• John McGary, Woodford Sun News Editor

‘First Impressions’ of visitors unveiled

The “First Impressions” of 11 visitors to Woodford County from last June to November were unveiled Monday night at the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS). About 50 people attended, according to Ken Kerkhoff, head of the Woodford County Tourism Commission. The First Impressions program was conducted by the Community and Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky (CEDIK) and cost $2,500, with $1,500 coming from the Tourism Commission and the remainder from the City of Versailles. A statement accompanying the 17-page report said the visits took place on weekends and weekdays, with “assessors” being a mix of “small business owners, young professionals, traveling retirees and community development professionals.” The report broke down its findings in the following areas: community entrances, residential, health care, arts and culture, civic engagement, public infrastructure, downtowns, recreation and tourism, and restaurants and lodging. “While quotations in this report should not be considered true for all individuals of these demographics, they do provide a valuable snapshot of visitors from a variety of ages, life experiences, and interests,” the report read. In some cases, assessors’ findings differed dramatically. In the community entrances section, several praised the scenery and signage, while others found fault with the latter. One person wrote, “I didn’t get a good impression of the communities based on entering from U.S. 60 both ways. They were pretty bland with fast food lining the road on all sides …” Several noted the age and appearance of Woodford County High School, which opened in 1964, as well as the newer middle and elementary schools. In the residential section, Midway homes were praised, and another visitor wrote, “There were lots of ranch-style homes heading into downtown Versailles, with a long rock wall that adds character to the community. … There seems to be a lot of pride in the homes in Versailles.” Main Street apartments above businesses were also cited as a positive. Health care comments featured a nod to “a hospital, a rehab facility, and (there) seem to be plenty of available doctors, chiropractors, etc.” The arts and culture section noted several churches in downtown Versailles that “would make for great photographs,” while one visitor wrote, “Woodford County as a whole seems to do well with embracing and celebrating their heritage and culture.” Another expressed disappointment over the Jack Jouett House being closed. Civic engagement comments included “no particular campaign to encourage people to shop local” and praise for the City of Midway’s website, “Meet Me in Midway.” In the public infrastructure section, several comments focused on sidewalks in need of repair, while the availability of public parking in Midway and Versailles was noted by several visitors. “Downtowns” included several comments praising Midway, including one fit for advertising: “I fell in love with Midway on the first drive through town! The downtown felt like one of the most charming towns I’ve ever visited …” Versailles was praised for the appearance of Marketplace on Main, “broad sidewalks,” clean streets and street lamps. “Recreation and tourism” featured praise for signage in Midway, the visitor center and assistance at the Woodford County Chamber of Commerce and a “well-marked sign” leading to Equus Run Vineyard. One person wrote, “I found a great assortment of community brochures in the restaurants we visited. They are doing well at highlighting local restaurants and shops.” Restaurants and lodging included surprise at the lack of variety in lodging (the county has only bed and breakfasts until the Holiday Inn Express and Suites opens this fall) and praise for several restaurants in Versailles and Midway. Ouita Michel’s Midway Bakery and Wallace Station restaurant “lived up to her stellar culinary reputation.” “Lasting Impressions” was divided into three categories: “Assets” featured positive comments about the scenery, the Kentucky Castle, the “beauty and charm” of downtown Midway, and another comment suitable for advertisement: “A person can live in Versailles, have access to a large city, and still have the wonder of a small town and a farming community.” “Challenges” included the “fast food alley” along U.S. 60, a gas station in Midway that didn’t accept credit cards, and city employees (which city was not mentioned) who “were just not very friendly.” “Opportunities” consisted of fall decorations, more inexpensive or free things to do with children in Versailles, better promotion of parks and promoting the legacy of former Kentucky Governor and Baseball Commissioner Happy Chandler. (The Sun is owned by Chandler’s descendants.) Recommendations in the report included supporting small businesses web development, increasing opportunities for citizen engagement, and developing a plan for emerging demographics. Kerkhoff said the $2,500 cost of the program was money well spent. “The takeaways are not necessarily anything we didn’t know or haven’t heard before, but it’s good to reaffirm what we need, and that is communication – just better communication. And probably the number one thing (we need) is a community calendar,” Kerkhoff said. Kerkhoff said the report reinforced the belief of community leaders that websites of the cities, county, Tourism Commission and other entities need more frequent updates and links between them. He also said the 11 visitors missed a key institution. “None of them said anything about one of our advantages here, and that is the Falling Springs Arts and Recreation Center,” Kerkhoff said, adding that Falling Springs should probably be highlighted as its own entity. “We can do more for each other if we communicate and coordinate better,” Kerkhoff said. A summary of the meeting will be compiled by CEDIK and made available, and the First Impressions report can be downloaded from the Woodford County Chamber of Commerce website. Meantime, funding to improve local websites and other marketing efforts will soon be more readily available. When the Holiday Inn opens this fall, hotel taxes generated there will allow the Tourism Commission to increase its budget by more than 200 percent, Kerkhoff said.

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