Friday, December 23, 2011

Alreco, Without The EPA

Last week brought news of a few more jobs for the Kentucky labor force and maybe got a step or two on the EPA regulations concerning toxic waste materials.

On December 13 the State of Kentucky announced that an Australian company, MHM Metals, would be opening a new plant in Western Kentucky. Normally that wouldn't mean much to me, except that this company processes aluminum waste by-products, and we have some aluminum plants in Ky. MHM has a proprietary process to remove all the toxic waste from the leftovers of recycling aluminum cans.

The top three reasons for location in Ky were listed as:
  • 115-acre industrial landholding in Russellville, Kentucky
  • Existing buildings on site and property zoning to benefit time frame
  • 350,000 tons per annum of salt slag and black dross (the waste product) within an economic radius and rail availability with a high-quality rail operator may further extend this economic distance
Most of us know that R. J. Corman, a high-quality rail operator, runs a train every other day from Berea to Russellville, hauling aluminum ingots from the recycler to the can factory. Anywhere from 20 to 30 cars in a train. What I did not know is that there are two other aluminum producers in Paris (Central Motor Wheel of America) and (Kentucky Smelting Technology, Inc ), both of which have to melt their materials to cast them. There is a third smelting plant in Shelbyville (Ohio Valley Aluminum) which is conveniently right on the rail line and about halfway along the line. Corman's Memphis line division is similarly situated among several aluminum smelters too.

With so many current aluminum plants around and a history of either landfilling or stockpiling this excess material, there should be much work for the new Alreco facility and the three railroads of the region.

All of this without a peep from the EPA or any mention of their “job killing” regulations.

PS, I have not heard Mr McConnell's name spoken in context with this either.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Can Raw Milk Save Local Farming?

Last week I wrote about the pre-filed bill for the legalization of raw milk which made me research the dairy doings in Kentucky. Looking back at the Community Farm Alliance site archives from July of last year, I somewhat remember the news that our state's dairy farms are continuing a fairly steady decline in number.

Back in 1975 there were 22,000 “operations with dairy cows” which may not mean that they were actual dairies but probably that the milk was sold as part of the farm operations. This year, we are at 892 farms that the state considers dairies or have dairy cows. That was 58 less than last year and it will most likely fall again this year. Of that total under 30 have herds of over 500 head and may be called industrial dairies, all the rest appear to be smaller type farmers and the real producers of local milk.

The idea that Kentucky farms can produce all the milk to be consumed is understandable but the fact that we import some of our retail milk from as far away as New Mexico starts to baffle the mind. Milk that has been shipped that far can easily lose any of the nutrients that may be left after pasteurization and will probably need some supplements added. Doesn't the cost of shipping a product that far enter in to the retail price?

The State tells us to “drink more milk” and the dairy industry keeps saying that “Milk is the real thing” but our dairy farms are literally drying up and blowing away. Past legislative actions to benefit dairies have stalled due to the fear that the fees collected to pay for government loans or grants would have come from surcharges to the retail milk price. We cannot do more for our farmers by removing barriers to business, we have to find ways bill both the farmer AND the consumer for manipulating the free market.

The July article states that a farmer who is able to sell raw milk could ask a premium of about $4 dollars a half gallon but does not state why. Since raw milk sales are not legal, that sales difference is lost to the local farming community. Raw milk sales will not increase the availability or supply of milk but it may allow more farmers to add to the products that they now have. Just another way to add to the farm operations bottom line.

If the annual economic impact of a single milk cow is $4,500.00, then the impact of 10-15 head dairy herds in small communities spread over state will do more that a handful of industrial feedlot dairies, yet it is the big boys who influence regulations and laws. Why shouldn't the 99% of the farmers be “Ky Proud” and not just the 1% of industrial farmers who can buy the designation?

I will end in echoing the comments of the July article which says:
We need a way to allow farmers to dairy on a family-sized scale while rewarding them for responsible herd and land management.  This means paying dairy farmers a fair price for what they produce–something that hasn’t happened for decades.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Raw Milk Could Become Legal In Kentucky

In my interest concerning the availability of good local foods and my passion toward raw milk, I have learned that one of the pre-filed bill for the next legislative session is about the legal sales of raw milk. I know that not everybody shares my love of raw milk but I and my family have come to believe that drinking it has kept us healthier and for those lovers of local foods, it just makes sense.

Local foods is a mantra which has been taken up by many, as is sustainable farming and food security on the local level. That may be what is behind this bill in tis initial form.

The bill, 12RS BR 294, is labeled as “AN ACT relating to milk.” and amends KRS 217C.030 which deals with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, the part of state government that has control over the production and sale of milk. I have no idea why this is not dealt with in an agricultural department but it is not.

The bill is simple enough, it just adds a new section talking about the legal sales of raw milk and its “permitted" producers. It sounds like something that I have been hoping for for some time now. But, there are always one of those around, anytime you have a simple allowance of something, government bureaucracy will find some way to foul the initial intent.

The first place that convolution can begin to rear its ugly head is the definition of “permitted” producer.

The normal producer of raw milk is, of course, the cow and I don't think that they need a permit but the dairy where the cow lives and the dairyman who milks her probably will. A dairyman is normally also called a farmer and farmers have been the backbone of American agriculture since colonial days. Farmers have supplied their families and the local villages with milk since Medieval times if not before. I believe that it is only since the middle of the last century, when large industrial dairies began to “produce” dairy products and relegated the farmer to the role of “supplier” that permitting became an issue.

The local farmer today, really wishes to grow and sell a good product and allowing an inferior product to leave the farm or potentially harm the consumer is the last situation that they want. Industrial farmers just need to move as much inventory as they can, because it is all about filling the contract and not feeding your friends and neighbors.

Under this new bill, any permitted producer may legally sell raw milk to the end consumer as long as it is at the farm where it is produced. That sounds good but I doubt that many of the industrial dairies would like for the average shopper to see the conditions in which the cows live. It is sometimes vastly different from the bucolic images shown of happy cows and verdant pastures. Some cows never see the light of day or green fields.

On the other hand, the permitting requirements placed upon the local farmer(dairyman) may be so onerous that attempting to comply would entail a full time staff of dozens. This is far from the concept of a small time farm family that conquered the wilderness of America.. Farmers with small or medium sized herds may not be able to meet these currently unwritten regulations.

Given the history of the inspectors of the Cabinet of Health and Family Services and their past demonstrated dislike of the dairymen with cowshare programs, the possible new regulations could surely create problems for the small dairyman.

The proposed new law also requires that all packaging be labeled in such a way that could subtly imply, through wording and “warnings”, that raw milk is inferior to the usual commercial offerings. It has been the experience of those of us who like raw milk, that we need to search out that which we feel is superior and will go the extra mile to get it. Of those I know in the cowshare “families”, we trust our dairymen and realize some of the inherent risk in the bottling process, yet others trust the government inspection system and its highly publicized and all too frequent failures.

