• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Adaptive reuse ideas for church property being discussed

A RE-IMAGINED SANCTUARY in the Versailles United Methodist Church building could provide a central location for an event center in downtown Versailles. (Image provided)

Efforts continue to move forward on an adaptive reuse of the Versailles United Methodist Church building near the Woodford County Courthouse in downtown Versailles. "We are still talking to architects and people about it, but there's been no definite movement on it," said John Soper, chair of the Woodford County Economic Development Authority. An option to purchase the VUM Church building and two adjoining buildings on Court Street has not been exercised as the City of Versailles continues to explore the total cost of an adaptive reuse of the church property, Soper said. "From there," he explained, "I think we'll sit down and make a final decision as to whether or not this is something the city wants to pursue or not." That decision will likely happen in the next 30 to 60 days, he added. Versailles United Methodist Church, which has held Sunday services in the Court Street sanctuary since 1922, anticipates moving to its new Family Life Center multipurpose building at the corner of Paynes Mill and Lexington roads in early August, according to senior pastor Tim Thompson. That pending move ignited talks about an adaptive reuse of the church's current properties in the heart of downtown Versailles, according to Versailles City Councilwoman Ann Miller. She said a committee formed to explore options for an outdoor marketplace/pavilion in downtown Versailles, "morphed into a more incredible opportunity" when the church properties went on the market. Miller said the city will need a public-private partnership in order to make this project happen. "It would clearly benefit - not only the city, but the region. But it will require a public-private partnership" to move forward, she said. Miller said she and others are currently working with an architect on preliminary costs for an adaptive reuse of the VUM Church properties before efforts begin to find a private-sector partner to turn their ideas into a reality. "The question," said Soper of an adaptive reuse for the Court Street properties, "is can you make it into something that is an economic generator that . will help all downtown and . can it create some sources of revenue . to help sustain itself?" Possible adaptive reuses for the sanctuary building and its adjacent properties include providing a central location for an event center and a farmers' market, according to Soper. A hub for tourism, community gatherings and events are other possibilities. "This is a multiuse facility (being discussed)," said Miller. "You could have multiple events going on at the same time. You can have corporate trainings, industrial workshops. You can have small business incubators. "This is an economic generator," which she said will need "a strong business presence" in order to become a reality. "It has to pay for itself," said Miller. "We cannot obligate the city financially . and this has to be sustainable . but I think with the right partners at the table that it will" stand on its own financially. With its close proximity to Big Spring Park, the VUM Church properties could also enhance that outdoor public space in the heart of downtown Versailles, with amenities such as a pavilion for outdoor activities and events, Soper said. Amenities from a project of this magnitude address Soper's biggest concern in the immediate future - attracting a sufficient workforce for new industry coming to the county. "We've got to create some things to make millennials want to come and live and work in Versailles. And a good, vibrant downtown is one of those (amenities)," he said. Thompson described the City of Versailles and its plans for the historic VUM Church property as a win-win. "Our buildings - and certainly the sanctuary - can be a part of a revitalization of downtown," said Thompson. And under the adaptive reuse plans for the church, "the outward integrity of the structure will remain nearly intact and that's very pleasing to a lot of our members," he said. In addition to having historic value, the VUM Church building "is the first thing you see when you pop over that hill on Lexington Street," Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott said. "It is iconic - from an aesthetic purpose and a historic purpose. I would never do anything to jeopardize that façade." ".That's an extremely important property." And on a personal level, Traugott said he and his wife got married at Versailles United Methodist Church 13 years ago.

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