PRINCETON, Ky. -- Volunteers armed with paintbrushes have transformed the heart of a small western Kentucky town once littered with vacant buildings.
A city official's simple idea to revitalize Princeton's long-dead downtown has attracted new business and accolades from the state.
"The downtown is a living, healthy, vibrant downtown. You can get your shoes resoled, buy an ice cream cone, buy a diamond engagement ring and make a real estate transaction," said Donna Neary, executive director of the Kentucky Heritage Council. "It's the center of the community. It just shows what a little paint and tender loving care can do in how a community feels about itself."
Neary said the town of about 6,700 is considered a model for downtown revitalization.
The rebirth started with Princeton Main Street manager Sam Koltinsky, a Caldwell County High School graduate who moved back home three years ago after 30 years.
Koltinsky is a documentary producer who has lived in Europe.
"In the 1960s, the way to update buildings at the time was to cover up buildings. Now we've removed all of the vinyl abuse. Most of the boards are gone," Koltinsky said. "While we were changing the dynamics of the community, we changed the spirit at the same time."
Downtown businesses bought the paint and volunteers, ranging in age from 14 to 80, donated 3,500 hours working on 39 downtown businesses. Individuals and businesses have also given $45,000 to the project, which Koltinsky called, "Let's Paint the Town."
Three years ago the downtown had 12 vacant buildings, now it's down to three.
The initiative won the Kentucky League of Cities 2006 Enterprise Cities Award and the 2008 Ida Lee Willis Memorial Foundation Award for preservation.
Koltinsky said towns like La Center and Mayfield have contacted him with questions about starting similar programs.
"The lesson here is any community can do this," he said.
Buz and Nancy Taylor are one of a handful of couples who have moved downtown. They live above a historic building they restored across from the courthouse. The Taylors sold their house next to a country club to move to the two-room apartment.
"Our goal is to create a downtown neighborhood," Nancy Taylor said. "I like being able to walk wherever I need to go. I use other businesses downtown for my daily life. I like being a part of the whole downtown scene."