Lastly, the bill reiterates that the raw milk may only be sold or sampled on the farm which produced it which puts the smaller sized dairymen at a significant disadvantage compared to industrial dairies and their convenient sales and delivery systems.

There is much to like in this proposed law. It brings to light the increased desire to consume raw milk and the rise in the re-localization of our basic foods. It show a desire on the part of a legislator to legalize what should be freely available, similar to the farmers market expansion we are currently watching happen. It helps bring Kentucky closer to the regulations of other enlightened states concerning local foods. It does many good things but it also falls somewhat short.

There is much to be done which will make this bill better.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Rail Progress And What It Means To Us

There is an awful lot of talk going on here at the end of the year about what to expect from the railroad industry in 2012. Much of it has to do with further expansion of the freight rail system as we try to come out of this past recession. is reporting that next year will come with a ton of new jobs and cites the tremendous year that BNSF posted for 2011. Some 700+ jobs in one state alone and 415 of them are new jobs. It looks like we are trying to rebuild some of our decaying infrastructure, though the railroads have been doing a decent job of that in the last few decades.

On the subject of High Speed Rail, at least a couple of the funded projects will begin actual construction in the next year and there is no hope of seeing anything being done close to here.

Inter-modal shipping is picking up in a great way here in America and the railroad are again adding capacity. 

The last five years or so have seen several projects to enlarge tunnels and bridges to allow the bigger double stack trains. Norfolk-Southern is preparing to spend $60.5 million over the next two years, add 48 new employees and possibly create 400 other jobs by the end of 2014. Another expansion project could add 50 more jobs in a second location.

In Virginia, the recent holiday weekend saw the demand for Amtrak exceed the current capacity and talk is going around about the increased need in North Carolina. Even our closest Amtrak route along the Ohio River to Chicago or Washington is looking to add another trainset to the mix.

All of the above is happening in other locales, not in Kentucky. Other states are talking about adding some sort of rail facilities, both freight and passenger types. Little is being talked about in Kentucky.

One of the latest off hand comments came from Nick Nicholson, the president of Keeneland. It looks like he wants a light rail line to the track for two months of racing. Oh, and maybe an extension to the airport. I am not sure where he would like it to run and if it would use new or existing track. Maybe he is expecting R. J. Corman to operate it for him. There are numerous logistical problems to solve in that deal. It can be done but it will be a complex deal.

Speaking of Corman and his property, it appears that the Arena Area Arts and Entertainment group thinks that appropriating a necessary portion of a busy, functioning rail yard for an inter-modal passenger transfer station is an easy task. I think that Mr Corman has said that they are not bringing enough money to the table for that to occur.

Local investing in properties which could bring more rail activity is really at a standstill save for the Smucker's people. I have seen where they have purchased several pieces of property adjacent to the existing JIF plant. This gives them about 27 acres in total and space to expand to about double the production. Whether this includes expanded rail sidings I don't know, but anything is possible.

I also have been watching the Lextran situation with their remodel of their garage building. I have heard that the locals are asking for more restoration than redo and upgrade which could cost more than they have in funding. The old GE lamp plant on the other side of Broadway is empty, has plenty of room for a facility and sit on a rail line. Could this be an impetus for Lextran to think about rail.

Hold on, That is just too much wishful thinking. Lets get back to reality and savor the small gains that we are making.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Rupp Area Task Force Base Data - Flawed?

I would like to thank our friends over at Barefoot and Progressive for putting up the images from the Rupp Area task force report. Some of the renderings are just for show and cannot depict any real form of final idea and others have finally convinced me that the task force may be basing their conclusions on bad data. Lets take a look.

The view of the “freed” Rupp gives a view that could NEVER be seen from the outside as the arena floor would be hidden by the support structure and the attendant side rooms. But we all know that, it is just for show.

The walking distance map from the UK campus indicates just the bare minimum, straight line distance to the campus edge and not the northern residence halls which are a few hundred feet farther. The main campus housing is still at least twice as far as is the Aylesford student housing area. Just a little disingenuous I believe.

I cannot quibble about the scale of the Fayette Mall / Downtown comparison of walking distance, but the downtown image indicates that there is housing located there without showing exactly where. The Park Plaza Apartments and some other downtown housing are strangely missing. The Victorian Square Shoppes, for all the comments about how empty they are, is shown as “big business”comparable to Sears, Macy’s and Dillard’s. Is this really how they think?

I'll skip the “mirroring” concept since it is a very long term thought.

The thought of placing a “Transferia” on an active rail yard, especially one that has seen at least a tripling of activity in the last decade from what it was, leads me to believe that the auto traffic will go through downtown to park so that one can transfer to another mode of transportation. I love the idea of catching a train to Cincinnati or Louisville, but the link to Nashville shows that it goes through Versailles and I know that the line ends there. The Bluegrass Railroad Museum owns the rest, on down to the decrepit Young's High Bridge, and if it did cross the Kentucky River it would go into Frankfort. Apparently there can be no connections to points south on the Norfolk-Southern line.

Then we come the the two images comparing the downtown density of 1907 and today. The basis of the information for 1907 comes from the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps and is quite accurate. It shows the footprints of all the structures,as captured on field surveys. Most of these buildings are two or three usable stories in height and some are just shed style structures. Both Bates and Gang used these same images to look at density, and to good effect. Using footprints alone is one thing but a better measure could be the actual total floorspace of these buildings. Ten to twenty story building replacing the 3-4 floor ones will really increase the density don't you think?

I also realized that many of the buildings in 1907 were fairly good sized livery stables, the parking garages of the day. The map of the current buildings is inconsistent in showing the parking garages, although those with some partial retail/commercial uses are shown in their entirety(one floor of the parking structure beside the 5/3rd tower and the Victorian Square garage's lower retail). I feel that there is a real slant to the accuracy of information given here.

I doubt that this really skews the base data all that much but if there is this quantity of erroneous data out there, what final recommendation errors are there?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Planning Inertia at 85

Eighty five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court heard and decided the landmark case which established zoning as an appropriate tool for controlling and directing the growth of American cities. That same year, Lexington fell in line and created its own Planning Commission and developed a system through which to guide the city's expected growth. Four years later came the first Comprehensive Plan, a detailed guess as to how the city expand and where the needed infrastructure would be built to accommodate such expansion.

1926 is also about the time that I believe Lexington began to get away from the easily navigable and walkable city it once was. I have come to feel that zoning played a big role in making Lexington and most other cities into the suburban sprawl that we see and many of us detest.

According to Edward T. McMahon, in his recent article in Urban Land, “Zoning is merely a tool. It is a means to an end. It can be used constructively as a positive force for community good or it can be misused. Zoning is what you make of it.” and “It is good for protecting what is already there and for preventing nuisances. It is not as good for shaping the future or for improving the quality of new development.”

In fact the above mentioned case, Euclid v Ambler Realty, was brought strictly to preserve the simple and quiet nature of a small village outside Cleveland, Ohio. The Village wanted to prevent the incursion of industrial development into their then simple community. They wanted things to stay the way they were. The irony is that after sitting vacant for a couple of decades, a factory was built on the land as part of the war effort and continued as such for several more decades, probably due to existing zoning.

