Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Entertainment Loop Grows

Just about a year ago Lexington was told that its cultural heart was being torn out. The very essence of downtown nightlife was being snuffed out.

This, of course, was due to the fact that three fairly popular establishments were being forced to close and the block of decrepit building that they occupied demolished. Gone forever would be the nightspots where they whiled away the hours between 10 p.m. and 2:30 a.m.(the most active 4.5 hours of any city's downtown life. Vanished, the several thousand square feet from among the approximately 3 acres of the city center.

Downtown would never be the same.

In that year there have been a steady stream of announcements concerning the expenditure of private and public funds (mostly private funds) on renovation of the bars, restaurants and nightclubs from Victorian Square to the Esplanade and points east. The three previously mentioned establishments have all re-opened or announced a re-opening in bigger and better spaces. Public focus has shifted to a realization that there really is a night life in downtown Lexington. And it meshes well with its daytime alter ego.

Business after business has rented/bought space and renovated, expanded, opened and succeeded, so far, in the face of a down economy. They say that the new heart of the "entertainment district" is N. Mill St. and there is a movement to close it to vehicular traffic. I suggested such back in January 2008 on SkyscraperCity. I have also suggested to think outside the box and look at the north side of W. Short St., maybe even close it in the evenings during the summer, at least from Broadway to Upper. I have suggested here, running the downtown circulator, the Colt trolley, along Main and Short to help these businesses. These things are happening.

The latest of these amazing announcements came today. I say the latest because I don't think this will be the last. Dudley's, the 28 year veteran of restaurants is moving from the south side on downtown to the very epicenter of this burgeoning hub of night life, right beside the Pulse nightlife which opened not long ago. With the Metropol, Dudley's and the Pulse all on the north side of the street (and room for more) there are growing reasons to close Short St.

Some people may soon be looking at the block of Short between Upper and Lime as a way to connect this entertainment district with the Limestone corridor. In the neat year this will become "ground zero" for the WEG and all the doing of Spotlight Lexington. At that time I hope I can say that you heard it here first.


topazsfp said...

The reason Dudley's is moving is because they're being thrown out of their current space. The move was not voluntary.
Also, the vast majority of the buildings that were so hastily demolished weren't 'decrepit' by far.

Streetsweeper said...

According to Debbie Long, the owner, it quite voluntary. She could have paid the higher rent for the old location, but chose to pay herself when she bought another (and I think better) location. This will give her another chance to bring some innovative ideas to Lexington and bring her flair to the downtown dining scene.

The buildings were, by far, beyond the realm of affordable renovation and the businesses which were displaced could not have afforded to remain there had they been renovated, nor could they have stayed during any such renovation.

So, what would your solution have been?

topazsfp said...

My boyfriend works at Dudley's, and Debbie was livid when she found out she wouldn't be able to continue at their current location. From what I understand, the location owner is a rather strange recluse, but he wants to put his own/another (not sure) restaurant into the space, and did not give her the option of staying on.

Several of the buildings on the block had been renovated fairly recently. Some of them, yes, needed work. However, the inspector that had not been hired by the Webbs hadn't found nearly the damage reported by the Webb inspector. I don't doubt that there were plenty of things to fix; old buildings often require regular maintenance. I do know that some of the damage found was deliberate; the Woolworth building, for example, was vacated (the tenant was not permitted to renew) and not put up for rent, left empty for years, and not maintained deliberately so that it could be condemned and torn down despite its historic status, and paved into the current parking lot.

Had it been me (well, me with money to invest in such things), I think the best approach would have been to evaluate the buildings individually for damage and the infrastructure quality, then to design an infill project utilizing at least the facades of the historic buildings (and it would not be nearly as tall), with architecture to match the buildings in that area. I would also take into account the current businesses and potential opportunities - honestly, the condo idea sounded pretty good until you realize that there are several projects in the immediate area that fill this idea and haven't sold the units; some projects have even been abandoned due to lack of buyers (like High and Woodland, where they tore down the old church on the corner). Same with the hotel room idea; it only makes sense if the project is feasible by 2010; the current hotels downtown cannot maintain occupancy as it is. These things were known well before Centrepointe was announced, though, to be fair, it was not known that the economy was going to go this bad, this fast.

I'm not saying that the idea of renovation is inherently bad. However, there are a lot of ways to approach it - and the current hole in the ground is certainly not preferable to the vibrant block there before.