Open Forum: Source of pride

Posted: January 13, 2014

There was a milestone reached recently for the City of Winchester, and its residents. It took the work of many folks and a lot of thinking outside the box, to make this happen. There probably isn’t a person in or around Winchester who hasn’t talked about it at some point over the past few years, had an opinion about it, or wished it would just go away.

I’m talking about the Taylor Hotel, with the recent opening of five apartments on the upper floors. Who would have thought three or four years ago that this would ever become a reality, that the dilapidated building could even have been saved? Who would not have thought three or four years ago that it would eventually just fall down, or be torn down because of the safety hazard? This milestone is a testament to the dedication the city has to its history and its commitment to the downtown area.

I’ve been in Winchester for more than 30 years now. I remember when JCPenney and Leggetts were fixtures on the downtown mall. I remember when they moved out, how other businesses followed suit or had to close their doors, and how the future of the Old Town Mall was in question. Downtown declined for years.

But I also remember when the city made a conscious decision to focus on the revitalization of downtown. For me, it really seemed to pick up momentum with opening up Braddock and Cameron streets to two-way traffic. The infrastructure improvements, new sidewalks, and landscaping completed with that project helped define the core downtown area, and create a walkable center. Top that off with the recent improvements and renovations to the mall itself, and all you have to do is look at all the people who have come back.

All these changes have sparked new businesses, shops, restaurants, and boutiques. Apartments have been added, making downtown a place to live, not just visit. Prior to the Taylor Hotel, multiple buildings have been preserved and renovated. Look at the Union Jack, the Lovett Building, the Solenberger Building, and the old Blind Faith Building, to name a few. It’s now spreading out from the mall and Loudoun Street to the side streets and throughout the historic district. This has all been an economic benefit to Winchester, at a time when so many other locales are still struggling with this economy.

There is still more work to be done. The Taylor Hotel project will be wrapping up this year with a new restaurant, the outdoor pavilion, and the fly tower. There are many more properties in Winchester in need of preservation that are an important part of Winchester’s history, and offer great opportunities. We are seeing firsthand what preservation can do for a community.

On behalf of Preservation of Historic Winchester, I want to extend heartfelt thanks and congratulations to those who made the Taylor Hotel a reality. This would not have been possible without the team of the Winchester Economic Development Authority and Wishneff and Associates, and their creative solutions. Kudos to the city officials and the various city departments and personnel involved.

Thank you to the Department of Historic Resources in Richmond and the National Park Service in Washington; without their tax credit program for the preservation of historic structures, projects such as this would not be financially possible. Thanks to the architects and engineers, and the contractors and subcontractors who took on this challenging work. And thank you to everyone behind the scenes, including the downtown businesses, shops, and tenants, for their patience over the years.

But most of all, thank you to Winchester and all those who believed this could be done, and who knew the importance of the Taylor Hotel to Winchester. Simply put, this is a success story, and a source of pride for Winchester.

John Barker is president of  Preservation of Historic Winchester.