Zoning codes try to prevent bad things from happening while failing to lay out a vision of how things should be. Early zoning codes were simple and had few levels of each particular land use type. Many zones allowed for interesting mixes of intensity and diversity. Lately, our local codes have become more and more complex with multiple layers of residential, business and industrial zones and sometimes confusing yet similar size, setback and parking requirements. Too often we Americans believe that if a little zoning is good, then a lot of zoning is better. Both in size of development and in the complexity of regulatory requirements.

Lexington, as well as many other American cities, grew quite well for the better part of its history. Starting with residential and some minor commercial activity along its main streets, until they began mimicing the larger, older cities “back east” with their dedicated downtown commercial and societal uses. Usually a persons place of occupation was no more than a few steps from their home, if not located directly within the house itself.

Even as recent as the late 19th century, stores and manufacturing uses were interspersed with the remaining residential along Main St as shops and lumber yards stood cheek and jowl with churches and carriage makers. There was no zoning but folks seem to have co-existed well enough to grow.

I guess it was the 1870s -1880s when our first ring subdivisions began to spring up when whole farms would be developed. They were mostly residential but nodules of civic and commercial uses seem to be sprinkled about fairly liberally and particularly at the edges. Walking distance from the majority of the housing and along the main roadways. Still, there was no zoning and we all didn't seem to mind. The convenience of the corner store made “going to town” something special.

The invention and rapid expansion in use of the “horseless carriage”, especially after the first World War, and the dramatic shift from an agrarian to a corporate society led to a need to aggregate like people and uses into larger and larger areas. The proponents of zoning felt that this new tool could help direct the inevitable growth which the previous decades indicated was coming.

These previous decades also pointed to the periodic changes in popular desires of the residents. Land uses were allowed to evolve or shift over time and as some neighborhoods, particularly in the lower economic ranges, became available new uses brought a resurgence of activity and life. The introduction of zoning brought the appearance of stability and the assurance that undesirable changes would have to leap many more hurdles than before. The longer that a certain area had been zoned as it was meant that the likelihood of change was diminished. A form of “planning inertia”.

After WWII and the “baby boom” the perceived need to alter and intensify the zoning codes led to a much more suburban model of code than had worked in Lexington's first ring subdivisions. The older neighborhoods were stable and zoning would see to them remaining so. Fancy new shopping “centers” and the automobile(with cheap fuel) made the idea of the corner grocery seem like the “old days”. First there were the interior clusters of retail and eventually the shopping strip along major roadways.

Residentialy, the zoning allowed for sprawling, single floor ranches and some split-levels with wide and deep front yards. Some of them went on for acres and acres and the zoning meant that what was next door was going to be that same. Zoning enertia was not going to let anything change in the suburbs, but a one-size-fits-all scenario brings the same set backs and parking requirements to the older “stable” neighborhoods and that begets change. Areas that at one time were allowed to front the sidewalk and serve the pedestrian residents are now catering to the vehicle and displaying a family asset to the passing world.

The above is why I take exception to the following quote from the article:
“Zoning allows developments to proceed as long as they are consistent with the current uses of the neighborhood commons or in a way that the neighborhood has agreed in advance (through the political process) to allow.”
Edward T. McMahon

Zoning will allow developments to proceed if the are in agreement with the broadly applied community standards but not always with the current uses or the neighborhood commonalities. Maybe zoning codes should be enforced by what the actual neighborhood has agreed upon through the political process. What if the developers were allowed (again) to put in place what the neighbors need without the suburban style parking and set back requirements? Many of the multifamily units in Ashland Park/Chevy Chase can barely distinguished by the general passerby but the same number of units in areas outside New Circle Rd are readily seen as apartment type places. Such places are shunned by families looking for stability in housing.

If zoning is aimed at limiting or possibly preventing, precisely those changes in the use of property that are disruptive of neighborhood character, then they can also limit or prohibit a welcome alteration which may greatly enhance the existing neighborhood character. Inertia of any type can be hard to affect and while social inertia is moving quickly(and picking up speed) our zoning inertia is dragging us back to the mid sixties.

Zoning, it is said, is about balance but it may need a bit more help to get it on its way.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Deja Vu Anyone?

The city government is now looking at something new for their employees, a fresh fruit and vegetable cart in the lobby of the Government Center.

Building on an idea used by the High St Y, Councilman Steve Kay is circulating a survey of the city's staff in order to gauge their interest. Kay, a "Y" member, apparently has recognized that the idea has merit.

I am unfamiliar with the extent of variety or the quantity of the offerings on this produce cart, but the survey indicates that they will be those items that are “in season”. A selection of locally grown, and hopefully organic produce at reasonable prices could be another part of the new wellness aspect of the revamped health care package being promoted.

The first floor of the Government Center has become a fairly busy place under the Gray administration, what with the Mayors office being moved into the former ballroom. It remains to be seen what will happen during the holiday season which used to include many social functions for the staff.

A primary concern may be for the vegetable cart to occupy a lesser used corner of the lobby, but what if the response is so overwhelming that the offerings, in order to match the purchases, grow to an unmanageable size. I assume that it will be first come - first served, but will they park the delivery truck out back just for storage?

What if it goes beyond the fruits and vegetables? What else can the city offer to sell to its staff (or anyone else for that matter)? Will the first floor turn into an urban market? I recall seeing a photo of the old City offices before they moved to the now departed Municipal Building on Walnut St (now N Martin Luther King). See it here. The old Market house was on the ground floor while the City government ran out of the second floor. It was located on the corner of S. Lime and Vine St (opposite the current Phoenix Building) and built before the eastern portion of Vine st was constructed in the early '20s.

Maybe what was old is new again.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A New Face On Residential Land Use?

The Urban Land Institute (ULI) has just about confirmed it in their recent report What’s Next? Real Estate in the New Economy, our unsustainable lifestyle of college graduates getting good jobs and a place of their own, then a starter house while the parents downsize and the grand-parents move to someplace warm to grow old together. It was nice while it lasted but, as evidenced by some long history, it was an aberration and not a realistic scenario.

We have had a hint of its failure over the last decade or so. Fewer folks are making the great salaries and bonus packages than used to and the retirements funded by 401(k)s or Social Security have taken major hits with this latest recession (and even before). Housing prices and the foreclosures debacle have left many without equity or nest egg from which to rise again. Things are NOT going to change over the next decade, even if we come out of this recession, so what are you going to do about it?

To save money, more of us must either live in larger households or in smaller units.” says the ULI. I can tell you that Mrs Sweeper has been saying that for several years now. That does mean living in mufti-generational houses with the parents living in one area and the grand-parents living in another while the working family has the main space. To many people today, this sounds more like Communist Europe than the late 19th century standard for most of the world.

