Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)


June 23, 2014

Painting the town bright

Marshall and Pat Steen receive colorful inspiration from South for revitalization projects

ASHLAND — Faced with the option of either paying taxes or investing out of state following a recent property sale, Marshall Steen said he chose to put his dollars back in his hometown’s downtown district.

“Of course I could’ve rented a condominium in Florida, but I wanted to see what was available in Ashland,” Steen said, explaining he had to act quickly to avoid tax penalties after selling family property in December. “We knew that, so my wife, Pat, and I started looking in November.

“The first building we looked at was this one, owned by Tom Wolf and his wife. It had previously been a furniture store and we thought it would make a great antiques store,” he said, sitting at a table inside the recently opened Antiques Emporium on Winchester Avenue, noting many still remember the building as the Delmar Shop. A short while later, Steen said they heard the woman who owned the beauty salon next door was interested in selling.

“She was really anxious to sell,” he said, explaining the building owner had moved away three years ago and faced challenges tending to the needs of her tenant. “She priced us the building and threw in the business at no charge.”

The neighboring building gave the Steens the option of creating a new fire exit on the second floor of the old Delmar building, allowing them to expand the antique shop to the next level, he said.

“And, the beauty shop has actually turned out to be a good investment.”

The L-Style Salon is one of the nicest in the area, he said, although it remains a mystery to many. “That’s one reason I wanted to paint it yellow, so it would bring attention to the business.”

The color schemes for the antiques store and the salon, as well as the former Ashland News building on the next block, were based on photos of buildings Steen snapped while traveling through cities including Charleston, Savannah, Beaufort and Fredericksburg.

“Pat and I have done a lot of traveling in the South with my cannon business and you see a lot of historical homes in bright, vivid colors,” he said. “I take a lot of pictures of homes and buildings as a hobby, so we went through my collection and identified color combinations we liked. This is nothing we thought of on our own.”

The green exterior of the antiques store was selected essentially to match the carpet inside, he said, while the yellow and robin-egg blue applied to the salon was taken directly from one of his photos. The old newsstand will soon have a color scheme combining a UK-type blue with cream trim and red windowsills, based directly on the colors of a building photo in an edition of “Oprah’s magazine,” he said.

Plans for the former newsstand are open, he said, expressing a desire to bring a restaurant or other business “that would compliment the Paramount” into the massive empty space. Steen said people would likely be amazed at the cost to clean out the newsstand building, smiling as he explained they found a “Hawaiian-style boat” with an outrigger in the basement.

“Remodeling is not like new construction because you don’t know what you’re dealing with until you get into it,” he said.

Steen said he also called upon his experience as a former paint store owner, and chose to apply three coats of the best paint available to each of his buildings under renovation.

“Cheap paint is exactly what you get — cheap paint. There really is no savings,” he said, explaining the more expensive paints provide numerous advantages, including a significant time cushion before he will have to paint again. He also chose modern materials for things like moldings, explaining the materials will last longer with rotting like wood, and also take paint better than the traditional material.

“I don’t like to take shortcuts because it just leads to disasters down the road,” he said, also noting his experience as a homebuilder with a reputation for “doing everything first class.” One problem evident in downtown Ashland, he said, comes from property owners who chose to spend as little as possible on their investments. “It shows, and it has been that way for years,” he said.

Steen said he plans to do almost nothing to the exterior of the city’s old post office, which he and his wife also purchased in downtown Ashland.

“To me the old post office is the crown jewel of what we’ve bought downtown. It has 35,000 square feet and is built like a fortress,” he said, adding he will likely mount a cannon in front of the building and resume flying the American flag there. Future uses for that building might include development as a banquet hall,  mini convention center or possibly another antiques store.

“There’s a lot of things you can do with a building like that,” he said. “It is a beautiful, grand building as it is, with the stone.”

Recalling his own days as a boy, and then a young man, who grew up in downtown Ashland, Steen said his memories of the thriving city are among his inspiration for reinvesting in the area.

“Downtown Ashland was really neat in my era,” he said, smiling as he recalled being a teenager watching the well-dressed women who worked downtown as they went out for lunch. “There was a hustle and bustle in this city. I liked it. I remember it well.”

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2651.

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