If you have not been to downtown Ashland recently, take a few minutes to drive on Winchester Avenue in the heart of the city’s central business district. We think you will be pleasantly surprised and impressed.
In particular, notice the northside of Winchester between 17th and 18th streets. The old Sears store at the corner of Winchester Avenue and 17th Street has been beautifully renovated and now houses King’s Daughters Home Medical Equipment.
The six-story building looks better than it has at any time since Sears moved to the then-new Cedar Knoll Galleria in Boyd County, which is now known as Kyova Mall.
The Sears building remained vacant for many years, and just a few years ago, the city had begun the process of having it condemned with plans to demolish it.
But instead of allowing the building to meet with the wrecking ball, owner Perry Madden first had the more than 140 windows in the building replaced along with many other improvements to the exterior. In addition, a parking lot where J.C. Penney’s once stood gives the building the most convenient parking in all of downtown Ashland.
With the announcement that the home medical equipment business, which had been in the old Heck’s building in east Ashland, was moving downtown, the city restarted its streetscape project with the focus on the southside of the 17th block of Winchester Avenue.
However, there was a difference to the work on this block. While private contractors had been hired to do the streetscape work on Winchester from 13th Street to 15th Street, the city saved thousands of dolla rs on the latest project by having city employees do as much of the work as possible from 17th to 18th Street, before turning the project over to skilled contract workers. The quality of work is superb. It may have taken a little longer for city employees to do the work than if the city had contracted all the work, but the workmanship is excellent.
While a few finishing touches still need to be done on the streetscape project, as this is written, all of Winchester Avenue is newly paved and striped, except for the block from 18th Street to 19th Street. In addtion all of Martin Luther King Jr, Boulevard and 13th Street have been repaved, making the city’s two busiest highways look new.
Yes, with newly paved street and new sidewalks and a long-vacant building now occupied, it has been a good few weeks for downtown Ashland. Our hope is the new developments will encourage offices to move onto the upper floors of the Sears building.
Not all is well with downtown Ashland. There are still too many vacant storefronts and too many buildings like the G.B. Johnson Center that remain vacant. Before you get too pessimistic about the future of downtown Ashland, remember this: Just a few years ago, the Sears building was an eyesore and a constant reminder of another era when downtown was thriving.
Today, the Sears building may be the most attractive structure downtown. Instead of being a reminder of this city’s glorious past, it now provides new hope for the future.