The current rate of home ownership is way higher than historically shown to be sustainable and must come down. At the same time the rental market, both smaller units and the larger complexes will see a rejuvenation and may see huge rate hikes for the better maintained ones. The ULI report calls for an expected 300,00 units annually to be built nationwide and I hope that most of them are designed to fit neighborhoods better that he standard complex of today.

I don't see why the apartment houses of the early 20th century could blend in so well, yet the ones designed after the zoning codes were refined could not. The apartments of Ashland Park or Chevy Chase do not detract from the neighborhood but the units along Alexandria or Cambridge Drs. Seem so out of place. The larger suburban developments just about scream that their residents are just temporary. They might as well be student housing.

One trend that we have seen lately, especially in the newer off campus student housing around UK, is the three and four bedroom apartments with a central entertainment room with kitchen and separate bed/bath suites for the roommates. Gone are the days of shared bathrooms down the hall like in the dorms. Living off campus is more like living at home and for some it is much better. Perhaps this style of apartment living could work for urban families, if we could get past the notion that all children need a yard to play in. What is really needed is the pedestrian access to restaurants, cafes, and parks or recreation centers which adds real value.

The decline of “McMansionized” housing is well documented but they may not be gone for long. They may follow the path of the old style Victorians built in the late19th century and be the typical housing of the multi-generational family culture on the horizon. For a number of our recent immigrants the situation already exists.

One scenario which exists is that with tightening lending standards, (putting down some equity and exhibiting a sound credit history) the rental market re-emerges to meet the multifamily demand. The vacancies will fall and the rents will rise and the institutional investor will re-enter the game. To keep these units affordable, many will need to be located around nsit stops and walkable commercial developments. Massive parking lots around these apartments will not exist.

Our older citizens will increasingly find that, as their financial situations continue to fluctuate their ability to be part of that “gray wave” of seniors relaxing on the beach or cruising the Caribbean is ebbing away. Many more will be aging in place right here in Lexington.

I, along with many others do not care for the idea of living in a “retirement community” and wish to remain a part of the whole community. As such, many of the housing units will have to be age friendly and include the ability of community social services to be provided. This may be done in condominium or apartment style although single family/duplex arrangements may work.

Now is the time for Lexington to look at how and where we will begin to take on these challenges. We can little afford to believe that keeping the long-time “stable” neighborhoods as exempt from change. All neighborhoods are changing. It is just a question of rate of change. In a matter of years, conditions may change which could swing any neighborhood in any number of directions. Plans should be in place to deal with such changes.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Which Way Is The Right Way

There is a lot of posturing being done on the Internet and in the local media concerning the current status of the CentrePointe development. Much of the dialogue centers on the apparent reversal of direction in which the Webb Co. wishes to take and whether it constitutes progress or not. It all began late last month with Beverly Fortune’s Herald-Leader article, which I think that many have misconstrued.

The article leads off with the assertion that our “world famous” guest architect from Chicago has been released from the development. Yet an opening quote, which I assume is correct, says that "She completed her work. She sent her final invoice and it has been paid,". I see that as saying that her contract is done. She was not “fired”. She has completed the work for which she was contractually obligated.

I am sure that the Studio Gang firm is not desperate for work, either here or abroad, and while they may be disappointed, along with several local firms and the other activists, their life will go on. Those here in Lexington seem to be doubly disappointed since their expectations were raised to such a level without knowing the details of the contract under which Studio Gang was hired. Now the locals see no hope of getting what they want or were led to expect.

I have always been told that nothing occurs in a vacuum and certainly other events were taking place during this time, which directly affect downtown and this development. The Arena Arts and Entertainment Task Force has, during this time, been studying the Lexington Center Corp. property and the possible redevelopment or enhancement of it. Similarly the Lexington Visitor and Convention Bureau was analyzing the possible need for expanded convention facilities. Both of these processes have been done outside the intense scrutiny of us mere mortals.

A number of recommendations from the preliminary report the AA&E task force include many unfunded, pie in the sky, facilities which are largely aimed at satisfying a local need. The data from the LVCB report, presented in August 2011, focused on the desires and needs of those who may wish to come here for conventions and such. Both reports have been prepared by well known and respected folks and surprisingly arrived at some identical, basic changes in the existing physical arrangements of Lexington Center/Rupp Arena.

One item that did come to light, and something that many of us here think little about, is the apparently very real desire of larger conventions to assemble in Central Kentucky. We saw a brief glimpse of it during the WEG and the eventual glowing stories in the international press. People liked what they saw when they visited and many will look for good reasons to come back, especially if it can be written off as a business expense. Conventions will give that reason. Now we have to accommodate them and hotel space/meeting space looks to be our limiting factor.

If we do need the increased convention space, then the idea floated by the original CentrePointe plan and not the boutique hotel concept pushed by the Mayor (and picked up by the Herald-Leader) may be the prudent path to take. The LVCB report suggests that maybe a second such hotel could be needed. If the AA&E group is serious about extending the downtown axis on the western side of Rupp and adding facilities, then we may have a location for our second convention hotel.

Dudley Webb has told several others, as revealed by TV news reports, that there is a newer contract with Studio Gang which has not been fully negotiated for further work here in Lexington. We may still get our “starchitect” building and it may be a boutique hotel, but I don’t believe it will be in the center of town.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Hail! Hail! The Gang Is NOT Here

Here we go again.

Today's news brings us the report that Jeanne Gang has completed her work for the Webbs.  She has been paid and the euphoria, that swept through Lexington back in July, has given way to the gray clouds of the approaching Winter season.  Many will obviously blame the stuffy, old conservatives of our city for rejecting the "bold" and "innovative" thinking of a Chicago architect, but others will again sigh a brief breath that maybe common sense is returning to downtown development.  I wonder if we will get what downtown Lexington needs or what a number of folks (without  a financial stake in it) feel would be good for our urban area.

I remember the royal flap that went on over the "boiler plate" economic study draft that was presented which appeared to be a cut and paste job applicable to many mid-sized cities, yet we still hear of a desire for a boutique hotel and enhanced art and entertainment offerings which could keep us on par with Louisville or Cincinnati.  I guess that the Gratz Park Inn does not count on the one hand and the literal explosion of downtown activity which has transpired since the demise of The Dame on the other.

There are people who follow the trends of the convention business and I guess that they see a need for more space in Lexington, even if you or I do not.  Mrs. Sweeper has even told me that we don't have that many conventions here, but I think that she is missing the weekly notices that the Herald-Leader lists each Monday.  She may also be considering a group of 300-400 to be less than a "convention".  I keep seeing good sized groups of folks leaving the Lexington Center wearing name badges and carrying he obligatory satchel or backpack full of goodies, so we do have a fairly steady flow of conventioneers coming to town.  Do we need more room for larger conventions, I have no idea.

I took a good long look at the sign which has stood on the block for well over a year and noticed that the J.W. Marriott name is still proudly displayed there.  They seem to think that it was an excellent idea back then and I doubt that they have changed their minds for the long haul, though there may be some blips in the short term.  I also do not see Dudley coercing them into something just so another bland building can rise from the rich limestone soil. (I think that the limestone richness was wrested from that location nearly 200 hundred years ago.)

