This year’s model is a cement dog — and his new owners.
by Kakie Urch
Every year, Ace Weekly chooses an exemplar of community participation, activism, action and arts/culture and throws it a crown laced with an Elvis Costello reference so old that it’s new again. And in 2009, Buster, the cement dog that represents the vision, work and community organization of This Year’s Model: Clark and Jessica Case — is our pick. The Cases, if you don’t know are the married couple of lawyers who grabbed a cement dog from the wreckage of the CentrePointe demolition, took an old whiskey distillery and a novel historic district, threw in some serious legal and financial dedication and love of music and spirits and opened Buster’s Billiards and Backroom in the Old Tarr Distillery at 899 Manchester Street.
Never mind a recession. Never mind that people said it couldn’t be done and that many had tried. Never mind that opening a midsized music venue requires a strong back, longer-than-lawyering hours and comfortable shoes.
The Cases were music lovers, habitués of the old Buster’s, the billiards hall and beer bar in downtown Lexington that fell, along with The Dame and other local businesses, to the wrecking ball that swung to create the as-yet-not-created CentrePointe luxury hotel and office project.
They grabbed the dog and ran.
For months, they worked in the industrial district newly dubbed the Distillery District, creating in the 11,000-square-foot space a billiards lounge and a “backroom” that is in fact a state-of-the-art concert hall. They have endured those nights that clubowners have: big band, empty room, huge guarantee. And they have had those other nights that clubowners have: overflowing room, hundreds of people, engaged in a cultural experience (pick yer culture — Silversun Pickups, The Wailers, Mission of Burma, Os Mutantes, Faust, Man Man, “The Last Waltz,” These United States, Chico Fellini) and grateful for the local space to enjoy it in.
And they have been true to their word — welcoming local organizations from across the spectrum into the space for fundraisers, events and community. From a benefit for the Lyric Theatre that anchors an important corner in the African-American community, to the Beaux Arts Ball, to key shows involving the Latino community, the Cases have reached out and opened doors.
Did we mention the comfortable shoes and the particular way a starched shirt first wilts, then clammily sticks after you’ve carried 60 pounds of ice upstairs to the green room?
Clark and Jessica Case picked up Best of Lex Awards in September 2009 for Best Music Venue and Best Old Building Rehab
Who are these folks and what did they do? The duo are University of Kentucky grads
who spent time as undergraduates absorbing what music they could at the numerous venues like The Dame, Buster’s, The Wrocklage, Mecca, Area 51 that provided the space for that. They became attorneys, worked at one of the major firms in town and then struck out on their own, working their own firm that specializes in helping people start businesses.
They took local resources — their own cash, sweat equity and the history of the Bluegrass in the Distillery District — and took action on a community issue that had many people up in arms but with nowhere to shoot. And by cash, we mean three-quarters of a million dollars cold, which is probably not counting the opportunity cost of what they could bill as lawyery lawyers if they weren’t hauling 60 pounds of ice.
And by sweat equity, we mean the several kinds of sweat worked up by yanking industrial corrugated stuff stuff there years ago out to the kind that is worked up when you are standing before City Council and arguing for major bonding or TIF funding for your project.
Here’s what Jessica Case had to say to council recently:
“We are proof that the Lexington Distillery District can work. We have breathed new life into a building that has since construction been an integral part of our history and social fabric. And when the Distillery District realizes its full potential, it will be full of businesses that have done the same thing.”
“I urge you, as you’re looking down that long list of projects, and trying to decide where to make cuts, that you think about which of these projects will bring this city money in return for the investment you are being asked to make. And the simple fact is that the Distillery District will bring Lexington money. It already is. In renovating the Old Tarr building and outfitting it for Buster’s, my husband and I invested three quarters of a million dollars.
“A substantial amount of this went to local supply businesses and contractors and to licensing fees (a portion of which end up back in our local government); We spend money with local advertisers and local vendors. We donate our space to local charities so they can raise money for their various causes. We put money back into the community with jobs; we employ more than 30 people, which means that Buster’s and the Distillery District are not only providing much-needed jobs for Lexington, we are providing a revenue stream in the form of payroll taxes. This money is immediate. Keep the $3.2 million in bonded funding for the Distillery District.”
