a better-than-usual chance to see some of the things that make Woodford County tick: bourbon, wine and bloodlines. Woodford Reserve's $15,000 donation allowed the county to "sponsor" the first day of the fair, while a $1,275 contribution from the Woodford County Tourism Commission paid for a larger-than-normal booth. "The number of people who picked up our brochures and information about our businesses that were highlighted, that was just great," said Don Vizi, the executive director of the Woodford County Chamber of Commerce. "We couldn't get that kind of exposure just by putting an ad in a magazine or anything, so I think the exposure was really great for tourism." Vizi was there opening night, along with Ken Kerkhoff, the Versailles City Council member who also serves as unpaid chair of the tourism commission. Both praise the work of Lillie Cox and other volunteers and Tim Cambron of Ruggles Sign, whose company made several items in the display (including a life-size American Pharoah) and stores the items between fairs. "I think it's a big deal anytime you can promote Woodford County and having Woodford Reserve and Uniquely Woodford (a slogan used by the tourism commission) share the same name is a big deal," Kerkhoff said. Kerkhoff said Woodford Reserve is not only a generous sponsor but also a perfect fit to help attract visitors to the county, partly because the county's tourism website address (reservewoodford.com) is similar to that of the company's website (woodfordreserve.com). Visitors to the fair's Exposition Center can watch "Uniquely Woodford," the four-minute video Kerkhoff produced, and have pictures taken next to a two-dimensional but quite realistic American Pharoah. Kerkhoff and Vizi said opening night, which included Gov. Matt Bevin staying for dinner, was a success. "I think the people came in and got a good view of what Woodford County has to offer," Vizi said. The state fair runs through Aug. 28, and Kerkhoff said he's confident the county's presentation there will help attract first-time visitors and others, especially if the much-anticipated Holiday Inn Express and Suites comes to the Versailles Center. (Negotiations between McDonald's owner Joe Graviss, the company and the owners of the Versailles Center involving a deed restriction on restaurants there have delayed the project.) "I'm committed and confident that if we can get folks aware of the stuff that we've got to do here, they'll come, but we've got to have the hotel. We've got to have the hotel. We're always going to languish somewhere in-between until we get the hotel," Kerkhoff said. "I'm an eternal optimist, so I believe that we'll get the two parties that are having their discussion through this, because it is the best thing for all parties involved." Meanwhile, Kerkhoff and company will keep adding content to the reservewoodford.com website in an effort to remind potential visitors of the county just west of Lexington with millions of dollars at stake: According to the state, total tourism-related expenditures in Woodford County in 2014 were $73,917,606. "Awareness. It's that simple. We created the Uniquely Woodford logo three years ago. We developed a four-minute promotional video about two years ago. We now have a website for the first time (that) we did this year ." Kerkhoff said. Featured prominently on the site are the top two tourist attractions in Woodford County: Woodford Reserve and the Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup-winning horse, who, when he's not engaged in twice-daily "dates," draws thousands to Ashford Stud.

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