The sad part of all of this is the fate of the four other architecture firms who were chosen to participate in the lesser structures.  They were going to bring some fresh, new ideas to the streetscape.  We will be left with just one firm who, no doubt, will continue to spread their "signature" style across the urban landscape.  The EOP style is distinctive and readily recognizable, whether it be an artistic bus stop, a downtown condo block or a satellite facility of a mega church.  Much like the often used (some say overused) model of the elementary schools of the '70s from Johnson/Romanowitz, we may find that their style will appear dated sometime in the near future.

So, here we are, back at nearly the same spot which we found ourselves just about a year ago.  Still waiting for an acceptable design and financing (I still think that it is a sure thing) and excavation to begin.  The Gang gang is gone and the Mayor is embroiled in some serious situations at City Hall.  We hear that the economy is improving, but I cannot prove that from my bank account.  Downtown is looking better but there is still much to do.

Maybe, in a few weeks, we will have another wave of euphoria to get us through the winter.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

If They Can Create Jobs, Let Them Start Now

I voted for the first time in 1968.  I guess that you can do the math but I've been voting for a long time.

For as long as I can remember, the candidates have always been saying what they will do for the American public once they get into office.  I have voted for some strictly on that basis and, like the majority of you, I have been disappointed on more than one occasion.  Many times it was that I was wanting a different direction than the majority.  Sometimes, the winner just did not do what he promised and others, the victor was hampered at every step by the opposite party.  My greatest disappointments come when they just can't get the job done.

This year, in both the gubernatorial and presidential campaigns, our candidates seem to be finding more flaws with their opponent/s than actually solving the problems at hand. In last night's presidential debate, all of the speakers told of their grandiose plans to right the government, create jobs and lower taxes, all without losing any of the gains in our American lifestyle or costing anyone any more money.

Multiple strategies and multiple directions which arrive at the same point, low unemployment and good, high paying jobs.(i.e. full recovery from this recession).  I would think that most economists think that this can not be done but economists are not running for President.

These debates serve the function of job interviews and allow the candidates to showcase their qualifications and accomplishments.  It is too bad that they gloss over he details of how and focus on the broad statements of a job well done while leaving out the facts to support them.  One thing that they all agree on is that we need to get Americans back to work, paying taxes and growing the economy.  It just has to happen AFTER they get into office.  The Obama administration cannot get any of the credit for any job creation.

I have been on both sides of job interviews before and have always been more impressed by the ones who had really done something lately and not he ones resting on way past performances.  

Since the election is still over a year away and we need the jobs right now, maybe we should make part of the contest a real race to see which one will create the most jobs in the next 12 months.  They each have a plan which they will be allowed to implement but only if the follow the same rules. They can not use public funds of any kind, they can not use tax breaks or incentives to lure jobs and they can not poach existing jobs from other areas in the U.S.  The end result should be an unemployment rate of  less than 5%.  The candidate with the highest total of jobs to which he can be directly linked by the end of October 2012 should be declared the winner by acclamation.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Help Preserve Our Food Freedom

The government is well on its way to taking away another of your fundamental rights. Soon, you may not have the right to enter into a legally binding contract with just anyone for the reasons of your mutual agreement. You may have to get a governmental agency to allow you to do so.

Last month, a Dane County, Wisconsin Circuit Court judge ruled that people in Wisconsin do NOT have the right to own and use a dairy cow or a dairy herd. That is ludicrous on its very face.

Wisconsin has long been known as “America's Dairyland” and so much so that it has been emblazoned on their license plates for years. The locals up there are known as “cheeseheads” because of all the dairy products. But these people are now being told that they have no right to sell the milk that they obtain from all the vast dairy herds in that state. Since corporations are now classified as “people”, even they do not have the basic right to use cow's milk as they see fit.

Throughout history and particularly American history, we have been told that the pioneers went west with their families and their animals to settle the frontier. Cows milk was a very staple of that trek since there were no local grocery there at the time. Little did they know that they were breaking the law of a state yet to exist.

The Court also ruled that having a private contract does not fall outside the the scope of the States' police power and therefore the State can tell you that any contract is “null and void” in its entirety or in part. Does this sound like a State where you would like to live?

Finally, the Court ruled that the DATCP [Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection] . . . had jurisdiction to regulate the Zinniker Plaintiffs' conduct. This appears to be the same direction that the FDA is heading on the national level.

This is not just a Wisconsin problem nor is it solely related to raw milk, this is about food freedom and food security. With poor economic times upon us and likely to get worse we must all now plan for our food safety and security. I think that leaving food safety to the large agri-businesses will make us more susceptible to the massive food recalls which have populated ti news of late. These recalls have only grown larger and more frequent with the consolidations of the mega farms concept and the agricultural lobbying done by a select few corporations.

This is why I now urge you to support HR 1830 currently making its way through the House. I may not agree with all that Ron Paul advocates but this is one that we all need to back. The key points of this bill are:
  • We believe that there is a fundamental right to produce and consume the foods of our choice including raw milk.
  • We believe the federal ban against transporting raw milk for human consumption across state lines is a violation of our rights.
  • We should be free to obtain raw milk from sources outside our own states' borders.
  • We demand the termination of an unjust law that interferes with the exercise of our legal right to consume raw milk.
  • We support passage of HR 1830 into law - a bill that would effectively end the interstate ban.
If you agree with me, please sign the online petition to support HR1830. Go to and then help spread the word. I think that our food future depends on it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Will American Industry Step Up?

Lately, the President has brought forth a new effort to get people working again.  One of the more local public works jobs, which would really create jobs, is the rebuilding of the Brent Spence Bridge from Northern Kentucky to Cincinnati, Ohio.  Now, all we have to do is sell this idea to Congress.

Back in the day, Congressmen used to have "knock down - drag out" battles over which one would get a job creating (pork barrel) project like this.  Many of the projects were just to get jobs and not do anything else, but this will replace an aging structure which carries roughly twice the traffic it was designed to carry.  This is a real economic development project which will impact the entire region. Not only does this bridge connect Cincinnati with its southern half of the metro area, it holds Interstate 75 and Interstate 71.  I -75 is one of the most heavily traveled Interstates in the eastern half of the country.

The Brent Spence Bridge carries traffic flowing from Detroit to Miami, from Chicago to Atlanta and from New Orleans to Cleveland/Pittsburgh. That could easily be one fifth of all highway freight traffic in the eastern U.S.  Existing rail infrastructure will not allow the railroads to pick up the slack and the Ohio and Mississippi rivers are limited in just how far they can reach and the aging lock system.

Other Interstate bridges are beginning to show similar wear and tear, as evidenced by the Sherman Minton Bridge of I-64, from Louisville to Southern Indiana.

Why, in a time of high unemployment, should two of the most powerful members of Congress, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, who just happen the represent the states on either side of this important highway link feel that pushing this project forward is wrong.  Is it because this is a public works project expected to cost billions?  Would it be due to the timing being under a Democratic president?  Both Brent Spence and Sherman Minton were Democratic Congressmen, so the Republicans cannot assist in their repair/replacement?