And by the history of the Bluegrass in the Distillery District, we mean the tough history of an area that will represent. And by the history of the Bluegrass, we also mean the history of the extraordinary music scene in Lexington, which has persevered and thrived since the mid-70s through the input The Cases acknowledge and extend that. They offered their space as the hub space for Boomslang the three-day, multi-venue festival of arts and culture that WRFL and the new generation including Saraya Brewer, James Friley, Ainsley Wagoner, Ross Compton and Cass Dwyer represent. And those kids booked the Olds: Mission of Burma, Os Mutantes and Faust, in addition to the Cool Kids: Atlas Sounds, Rachel Grimes, Kurt Vile, These United States and the Circus and the Accordians.
And they built that cultural history into the space. The bar at Buster’s is adorned with a permanent collage that shows the ephemeral highlights of great shows gone by … by the contemporaries of that bespectacled Declan McManus behind the camera on That Year’s Model. The collage was done by a local artist, the opening was advertised on locally produced and hand-printed posters by Cricket Press and on a locally produced Web site by Elevation Creative.
Sometimes, it pays to talk numbers to power. And the Clarks did just that. Here’s what Clark Case told council, as the bonding hearing went on and the grass in the horse farm fence down the street at CentrePointe glistened all green.
“Buster’s is proving that. Having been open less than three months, we have
already sold more than 10,000 tickets to events (that doesn’t count the free shows and charity events hosted on the 7 days a week Buster’s has been open since September 4. More than 20,000 people have already come for entertainment, charity events, fundraisers, and other civic functions to the Lexington Distillery District. And that’s only accounting for one enterprise that’s been open for three months in a blighted area with little or no infrastructure.”
In this district, we have the entrepreneurial genius that is Alltech, creating something new in Kentucky Ale that is driving its sponsorship of the World Equestrian Games.
In this district we have a company brewing the first Kentucky vodka — Pure Blue, which mixes well with Ale-8-One and some orange juice. And in this district, formerly known as “That Place They Keep The Tow Trucks,” we have the Jessica and Clark Case, a concrete dog and Buster’s Billiards and Backroom — This Year’s Model, which did not wait for permission, but which took a community need, a great idea and their own expertise and creativity and built something new and good.
In the middle of the Great Recession. ■
Kakie Urch is an assistant professor of multimedia in the University of Kentucky’s School of Journalism and Telecommunications. She can carry 60 pounds of ice.
6 ACE Weekly December 17, 2009
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 5
Top Buster’s Highlights So Far
● Beaux Arts Ball April 2009
● Buster’s Collage – Elements of local music scenes gone by are built into the bar
● Opening Night w/ Chico Fellini, These United States, Wax Fang, Silversun Pickups
● Boomslang Night 1: Casino v. Japan, Atlas Sounds, Parlour, Mission of Burma, Faust
● Boomslang Night 2 :Ford Reunion Theatre and the Circus-themed Fashion Show, Papa M., Bardo Pond, The Black Angels
● Boomslang Night 3: Pez Head, Os Mutantes, Fuma with Radau Gypsy Dance, Sacred Fire Circus
● March Madness Marching Band — the marching band that lights up the night
● Lyric Theatre Benefit – reaching out with WUKY-FM for this event
● The Wailers
● Halloween (Halfway to Beaux Arts Ball) with Man Man
● “The Last Waltz” A re-enactment of the historic concert by The Band in the 70s.
● PBR Every Sunday
It’s in the Old Tarr Distillery. That’s a place where they used to
make the flavor. It’s in fact, the first registered place that they used to make the
flavor in Lexington, Fayette, or Woodford counties. You see, Woodford Reserve is AVAILABLE at Buster’s, but Old Tarr itself was registered as Distillery No. 1, 1865. And a border state needed a lot of flavor. ■
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