Saturday, November 15, 2008

Vexington Mall question

from Business Lexington

In the latest Business Lexington (Nov 13 2008), their lead article is about Lexington Mall and the problems that have transpired over the last 30 years. It is a nice read and brought back many memories for me. While their explanation of the history of the owners, stores and tenants along with the conflicts between them differ from my own recollections, I feel that they have done their usual fine research and I have not.

Much has been made of the legal wrangling of the past ten or so years and the developers and the politicians have spoken (or not spoken) loudly about what will happen here. Everyone has an opinion and the ones posted on the Business Lexington site run from inane to "why would they do that?". It seems that everyone wants the politicians to do something about it. The one group not being asked are the planners.

Yes, the planners. You know that group of professionals that we pay to figure out these kind of things. The ones that you complain about, when the politicians allow or prevent your favored development to occur/from occurring. The guys that we rail against when the road is congested to the max, because the funds aren't provided to improve the road. They are the professional staff who should propose uses or concepts designed to allow the highest and best use of Lexington's limited urban area. They, have not been asked to do anything for this eyesore yet.

I am beginning to feel that the reason that the planners have not been involved, is that for the last 35-40 years, Lexington has taken a hands off approach to driving developments to completion. It may have started after the Urban Renewal phase that the country went through in the 60's. Grandiose plans were prepared, properties bought, historic buildings razed, railroad tracks removed, new roadways built and... we handed it over to the private developer. Not just downtown, everywhere in the city. This was a time of good growth, a booming economy and booming population.

The small planning staff of the day could barely keep up with the caseload and the good planners went on to bigger cities while the others used their experience to get better jobs in the private sector. A somewhat rapid turnover in staff allowed the administrations of the 70's, 80's and 90's to continue to let the developer make the proposals and the staff make their recommendations for or against. The staff still had the charge of preparing a long range plan, but there were no grand proposals or sweeping (I love that word)changes in direction for any part of town. Any major changes in the plans usually were (are) coming from some others plans.

One solution that I would like to see is Commerce Lexington and the local economic development director working with the planning staff to propose new projects and not with the political spoils to local developers/planning firms. Waiting for the owner/developer in this case and others around town has not worked to anyone's satisfaction so far. Its going on six or seven years now, how much longer can we wait.

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