Maybe these types of construction projects should be funded by the folks who use them the most. Maybe time has come when we the American taxpayer should let the American consumer pay for Interstate repairs.  Have any of our American corporations (the ones sitting on well over $2 trillion in cash) come forward to pay for the infrastructure which allows their businesses to thrive?  The trucking industry and independent truckers pay hefty fuel taxes and usage fees in order to keep the goods rolling and private autos pay their fair share of gas taxes, yet the Federal Highway Trust Fund is still shrinking to the point that it cannot pay for all necessary repairs.  Clearly, there needs to be a better way.

As Rob Morris pointed out the other day in his new blog CivilMechanics,  jobs are created when there is a demand for goods or services.  He is dead on in his assessment this time.  The Interstate bridges are in disrepair, so there is a need.  Construction jobs are becoming very hard to come by, so there is a need.  Government funds will only add to the mounting deficit, so there is a need (to not add more debt).  People on both sides of the river still have to get to the jobs that they still have, so the need is there.

The needs are many and the funds are few, so when will American industry step up to the plate?

Monday, September 5, 2011

An Entertainment District Saturation Point?

For many years, we have followed the mantra of "build interesting retail and the folks will flock to it" in trying to rejuvenate our downtown.  It is not just here in Lexington but all across the country.  We did it when we built the Lexington Center and we are doing it today.  Build the retail and the people will come.

Back in the '60s, when we came to realize that our downtown was losing it luster, we tended to blame crime, outmoded buildings and the daily problems of traffic congestion (usually exacerbated by the railroad running through town).  Our solution was to partake of the new federal program of Urban Renewal and rid ourselves of the eyesores and trouble spots.  

First, the trains had to go.

Rail traffic was waning particularly passenger rail traffic.  1960 saw the fall of Union Station and eight years later the tracks were ripped up.  One of America's life giving arteries was bypassed with the Interstate and New Circle Rd. and the industries felt the need to be near the new artery.  Many special use buildings could not be re purposed and they fell into disrepair.  The activity and the vitality that they used to bring to the area simply ceased to be.
Then, getting into and out of town had to be made easier.

With the railroad gone, the former alignment became a prime location to east-bound part of a one-way couplet of streets to expedite traffic flow.  New Circle had been built to allow traffic to bypass downtown (especially for long haul trucks and cars) but now the new Main and Vine setup made it easier to get into and out of downtown proper.  It also made it easier to get through town and with little to stop for, that is what people did.

Downtown, the financial and legal center of Fayette County.

The area immediately around the (now old) Court House slowly evolved from businesses to banks and lawyer's offices.  The banks grew and grew, always moving into larger and larger buildings while the lawyers took space in whichever parts were not taken by others, as long as they were a short walk from the Courts.  Finding lunch which did not come from a lunch counter or a high end restaurant was a challenge. So much so, that I usually left downtown to get lunch and then get back.  Several building resorted to furnishing their own cafeterias for their staff, they were very much a wasted space for much of the day.

We'll build a focal point, a cultural focal point.

The early '70s found the University's Memorial Coliseum straining at the seams for every home basketball game.  Lexington needed a prime tenant for a new civic arena to which we could attract conventions and concerts.  On paper it made sense, so much sense that everyone else was doing it too.  We also had to allow plenty of space for the local retail to develop where they would take advantage of the increased foot traffic.  By eliminating the possibility of obnoxious or unsavory business in the area, folks would flock to this focal point in droves.  I think that we made our mistake when we removed the existing residential for parking and then refused to convert said parking to any retail use.  Take away your customer base and fail to build in services, what do you think will happen?  We ended up with a great place to play (and watch) basketball and little else.

National championships and sprucing up.

Lexington (and Rupp Arena) was one of the last of the smaller communities and arenas to be chosen for the NCAA Men's Basketball championships and in the early '80s there was a flurry of activity to get downtown ready for 1985.  We needed another downtown hotel and while we were at it some more office space, so we got started on the World Trade Center block and eventually the Festival Market building. 

The idea of festival markets was in full bloom at that time and many major cities wanted to have one.  Most of them were built to augment a local popular or natural feature so as to make it a focal point.  Ours was built AS the focal point to go along with Rupp Arena which, though well used, was being by-passed by many of the conventions and major concerts.  Retail shops on the first two floors and a food court on the third and an indoor carousel forced one to walk through the shops to get to the food and get back to work.  Conversely, the Quincy Market (one of the first) in Boston was set up just the opposite way.  The retail was overpriced and of such a mix that many failed to make it through the early years and eventually the whole place went under.

A little farther away on E. Main St., the World Coal Tower( a 50 story dream of Wallace Wilkinson) also failed and the City quickly stepped in to create a temporary park on the property and had dreams of building an Arts district around the Main and Lime intersection.  They acquired (with State help) and demolished some older retail buildings and then waited for the patrons on art to donate toward some magnificent project.  We are still waiting.

The NCAA Tournaments went well but nothing of such prominence has been held in Rupp since.

Events and festivals.

In the past decade or so, the focus has been on drawing the folks from the suburbs downtown, and especially on days when there is little else going on.  A downtown Farmer's Market on Saturdays or Second Sunday bike activities where one can park close to the action and then escape quickly.  It still forced those attending to drive to and from any event.

One bright spot has been the evolution of the Thursday Night Live series and the Gallery Hop Fridays.  Both events begin before most people leave downtown yet last long enough that others may join the fun once they get home from work. It also helps that more downtown residential has been built for those who want to live downtown, but units for folks who have children or need more than two bedrooms are in very short supply.  With more residential will come the demand for more retail and not the other ay around.

So, what now?

We have a new pavilion in Cheapside and a growing list of restaurants and bars along Main and Short streets. From Victorian Square to the Esplanade, just about all new retail is some sort of entertainment establishment and that may not be a good thing.  What is the saturation point for the downtown entertainment district?  How will we know that we have too many restaurants and bars?  Can we build a downtown on just an entertainment district or do we need other shops and services?  If we can get folks to live downtown, will they still  have to go to the malls to get simple needs other than food and drink?

Just last week, I heard that the Skybar may go the way of Bakers's 360 and for the same reasons.  But their place will be filled with the Parlay Social (a Prohibition lounge) and the Henry Clay Pub to be opened at 112 N. Upper St. (next door to Lexpark offices). 

Is there a saturation point?


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Park(ing) Day Is Coming Up

This year I am getting ahead of this.  

I have written about this annual event before but always after the fact.

Park(ing) Day is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 16, 2011 and that is just over three weeks away.  Park(ing) Day is when you can take over a parking space for the day and turn it into your idea of useful urban space.  More information is available here as well as a downloadable license (pdf). 

I don't know that Lexington has participated in this annual event before but I cannot think that some of you folks will not try it sometime.  We have some very fine parks here in Lexington and many of you will probably agree that there is a large unused park right in the middle of town, but this is your chance to create your very own park for a day.

