Conference center

Jamey Gumm, left, director of catering for Lundy's at the Morehead Conference Center, shares a laugh with Barbara Gross, who holds some red roses, her daughter, Cindy Edwards and Tina Holbrook, far right, tourism assistant, who gave Barbara the flowers for her birthday. They visited during the grand opening of the conference center Tuesday.

After nearly 10 years of ups and downs, the tourism commission and city officially opened their brand new $9 million conference center on First Street on Tuesday, July 25.

More than 350 people attended throughout the afternoon to see the finished project, mingle, eat hot hors d'oeuvres and help themselves to drinks at the bar or non-alcoholic beverages prepared by Lundy's, the center's resident caterer.

“I think it was a great success," said Joy Brown, new director of the conference center. "We heard good comments and were very happy with the number of people who attended. We even booked several events from having the opening. People came to see the facility, but liked what they saw.”

She said there is an event booked for every day next week. Activity starts this Friday, July 28, with the Americana Crossroads' second concert, featuring Sasha Collette, Jeff Black and Will Kimbrough in the "Writer's Showcase." Tickets go on sale at 6:30 p.m. Call 606-780-9694.

“It's been a long nine years, since January of 1997, when the idea was conceived, and I personally want to thank the tourism commission members and city council members at that time and now," said Mayor Brad Collins during the grand opening ceremony.

"It's been a labor of love for me, and I want to especially thank Roger Russell, who put his heart and soul into this,” Collins said. “Actually, we're ahead of where we thought we'd be and we want to thank the builders and everyone who made this possible.”

"You're ahead of the game," said Sylvia Lovely, director of the Kentucky League of Cities. "You are going to take this conference center and it is going to be the centerpiece of the future of Morehead.

Former tourism commission chair Roger Russell thanked architects, contractors and caterers. He also addressed the public.

“I want to thank the citizens," he said. “At times, you've cast your doubts, but you've stayed with us. I ask one more indulgence - for you who have contacts to ask them to come use this facility.”

Russell served nine years as chair of the commission and 20 total. He is replaced by Keith Kappes as chair.

Contractor Keith Pack thanked project superintendent Lee Waddell.

“He's the person who has made the project as good as it is,” Pack said. “There is an advantage to having local people do local work.”

Developing the center has had its problems, though.

There has been constant criticism by locals that the center would not be able to sustain itself and that its use is too pricey.

In the beginning, there were big plans that were eventually dowsed by low budgets. The original plan to develop a large, city block-sized center on Main Street had to be scaled back to develop just the renovation of the old Big Store Furniture and Clothing on First Street.

Then, the old store's structure crumbled after its front was removed to check its stability. Plans had to be re-worked again due to an attempt to obtain some money from the state's heritage council.

Just last year, the tourism commission dealt with a bottomed out budget and had to revise its plans to stop paying for special events to draw visitors to Morehead.

The commission re-focused its efforts on spending money raised by the 3 percent restaurant tax solely for the conference center.

The only event that received tourism money this year was one Independence Day fireworks show. Tourism put in $2,500, but local businesses and residents raised approximately $6,000 more to have the show at the Jaycee Park.

Nine years ago, when the restaurant tax was passed by city council, the tourism commission paid for a study by a Lexington firm.

The consulting firm told the commission that the foremost need for revitalizing downtown Morehead would be to build a conference center.

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