‘Precinct Project’ planners look to other cities
The long-discussed proposal for a pavilion and public gathering place in downtown Versailles may be picking up steam. On Aug. 26, architect Matt Myers gave the Versailles City Council a presentation on his proposed three-phase plan and displayed the renderings that will be used to seek private donations to help pay for it. Myers, whose office is across the street from the Versailles Municipal building and near the present Versailles Police Department (VPD) headquarters that’s part of the plan, was paid $5,000 for his work. The project has been a matter of interest since it was brought up at a May 2014 public meeting organized by the Kentucky League of Cities. The following April, the Versailles City Council approved paying $15,000 to MKSK, the firm that designed Lexington’s Fifth Third Bank Pavilion, for a feasibility study. MKSK’s plan had a $1.75 million price tag, some of which was to be offset by naming rights and other private donations. In October 2015, a public meeting was held at the Woodford County Public Library, in which some attendees worried about a loss of downtown parking spaces. Three years later, in July 2018, as the council considered paying two firms (CMW and GRW) a total of $24,500 to serve as the design team for the proposed downtown pavilion and marketplace, Mayor Brian Traugott expressed reservations. He said he was still concerned about the perception that there wouldn’t be enough nearby parking, and didn’t know whether the contract price was good or bad. Traugott wondered whether the product would do much more than replicate the $15,000 feasibility study, which he called “junk.” In the end, the council didn’t vote on the proposal. Despite the setbacks, momentum for the project didn’t stall, and earlier this year, the council voted to hire Myers, who produced the plan to repurpose the police station that didn’t result in the loss of parking spaces. The plan presented by Myers included alternatives costing $275,000, $550,000 and $1.2 million, the latter of which involves building an amphitheater atop the present police evidence station, which was once the Big Spring Park pool. Two of the driving forces for the proposal are Maria Bohanan, who chairs the council’s Downtown Pavilion subcommittee, and Versailles City Council Member Ken Kerkhoff, who chairs the Downtown Tourism Committee. Bohanan also chairs the Woodford County Tourist Commission, of which Kerkhoff is a member and past chair. Asked whether the Fifth Third Bank Pavilion public-private partnership was a model, Bohanan said local planners had spoken to Lexington officials four years ago who passed along “a lot of good information.” “I want to talk to some of the smaller cities, more of our size, maybe like Pikeville or see if there’s anything in Bardstown, even though Bardstown is a little bit bigger. I want to see if we can find another city closer to our size, and we might not be able to find that, but I just want to see,” said Bohanan. Kerkhoff cited the Bourbon County YMCA, Burkesville Community Center and Estill County Mack Theater as examples Versailles leaders could look to. The VPD is scheduled to leave its present headquarters in November or December. “I hope the council agrees that we would offer it for sale or lease and see if we can find a partnership in that process,” Kerkhoff said. “What we have to do is put together a marketing plan that sort of says, ‘Here’s our vision.’” At the Aug. 26 council meeting, Traugott and Council Member Fred Siegelman expressed their support for the project. “It’s taken awhile for us to get here, but we have come up with a plan that does not take away any parking places and it provides connectivity to Big Spring Park,” Bohanan said. The amphitheater would likely be the last phase, she added. “This is a vision. That’s what it is. And we’re looking for, obviously, the public to give us input, but we’re also wanting the private sector to know we’re looking for partners in this deal,” Kerkhoff said. “Just as Lexington did their deal with corporate sponsorship, we’re looking for folks to do that as well.” Bohanan, Kerkhoff and other supporters now call the proposal the Precinct Project, a nod to the planned use of the police station.