I would not go for placing one in the Hamburg Pavilion lot or even along Southland Drive.  Chevy Chase shopping center or Meadowthorpe seem like more appropriate candidates.  Downtown would give you the most exposure, but who wants to set up right on Vine St?

So, who wants to set an urban park in a parking slot for a day?  Let me know where yours is and I will try to get as many photos as I can and will post them here.

Get ready, Park(ing) Day is coming.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Are You Driving Less?

The New York Times is saying that we, as a nation, are driving less than we used to.  Here in Lexington, I am not sure that is the case.

The Times is basing its conclusion on the weekly gasoline report put out by MasterCard in what the call the Spending Pulse.  The gasoline report is one of several reports which look at the transactions gathered from around the country.

Demand for gasoline is down and, according to the report, falling rather steeply.  As of Aug. 19, the weekly demand is off 4.2% compared to a year ago and 0.8% compared to last week.  I don't think that it is due to high prices as the national averages there are declining also.  While up over last year, the prices have fallen 4 cents from the week before and the price for oil itself is falling recently.

America is consuming at least two million barrels of gas per week than we did last year.  Did we just quit taking our Sunday drives or are we driving more fuel efficient autos?  Did we stop driving to work or are we making more efficient trips when we do?  Lexington streets still look like they are clogged with traffic at the same times every day and it still take a while to get across town during rush hour, so are WE driving less or are others doing a better job than we are?

The Times concludes that, as an economic indicator, less gasoline pumped = fewer miles driven and economic activity has declined.I think the we have just decided to quit wasting so much of it and we are better off for it.

What do you say?  Are you driving less these days?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Some Of Today's Gleanings

Just a few things that we picked up this week.

As we all know, the W. Short Street corridor has become the hotbed of activity and dining lately and is the de facto heart of Lexington's entertainment these days.  The Fifth Third Pavilion has been a catalyst as well as the demolition of the CentrePointe block, and things are not done yet.

A new sign went up on the building at the corner of Short and Broadway announcing the anticipated opening of Shakespeare & Co.  While I have heard about this for almost a year, this is a little firmer indication of another fine dining experience in downtown.  Visiting the website menu really makes me wish that it was just a little closer to being open.

Shakespeare & Co. began in the Dubai, United Emirates in 2000 and has grown to nine in Dubai, several in Abu Dhabi as well as Syria, Qatar, Bahrain and other international locations.  On Monday, June 06, 2011, a U.S. federal trademark registration was filed for SHAKESPEARE AND COMPANY. This trademark is owned by  Edward T. Saad, and a mailing address of Lexington, KY 40507 and remodeling work has been ongoing for longer than that.  This will be another welcome addition to Lexington.

On the other end of the corridor we have the former site of Mia's which has also been undergoing some construction work.  The roll-off dumpster is gone and the facade has been painted, so something is going on.  I recently heard that a former chef from Bakers 360-the casualty of being at the top of a building and alienated from the street- is planning to open sometime this fall.  I am continuing to gather information.

Mia's, of course, took their revised concept across from the Soundbar on South Limestone and are joining the college crowd just in time for school to start.  Ole Hooker's Bait n Tackle Bar n Grille apparently has been working the kinks out over the summer and is now ready to roll.

Speaking of exciting corridors for new dining and entertainment, I cannot leave out what is happening on Jefferson St.  Stella's, Nick Ryan's and Wine + Market are now joined by the Apiary catering company (who also want to add a sit down restaurant) and a burger joint where Cuppa: used to be.  The Green Tavern is still doing well with the Transy. crowd but I hear that even bigger thing may be in the works.

In anticipation of the BCTCS campus being occupied soon, I hear that Alltech (the WEG sponsor) is looking to do something with the old Rainbo bakery building at the intersection of Sixth and Jefferson.  Some sort of adaptive mixed use which would include a restaurant and some retail.  The Coolavin Apts. may change to student housing and with the park right there(so is the Hope Center) there is certainly a way to bridge the railroad tracks so that they could get to school safely.  Alltech would be clearly looking ahead.

Several blocks away at Sixth and Lime, of course, is Al's Bar and if all of this takes place, just think of the trolley loop that could be created for a decent "pub crawl".

So, there you have it.  Any thoughts?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Welcome To The New Reality.

It has been a while since I have posted but there have been so many things going on.

The debate in Washington about the "crisis" of the long term debt problem has everyone quarreling about how one side has let the other down.  That there will be no let up in the demand that we live within our means, that continue to grow more and more meager everyday.

The TEA Party and many of the Republicans state that we are a nation of people who should be self reliant who will rebuild our nation from the ground up.  Very many of those same folks cannot even feed themselves should the grocery stores fail to receive their truckloads of supplies. 

The American people have become more and more reliant on the Highway Trust Fund (HFT) to finance the road infrastructure in America and that Fund is reliant on the Federal Gas Tax.  Our demands that our car get better gas mileage and that we keep fuel prices low, and especially, the demand that we NOT increase the gas tax, have rendered the HTF insufficient to repair, much less expand, the national road system.

Now we hear that most of the 18.4-cent tax per gallon of gasoline set to expire Sept. 30th.  That is at the end of the Federal fiscal year.  If the wrangling over extending this is as rancorous as the debt ceiling issue, we may not have a gas tax this time next year.  The individual states would have to enforce their own increases and allocate for their own highways.  50 different ways of calculating the fees, 50 different methods of collecting it and 50 versions of allocating toward transportation projects.  This could have a devastating effect on the trucking industry.

States which currently have a sparse population could see their highways wither away and become dirt roads.  Parts of states with larger cities (think of the area from Washington, DC. to Boston) may get their roads paved but the paths to other portions of the state may be just that - paths.  Lexington, Louisville, Bowling Green and Northern Ky could see all the road growth - or we could actually see regional rail.

But what if we followed the lead of Mitch and Rand and did not raise the fuel taxes in any way?  The Federal government could then no longer help us, nor could the State.  Each individual would have to fend for themselves. Rugged individualism would have to be instilled in all of us.  Can't you just see it now, Mad Max right here in Central Kentucky?  No, somehow I think that we would all have to cooperate and pull together.

Melissa Lafsky has it right when she says that "our inability to raise the gas tax is at the heart of our economic decline" . We want to cut taxes on all the wrong things.  We only tax about 60% of the total tax base and that is leaving a lot of cash on the table. 

Today, the City of Williamstown granted tax breaks to the creationist theme park to the tune of 75% over thirty years in addition to the $40 million in incentives from the State.  If this project is not good enough to go it alone, then why do it at all?  I'm just saying that that is a lot of money for something which may be dated and faded in 30 years, then need new incentives to "freshen" it up - or replace it.

The hard liners on not raising taxes are adamant that they will not inflict higher taxes on corporations.  The same corporations who are sitting on $2.5 trillion in liquid cash and not expanding or hiring because they don't have local customers.  Those local customers are not showing demand for products because unemployed(or underemployed) folks cannot pay for stuff.  Nor can they borrow the funds to pay for things.

