2017 in review: Downtown Danville saw many changes in 2017

Published 6:52 am Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Editor’s note: This is one of six “big stories of the year” as chosen by The Advocate-Messenger.

2017 was a year of many changes for downtown Danville.

The area was hit with a string of business closures in the summer, but has now seen several new businesses open or existing businesses expand. A multi-year renovation project of Weisiger Park at the corner of Fourth and Main streets was completed. The city adopted new design guidelines that supporters hope will lead to a renaissance of sorts for art and business. And the iconic Hub building was sold to a company with a Centre College graduate as its president.

Email newsletter signup

Design guidelines

Work began in March on new design guidelines for the historic overlay district that covers much of the downtown area. The process included several spirited public meetings, during which members of the downtown community pushed for a relaxation of current rules they felt made it too difficult for businesses to be creative or for art to be added to sides of buildings.

The members of Danville’s Architectural Heritage Board, the group responsible for enforcing the guidelines and granting or denying “certificates of appropriateness,” often agreed that the previous guidelines left them hamstrung when wanting to approve creative projects.

Danville paid $16,351 to Cultural Resource Analysts Inc. to develop the new guidelines with community input; the bulk of the cost was covered by a grant from the Kentucky Heritage Council.

CRA wrapped up its work in June, and the AHB and others involved continued to tweak the proposed guidelines after that. In October, Danville City Commission gave the final approval needed and the new design guidelines were put in place.

“Certainly, there may be some individuals who would like it to be more permissive than it is, but I would say it is much more permissive than what was,” City Attorney Stephen Dexter said when Danville gave final approval. “… and certainly I think someone who comes to the board for approval for a certificate of appropriateness for a building has a much better chance of having somebody consider the totality of their project.”

One of the first projects to be considered under the new guidelines that would have been rejected under the old ones is set to come before the AHB this month. The Community Arts Center has filed an application for a public artwork — a circular mural that would contain the words “art,” “local” and “Danville, Ky,” painted on the side of the Sherwin Williams store at 411 N. Fourth St.

“Due to the inclusion of words in the mural design, under the previous AHB design guidelines, the mural would have been considered a sign. The revised guidelines helpfully differentiate between public art and signage and make clear that the proposed mural is ‘art’ rather than ‘advertising,'” the CAC’s application reads.

Downtown business

July and August didn’t contain the greatest news for the downtown community: Five local businesses closed their doors during the 60-day period.

Sister restaurants Nellie Burton’s Sports Bar and Steakhouse and Cue on Main; Main Street Furniture Market; Pies for You and Cookies Too; and Art of Danville all said their goodbyes.

The closures were coincidental, said Wilma Brown, owner of Pies for You and Cookies Too.

“It has been circumstantial, just coincidental, that so many closed at one time. We had nothing to do with each other,” she said. “It’s not a movement … it’s just a coincidence.”

The Advocate-Messenger agreed with that sentiment in an Aug. 1 “Thumbs” editorial.

“Without a unifying reason for the closures, the most logical explanation is coincidence. When businesses open and close is essentially random when viewed from a statistical level. It just so happens that five of these random events occurred within a few weeks of each other,” the paper editorialized. “We could just as easily see an upswing in future months where a bunch of new business openings coincidentally occur at the same time. And don’t forget — while five closed, there are many more businesses still open for business and doing just fine in downtown Danville.”

By December, downtown business was on the upswing again. While some downtown businesses reported slower activity in the fall following the closures, all those the paper talked to said they were optimistic about the Christmas holiday and 2018.

Three of the five spaces vacated in the summer have been filled: Harvey’s restaurant has taken the place of Nellie Burton’s; Bluegrass & Buttercream has opened in the old Pies For You storefront; and Tut’s Egyptian restaurant has expanded its dining room space by using the former Art of Danville location. And another business — Ruby’s Boutique — has opened a Main Street storefront.

Nick Wade, executive director of the Heart of Danville Main Street program, said he was impressed at how quickly the empty spaces have already begun filling. 

“I really, truly am excited. I think it’s a great thing for downtown, and will benefit all businesses,” he said. 

Weisiger Park

After years of delays, Danville was able to complete its renovation of Weisiger Park, in front of the Boyle County Courthouse at Fourth and Main streets.

The renovation was originally bid to cost $735,000. At a dedication of the park in June — held just before the Great American Brass Band Festival kicked off — Mayor Mike Perros announced that “our staff has been able to complete the park, including all design features, for $594,000 — that’s being under-budget and with a savings of $140,000.”

That figure was later revised upward to $672,137, according to a newsletter sent out by the city in December.

The completed park features a water wall, a water fountain and a pergola — a wooden structure designed to be covered in growing plants.

The city has worked to improve the fountain, which initially was not up to snuff in the opinion of members of the Danville City Commission.

Danville has also fielded complaints about the water wall. The feature had to be turned off during the Brass Band Festival because its noise was being picked up by microphones for brass instruments on the park’s stage. And community members have said the wall isn’t as visible as they had anticipated.

In November, city officials and others discussed the park during a city commission retreat meeting, including the possibility of adding usable features to the park such as picnic tables or movable chairs in order to get more foot traffic.

“That’s when I think you’re going to start to hear the negativity calm down because the park will be so functional. Right now, you have this big beautiful space and nobody’s hardly ever in it, just because it’s a little hard to use,” Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Jennifer Kirchner said during the meeting. “My two cents would be don’t skimp on this last part because I think that’s what’s going to make a big difference.”

The park was used by the Heart of Danville in late November and December to house a skating rink. Such a feature would not have been possible in the old Weisiger Park, but the new park had enough open concrete space to allow for the temporary installation.

Hub building sold

After an already eventful year for downtown, on Dec. 27, The Malcolm Bryant Corporation announced it had closed on the purchase of the Hub building. The corporation bought the building from Farmers National Bank.

The historically significant property at the corner of Third and Main streets currently houses the Hub Coffee Shop, the Centre College Bookstore, the Spine Center of Central Kentucky and Edward Jones in an annex on the back of the building, said Madison Silvert, president of The Malcolm Bryant Corporation. 

“We’re just excited. Once we figure out a market we want to invest in, it really is about improving the quality of life,” said Silvert, a 1998 Centre College graduate who said he remembers when the building was still the Hub Frankel department store in the 1990s. “… We want to go in and make an impact — this will hopefully be the start of our investments in Danville.”

The property has housed numerous businesses over the years, most notably the Gilcher Hotel and the Hub Frankel department store.

The southeast corner of Third and Main streets was home to the Gilcher Hotel in the early 1900s, but the building famously burned to the ground in 1914. According to news archives, the Gilchers went on to construct a building for the Hub Frankel department store on the corner. A new Gilcher Hotel, sometimes called Hotel Gilcher in old newspaper advertisements, was opened in 1917 in the space east of Hub Frankel.

The new Gilcher Hotel closed in 1963 due to lack of business, according to news archives. The Hub Frankel department store closed on July 19, 1995, after the Frankel family and the owner of the building couldn’t come to an agreement on a lease, according to archives.

The Hub Coffee House and Café has been open in the first-floor corner of the building since 2005.

“This building is probably one of the most significant downtown buildings in central Kentucky,” Silvert said.