By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
The street cleaners were out and workmen were downtown setting up picnic tables, stages and portable toilets Friday, all in preparation for Derby Day here.
What is now known as the Governor’s Downtown Derby Celebration is the successor to the traditional Derby Breakfast scotched by Gov. Steve Beshear during budget cutbacks.
Instead of average Kentuckians from all over the state flocking to the Capitol for the “common man’s” Derby event and dining on country ham with their governor — and lots of Kentucky politicians who want to be governor — local merchants and vendors will welcome visitors downtown Saturday with music on the grounds of the historic Old State Capitol.
That has resulted in fewer visitors to the Capitol Building and grounds, according to the governor’s press office. But it also means there is more cover in case of rain in downtown Frankfort.
For the first couple of years after Beshear cancelled the Derby Breakfast, vendors worked from tents on the Capitol grounds, but two years of rain and thunderstorms more or less ended that.
So two years ago, the event was moved to downtown Frankfort. Beshear and first lady Jane Beshear are expected to attend. There will be live music — bluegrass, blues and old-timey — and there are races and activities for children.
Most of the activities are sponsored by local merchants and the Department of Travel and Tourism, but some state workers are deployed to set up the grounds and deal with traffic on Saturday.
Meanwhile, up Capital Avenue (yes, it leads to the Capitol but it’s spelled Capital) Avenue, state workers were busy making the capitol grounds immaculate and resplendent with flowers and shrubs.
Pamela Trautner of the Finance and Administration Cabinet said 10,000 to 12,000 annual flowers — alternantheria, begonia, petunia, salvia and vinca — have been placed in and around the Capitol and there are more than a few roses and carnations.
Friday afternoon, state workers were sprucing up the grounds of the Governor’s Mansion for Friday night’s Governor’s Derby Eve Celebration, an elegant dinner and gala attracting celebrities, political figures, big political donors and prospective economic development clients.
“There’s supposed to be something like 500 people and some of them the richest people in the state,” said Alan Stucker. But Stucker won’t be going.
“I probably could’ve worked tonight, but I didn’t want to wear a tuxedo,” he said.
Stucker said grounds and maintenance staff have put in long hours over the past couple of weeks. “We’ve gotten a lot of overtime, mowing, weed-eating, picking tulips,” he said.
“I guess it’s worth it for the people who are into that type of thing, the Derby and horses,” he said.
A few feet away, Beth Sebastian climbed a ladder to adorn with roses and carnations a large horseshoe through which guests at the Friday night event would pass.
Going to the party? she was asked. “No sir. I’ll be working,” she answered.
It takes a lot of work to get the Capitol grounds ready for its biggest public day. It all adds up to putting the best face forward for all the out-of-town and out-of-state visitors.
Events in downtown Frankfort begin at 9 a.m. Saturday and last until 2 p.m.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.