So, the final results are, private industry will not create jobs, the Government is not allowed to create jobs, the gas tax will not pay for transportation construction jobs, the social safety net jobs will be reduced and our rugged individuals will rebuild America. 

Welcome to the new reality.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Are We Really No. 6

So, Kiplinger's has sent a reporter to Lexington - or better yet, a Senior Associate Editor -  and soaked up the essence that makes Lexington a No. 6 city for best value as a place to live. I am glad that they focus their magazine on finances because they missed it on geography.  Lexington is NOT a Northern Kentucky city.  We, and our metro area are very definitely Central Kentucky, North Central, but very Central Ky.

I don't know how long this editor stayed in town but I will wager that she was escorted around by a member of Commerce Lexington.  She has the wording of the advertising brochures down pat.  The part about keeping the small-town feel while believing that we are the center of the horse farm world, the basketball world, the Southern charm world and just about any other world that you could think of.  Don't get me wrong, we have an impact in all of them but we do not drive what happens in those worlds, we just go with the flow.

Healthcare and the new expanded hospital is a good thing and the University is the largest employer, but the divide between the professionals and the rest of our "diversified" work force is very stark.  A few haves and many have-nots exist side by side here in Lexington, and a few more have-nots every day.  Lexmark, though a major company, is not a huge local employer.

Her comments on physical growth and the self imposed limitations on Fayette County's rural lots sizes do not reflect the thoughts of home buyers, as the cost of real estate here is higher but when averaged with the rest of the metro area will become affordable.  Such affordable housing is much harder to find in Lexington proper.

She also implies that the city is buying pastureland, but the PDR is only buying the development right of said pastureland ( from the folks who would not be allowed to develop it in the first place).

She describes downtown fairly accurately and notes some of the successes and hopes for the future, although her characterizations of the events at Cheapside only point out how few and seldom that they occur.  I still feel that any private group should be able to rent the facility for a fund raiser or get together along the same lines as renting a park shelter in some of the parks.  We should not believe that all functions are to supplied by the city.

Her housing costs appear to be solely for Lexington and not for the rest of the metro area and as someone who has looked for a place with FOUR bedrooms and a family of 4-5, such places are very hard to find in that limited range.  Not all households are young professionals or retired couples but the small family types who WANT to live downtown are priced out of the market.

"Why its fun"  We have Keeneland and the University of Kentucky Wildcats basketball to cheer for.  Keeneland for six weeks a year and basketball for 3 months (if you can get a ticket) and each event totals about 23,000 souls at a time.  UK football boasts nearly 2.5 times that number but only 8 times a year. From there, when you take away the dining and drinking around town, most folks find that there is precious little that is affordable to hold their interest.

Lastly, to the mayors comment "wears itself like a loose jacket, it’s not so sophisticated that it’s predictable. We’re not pretending to be something we’re not.”.  We may not be sophisticated but we are predictable and we are ALL pretending to be that which we are not.  Some pretending downward and some pretending upward, but pretending just the same.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Property That Southland Didn't Take

I heard today of another investigation into the possible uses of the old Todd's Trace Apartments, or what is now known as the Pennington Place dump.  This would make about the fifth time that someone has asked about the property and what could be done to redevelop it.

Since it has been basically abandoned for several years now, all the apartments have been broken into and at least two complete buildings destroyed by fire, there is no way that it could be rehabbed and the only solution is to start with a clean slate.

I have given my thoughts on how the area should have been redeveloped when I wrote this back in January.  Unfortunately the church is proceeding with its plan and there is not another large religious entity set to do something similar.  I also do not want another large piece of tax revenue generating property to be designated as tax-free as long as our city needs the funds as the do.  No, somebody rally has to make this a viable development for both the city's and their sake.

What makes this so tough to work with is the lack of easy access to the major roadways.  I still think that, at some point, the dependance on the personal automobile will be removed and since this location is at the intersection of two main roads and it is a straight shot to downtown, some sort of mass transit will suffice for most new urbanists who may live that far out.

Still, today's urban developers are not that forward looking and a quicker access is desired in order to work a deal. The property is hemmed in by two, less than stellar areas, the business along Woodhill and the declining neighborhood of duplexes and townhomes with a growing reputation for crime, and a successful shopping area on Richmond Rd. Residential, and especially up-scale residential, without a different orientation and access would be a hard sell in this location.

So many of late seem to think that the current design process for the CentrePointe block will bring about a winning solution and a certain Herald-Leader columnist and blogger believes that we should apply a similar  one to the Lexington Center redesign, so should we get the mayor involved and do something here?  How about some suggestions from you, my readers. 

What would you place in this difficult redevelopment area?  Remember, the church took a similar sized chunk of apparently unneeded commercial land so a shopping center may not be viewed as possible.  The French Quarter hotel works, but do we need another series of lodging units, either extended stay or otherwise?  Give me your ideas and I will post them and send them on to the mayor.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

First The Trains, Then The Planes, Then The Roads?

Back in August of 2009, I wrote a piece about a little known Federal program called the Essential Air Service in which the government reimburses major airlines to serve smaller rural communities.  This year it runs to the tune of nearly $200 million and still our air carriers claim that they cannot make any money.  Today, Delta Air Lines announced that it “can no longer afford” to serve 24 of the rural airports that they picked up in the merger with Northwest Airlines.

From what I can gather, it is not all about the corporate decisions to leave folks high and dry but the "style" in which these passengers desire plays a factor.  Everybody, I guess, wishes that their airport be a modern and useful airfield, with the latest in air comfort and speed, but when you cannot fill the existing seats of the propeller type planes - then you will not fill a larger regional JET.  Nor can you fly to the 29 major hubs from just Anyplace, USA and expect to get good slots in the landing pattern.

The Essential Air Service subsidies are slated to expire in 2013 unless Congress decides to extend them but in this current fiscal state I would not hold my breath on that. The current Republican strategy is to cut out anything that does not help corporations but may do some good for the common man.  The highways that we cannot maintain will have to do for these 24 cities and probably a similar number next year - and the year after.

This is also just one decision made by one airline, how many more will be coming in the days ahead?  Deregulation was supposed to free up the airline industry to be responsive to the market demands and to foster more competitive scheduling and pricing.  The Essential Air Service subsidies were to equalize the opportunities for the rural cities which could not run with the big dogs, but also could not stay on the porch.  If things continue as they have in the past five years, even the big dogs may not be running like they have been.

Many of these small cities got a big boost from the railroad systems and some of them owe it all to the railroads. These railroads brought life into a lot of places in the expanding western territories.  For years they were THE way for people to come and go for long distance travel..  The automobile and the airplane helped bring those days to an end, so what is expected when these modes are no longer economically viable?  When the rural areas no longer have air service and the states and federal government can no longer build and maintain the roads.  What will we have then?

Other countries are considering (and building) systems of high speed rail with feeder routes of more moderate speed which connect to the more rural communities there.  Somehow, that doesn't fit in with our concept of a modern world...    yet.