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Madison’s Ben Orrill fires a pitch toward the plate during the Cubs’ win over Lawrenceburg on Friday.

Former tack factory finds new purpose as senior housing
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Cassandra Mikesell grew up in Jefferson County and was familiar with the old Tack Factory in downtown Madison, so when she heard there were apartments being developed there, she wasn’t sure just how that transformation might work.

“I didn’t have an architect’s eye,” she said. “It definitely took a professional to see the vision and make it happen, and what they did was incredible,” said Mikesell, regional manager for Valenti Real Estate Manager Services, property manager for what is now Riverside Tower Lofts on the former factory site.

Riverside Tower Lofts opened to tenants in October — providing low income housing for persons at least 62 years old — and is now nearing capacity for the 42 one-bedroom and eight two-bedroom apartments.

“We’re hoping to fill them soon,” Mikesell said.

The apartments have been developed in space repurposed from a massive brick and stone factory site that was known for decades as serving its previous life as the Tower Manufacturing Company tack factory for more than 111 years. The Tack Factory, a historic landmark built in 1884 by F.C. Johnson at 1001 West Second Street, was originally operated as Johnson Yarn and Cordage. Tower Manufacturing Company, founded by Henry Tower, took over the building later. Tower Company’s growth necessitated further additions over the years that expanded the building to 60,000 square feet.

When Tower Manufacturing closed in October of 2007, then company owner Bob Cooke was quoted in the Oct. 11, 2007 edition of The Madison Courier that the factory was “Madison’s oldest continuous manufacturer,” at that time after long serving the community by employing “a lot families in Madison” as workers made tacks, brads, pins, rivets, cotter pins, electric fence wire, guy-wire, hooks, picture hangers and plate hangers.

The building sat empty for more than a decade — and fell into pretty bad shape — before Denton Floyd Real Estate Group of Louisville decided to take on the project for redaptive reuse of the building.

“It had not been protected from the elements for many years,” said Brandon Denton, co-founder of Denton Floyd with partner Thomas Floyd. “It had contaminated products that had been used to manufacture the tacks. It had rotten wood, broken windows and unstable brick walls. It had a lot of issues, but we did our due diligence about whether it was salvageable.”

Denton said his group, a real estate company that has been actively involved in a number of adaptive re-use projects, began talking with architects and engineers who reached the opinion that “with the right type of intervention that it could be brought back to life, not only as a viable property but that it could actually house residents.”

Denton admitted that repurposing the building was a challenge.

“We were taking what in the past had been a factory and making it into a completely different use by transforming it into quality residences,” he said, noting the project underwent 25 design reiterations before finally coming up with one that worked. “It was like putting together a puzzle” to convert the building into 50 apartments.

The result is a complex that is overall cohesive but individually unique in that each apartment is designed differently with many maintaining historical elements of the factory.

“No two apartments are exactly the same,” said Mikesell, adding that all but four of the apartments can be entered on the same level without stairs and only the four loft apartments on the top floor require stairs or an elevator for access.

Riverside Tower Lofts is one of several adaptive re-use projects Denton Floyd has tackled on historic structures in Louisville and southern Indiana.

“It’s a passion to take old forgotten buildings and bring life into them with modern amenities while retaining the historic character,” Denton said.

He estimated the company has been involved in adaptive re-use for 20 buildings while also staying “well-rounded and diverse” in that it is involved in new construction projects, along with assisted living facilities.

Denton said Riverside Tower Lofts was a “team effort with the engineers, architects and our internal staff” but he also praised City of Madison officials as being “integral” in getting it off the ground.

“They understood our vision, and helped us to get the right permits and the right zoning” to make it all come together, he said.

The Riverside Tower Lofts project received funding from Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority through the Stellar Community Housing Tax Credits, City of Madison and the City of Madison Redevelopment Commission.

Denton said the Tack Factory building has “a big footprint in downtown Madison that needed to be preserved” and now the structure is once again a “vibrant” building in the community.

