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Residents want to preserve city’s past

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By Brad Bowman

The pending arrival of a CVS pharmacy drove a handful of concerned residents to gather last week and discuss the need for a preservation ordinance.

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Eric Whisman, education and outreach coordinator for Preservation Kentucky, and Eminence resident Lance Minnis asked concerned citizens to meet regarding the development which may result in the demolition of several buildings tied to the county and city’s past.

Minnis hoped the meeting would accomplish three things. “I want to save those buildings, create a historic preservation organization and a historic preservation ordinance,” Minnis said. “I also contacted the mayor of Eminence. He has informed me that no one from city council will be here tonight.”

Whisman echoed Minnis’ concerns.

“I grew up here and remember the uniqueness of the bank building with the red velvet curtains that were in the windows,” Whisman said. “Once that building is torn down you can’t bring it back.”

It was Whisman’s appreciation for history and buildings like the Eminence Deposit Bank building, the county’s first bank, that inspired him to pursue his career in preservation.

“The state has used Eminence as a case for preservation( as what not do),” Whisman said. “The Moody Hotel and the other buildings on the block were all on the historic registry. Eminence is important for its history as a railroad town. You can ask for a 30-day delay to the developer.”

Eminence Mayor Drane Stephens said he and council members were only given 10 hours notice of the meeting and it was not reasonable to expect (them) on such short notice. He did say that neither he nor the council could ask developers for a 30-day hold on demolition.

Stephens wrote that no one on the council wanted to see the bank building go, “... It is very unique but removing it does not remove our identity.”

The bank building received a Renaissance Façade grant for $10,500 in 2005.

When asked about whether he thought it was a waste of taxpayers’ money to tear down the building eight years later, Stephens wrote that it was “…Not a waste of money. Just an example of the problem with these old buildings that are in such disrepair.  

“The owners are not able to renovate them and ever get enough return on their investment to make this feasible.  Renovation of old buildings is extremely expensive.  The previous owners tried very hard to rent or lease or sell the buildings to keep them here.  They were unsuccessful.

“They also tried to get additional grants to help but were also unsuccessful.  They did the best they could with what they had and we can’t fault them for that.”

Whisman said historic buildings that produce income like those in Eminence’s business district could receive grant money.

“You can get up to 40 percent on historic commercial buildings,” Whisman said. “There are tax credits for renovations and my organization pushed for the state to give more. It goes toward electrical work, new flooring and anything that is attached to the building. There is free money to fix these properties up.”

Whisman argued that old buildings were the place for new businesses to start. They would be a place that individuals, not big box stores, could start a business and grow.

Long time Eminence resident Judy Milliner has watched Eminence slowly lose its historic buildings and said Eminence is in decline.

“I lived on the edge of town when they tore down the Moody Hotel,” Milliner said. “There wasn’t anyone who would fix it up or repair the building and there was no one that was interested in buying it. My mom moved away and when she came back home she was shocked to see nothing but Browning’s parking lot.”

Milliner said it was a shame that Eminence has deteriorated the way it has.

 “This town has been dying for the last 20 to 30 years. It makes me mad. We identify ourselves as Henry County not as cities anymore.”

Many at the meeting talked of how older buildings were home to new businesses like Aquatica and the consignments shops.

Former Eminence Main Street Manager Mary Jane Yates said preservation has always been an issue to her.

“Eminence was certified a Main Street community and the Main Street idea was very hard,” Yates said. “Even people who were interested in preservation weren’t interested enough to take it where it needs to go. This whole thing could’ve been dealt with in a different way. I felt like the bucks dried up along the way.”

Whisman emphasized city residents weren’t powerless.

“A lot of drugstores, like CVS, will agree to replicate the surrounding architecture,” Whisman said. “These big corporations, whether they admit it or not, have to have local approval. They don’t always succeed and it happens all over the nation. You would be surprised what one or two voices can do and I am here to help anyway I can.”

Eminence resident John Park ran for Eminence City Council in 2012. He was concerned at city council’s lack of attendance at the meeting.

“I’ve been here since 2007 and I would hate to see the bank building go,” Park said. “I’ve been to some city council meetings and we need people to show up for meetings. You have to get involved. I am appalled that no one from the city council was here.”

Henry County resident Ricky Doyle agreed.

“I’m on several boards like the Henry County Health Board and it is hard to get people to work or get involved on anything at city or county level,” Doyle said. “Our current leaders need to know things aren’t going to take care of themselves. Nothing changes if people vote the same way every year. Our government is like a clique from city to county government.”

Minnis expressed his frustration after making open records requests and attempting to contact city officials.

“I will be completely honest. I have tried to engage the mayor and the city council members. I didn’t reach anyone and instead I received an email from the mayor,” Minnis said. “I feel like that I can be personally ignored as a new citizen.”

Mayor Stephens extended the invitation for county and city residents to address their concerns at the Eminence City Council meetings.

“We always encourage citizens to come to our meetings to express concern. It is very rare for citizens to attend our meetings,” Stephens said. “It has been public knowledge for over a year that CVS was coming to town and the location they were to occupy. Had the concerned citizens come earlier on, we could have directed them to the developers for alternate site development considerations.”

Stephens said the development could stimulate the local economy.

“I just want to reiterate.  The city does not have anything to do with CVS coming to town,” he said. “We support all inquiries about businesses locating here because we want to promote our city as a positive place for their businesses to locate. We did not pursue them or lure them in any way. We also did not discourage them. They are making a very large investment in our city. They will employ many people. They will contribute to the income of the city. They will provide goods and services to our residents. They will draw people from other counties to our city to spend their dollars in their business as well as in our other businesses.”

Minnis and many other attendees reaffirmed the need for preservation and agreed the topic was difficult.

“CVS has the chance to be the hero here,” Eminence resident Joe Yates said. “It was almost a blood bath what we went through for historic preservation in New Castle. I am excited about this meeting. Just keep in mind what you may be in store for. They (CVS) have the chance to do something good here. I think the city of Eminence needs to jump back into the Main Street program.”

Minnis closed the meeting optimistically.

“We may not save the buildings but we certainly won’t if we do nothing,” Minnis said. “We have at least a chance. I beg you to call city council members, the mayor and ask them for 30 days to take a step back and reconsider this and see if there are alternatives.”

The Five Star Development Company closed on the remaining properties involved in the potential CVS on the Main Street and Broadway Block. The property deeds were recorded in the Henry County Clerk’s office last week.