“This project provides seniors in Madison a quality and affordable place to live,” Denton said. “What was once a blighted building for many decades, Riverside Tower Lofts now represents a residential facility in which Madison can be proud.”

Riverside Tower Lofts will hold a grand opening and ribbon cutting at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 13, with Indiana Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch scheduled to attend in an event that is open to the public.

Ribberfest wristband sales underway
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Madison’s riverfront will once again come alive with the soulful sounds of blues music and the smoky aroma of BBQ with the scheduling of the 19th annual Madison Ribberfest BBQ & Blues Festival Friday and Saturday, Aug. 20-21.

After being canceled by the COVID pandemic last year, the 2021 event will be back with a lineup of regional and national blues bands, barbecue competitions, family fun and more.

Ghost Town Blues Band will kick-off Friday night’s music lineup at 6 p.m. with a combination of modern blues and Memphis attitude, followed by The Reverend Shawn Amos & The Brotherhood, bringing blues and American Roots music, and ending with headliner, John Mayall, known as “The Godfather of British Blues” and a Blues Hall of Fame inductee by The Blues Foundation.

Saturday’s music lineup begins with soulful vocal artist The “Famous” Amy Noel Band at 11:30 a.m., followed by The Revelators, Jay Jesse Johnson and The Joe Louis Walker Band with special guest Bruce Katz. Blueswoman Shemekia Copeland will then set the stange for the festival finale by delivering her powerful soul, R&B and blues before Tab Benoit caps the festival as the closer.

Along the riverfront, Friday morning through Saturday afternoon spectators can watch competitors in three of BBQ competitions: Kansas City Barbeque Society, Backyard BBQ Blast, and the Kidz “Q.” Barbecue lovers will get to see more than 45 professional barbecue teams from around the country compete in the Indiana State Championship Barbeque Cook-Off for cash and prizes and a chance to later represent Indiana at the Kansas City Barbeque Society’s world championship. On Friday, amateurs will compete in the Backyard BBQ Blast and youngsters will compete Saturday morning at 9 a.m. in the Kidz “Q.”

Presale wristbands went on sale Monday for $30, an early-bird special online only through June 14 that includes $10 in food coupons. From June 15 through Aug. 1 wristbands will also be available at the Visitors Center, 601 West First Street with other locations available after July 5.

Advance tickets will be $30 (without food coupons) from Aug. 2 through Aug. 19. On Aug. 20-21 wristbands will cost $35 at gate and online, good for both days. Children 12 and under are free with a paid adult.

VMI moving forward without Thomas
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Visit Madison Inc. announced Friday it has suspended the position of Executive Tourism Director as part of a restructuring plan for the organization as it works with less funding while placing a greater emphasis on marketing.

Tawana Thomas, who had been executive director since 2017, will not be returning after being laid off in late February.

In a VMI press release on Friday, the agency said the restructuring is “one of the biggest decisions our organization has ever had to face” and noted it will be the first time in the organization’s 27-year history that it has not had an executive director. The VMI board of directors has expressed their appreciation to Thomas for her many positive contributions made to the tourism industry in Madison and Jefferson County.

Lucy Dattilo, VMI Board president, said Monday that not having an executive director presents a challenge. “The board must take on more responsibility, and she was a liaison with everyone” in communication with vast numbers of people throughout the region and the tourism industry. “Not having that will be difficult.”

But Dattilo said marketing has been deemed a priority, and with VMI’s funding limitations it was most important to address the most urgent needs of the organization in marketing Madison and Jefferson County.

Sarah Prasil, previously the marketing and advertising director, has now assumed the title of executive marketing director. Because of the high demand for marketing, there are plans to hire a new marketing associate/assistant to work under the direction of Prasil.

In addition, Katie Burress, one of VMI’s event coordinators, chose to resign that position effective Monday. VMI’s other event coordinator, Holly Love, will continue forward with planning VMI events such as the Madison Ribberfest BBQ & Blues, Madison Chautauqua Festival of Arts, and Night before Christmas Candlelight Tour of Homes.

VMI’s one other full-time staff member, Tiffini Poling, serves as office manager and bookkeeper.

Two part-time guest services staff have returned to the visitor center on weekends and VMI has plans in June to hire one part-time weekday guest services person.

VMI determined the restructuring was needed after reaching out to its tourism partners, attending the Jefferson County Tourism Caucus in March, and holding its annual retreat. Those interactions led th

e VMI board of directors to feel the top areas to be addressed should be marketing and enhancing the visitor experience at the visitor’s center. With COVID-19 impacting revenues coming in from the county’s innkeepers tax that provides funding for the Jefferson County Board of Tourism, there has been less available for VMI.

Dattilo said moving forward VMI is facing a lot of changes to an industry hit hard by the COVID pandemic.

“This is a time of the ‘Re’s,’ ” she said. “Recognize, regroup, relate, respond, recover, refocus, reconnect, rediscover, and restructure. Business as usual does not exist in today’s post-COVID world.

“The tourism industry has been so heavily impacted. Tourism involves two things, the movement of people and how they want to spend their hard earned money. VMI recognizes that we have to do more with less.

Being efficient and effective while honoring our mission statement will be our focus.”

VMI reaffirmed its mission to improve the quality of life and economy in Jefferson County by increasing visitation and providing an outstanding visitor experience. Dattilo noted the Madison/Jefferson County tourism industry in 2019 had a value of $43-plus million.

“In order for our community to thrive, we have to protect what makes that industry successful, tourism does just that,” she said.

CAB buys cameras, continues search for operators
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The Cable Advisory Board of Jefferson County, Madison and Hanover continued its efforts to restaff and equip Madison TV15 Thursday while looking toward reorganizing the entire operation over the next few months.

The board, meeting at Madison City Hall, agreed to spend about a quarter of its budget to buy much-needed new camera equipment while also advertising to hire at least two contract camera to video the various public meetings and other events the cable board is seeking to provide as part of its local programming.

Debbie Kroger, the group’s chairman, said the CAB had about $22,226 left in its budget for 2021, which should be enough to meet the most pressing equipment needs and still provide money to compensate camera operators.

The board approved a recommendation by Lori Hedges to buy two new video camera kits with high definition cameras, wide angle and telephoto lenses, filters, batteries and chargers and bags at a cost of $2,396 each. The two kits would be used by the CAB’s camera operators to provide improved coverage of local governmental meetings and events with older cameras made available for loan to groups and individuals seeking to provide content to the CAB’s Facebook page, a YouTube channel the group hopes to establish and when the CAB eventually resumes local cable access channel programming.

Finding camera operators has proven difficult since the CAB voted to eliminate the position of former Madison TV15 Station Manager Aaron Paul Wood earlier this year and the camera operators hired by Wood all resigned. Hedges, who teaches video and film at Hanover College, has video recorded some meetings since then and other members of the board and various governmental entities have set up cameras to at least provide a stationary camera feed and sound of other meetings in the interim. The board on Thursday agreed to post a job listing on the Madison TV15 website and the group’s Facebook page with hopes of finding more help. The job pays $25 per meeting with some allowance for meetings that run longer than two hours.

Meanwhile, the group agreed to schedule a work session to plan its strategy for moving forward, rebranding the services and reaching a resolution on where the group will go if Madison Mayor Bob Courtney holds to his earlier order that the CAB and Madison TV15 vacant its space in the basement of Madison City Hall.

“As long as we are moving forward I think he will work with us,” Kroger said on the mayor’s request to vacate the building.

The possibility of having to find other office space and pay for it — the city has provided the CAB offices for free and assisted with bookkeeping and payroll — would impact the group’s finances and the ability to buy additional equipment needed to replace older devices that are either technologically obsolete or operationally unreliable.

Hedges said the current state of some equipment combined with the way content is transferred to the cable access channels could force the group to be “totally online” for some time until those issues can be resolved. With that in mind the group agreed to expedite efforts to establish a YouTube channel where higher resolution content can more easily be made available to viewers.