Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Reasons Why Living Downtown Is Fun

Last week was an interesting week to say the least.

First off, there was the typical fall out over the Look IMAX theater presentation before the Board of Architectural Review. Without making a formal application on the property at the corner of W High St and S Broadway, the developers spoke only get some feedback as to the sentiments of the South Hill Historic District residents. I think that they found out fairly quickly that Lexington is not Dallas and, though we may be a RED state politically, we are nothing like Texas when it comes to preservation.

The problems of working with this location are many. Moving a large, historic home from its original site may save it from destruction but will alter our city's urban fabric in a way much greater than the removal of a few downtown buildings on the CentrePointe block. The earthwork of removing an outcrop of rock, just to allow a parking garage, means blasting in close proximity to numerous 150 year old buildings. That tends to make folks nervous.

A general consensus of people that I talked to felt that the development should go on the other side of Broadway – on the block that is identified as the Rupp Arena Arts and Entertainment District's prime site. Would it not be better to have private money begin the block's redevelopment than expand the $325 million that the taxpayers have yet found a way to pony up? Can the Look project folk not crack the administration's circle of planners to be part of a branded entertainment district?

To continue the topic of blasting out foundations, it was announced that we now have a daily scheduled detonation for the CentrePointe work. There will be traffic stoppage all around the block for 10 minutes while they blast, but beside that most folks will not even notice. For anyone concerned, I watched the foundation work for the Transit Garage, where they blasted twice a day, and felt barely anything.

I found an article titled 12 Strategies That Will Transform Your City’s Downtown, from Of the 12 strategies listed we are doing quite well.

We are seriously looking at changing our one-way streets to two-way and we have at least one regularly scheduled public event showcasing downtown merchants, music, and food. These two items were numbers 1 and 2.

Make under-utilized public land available to private developers” came in at #4 and the Rupp project will do that, although it seems that for the past few years some have been looking to private land to create more under-utilized public space on the CentrePointe block. Number six calls for establishing a permanent public market. Not just spaces to allow for the weekly Farmers Market to set up on set days, but a full-time market house like we used to have with Jackson Hall.

Since our local universities are downtown, we can skip to #8 and talk about a streetcar line to an adjacent urban neighborhood. The trolleys seem to be doing an adequate job at present but the permanence of the streetcar is what is intended. Does it strike anybody odd that when we did have streetcars, commercial areas sprang up along them at regular intervals? They helped to create neighborhoods.

An awesome kids playground and the branded entertainment district look to be still some way off, but they are going to take some effort.

The last two strategies of establishing parking maximums for downtown projects and some type of bike or car sharing programs are so foreign to Lexington residents that I will not hold my breath. Any strategy that results in more transportation choices available within a downtown is a good thing and the trolleys may be proving that. Certainly any effort that also provides indirect marketing and branding services for downtown is a valuable one.

Then I hear talk of a proposed rezoning along Newtown Pike between Third and Fourth for a fairly dense development of market rate housing and retail. If all of the rumors are true then what I said about Blue Stallion choosing a very good location looks prophetic. The combination of Transylvania University and BCTC building along Fourth St., the change from one-way to two-way (sound familiar?) by the state DOT and some pioneering retail can begin to make this area really surge. Other than Fourth St was any public money used here?

Look also for rezoning to expand the drinking and dining choices in the Second and Jefferson St area ( I wonder if it will have a fowl theme too) and maybe the Apiary will take flight this summer. Yes, there is more stuff coming.

And lastly, we return to the “downtown cinema wars” where Kirkorian allowed the Look theater group to show their hand, to which he promptly trumped it with a signed agreement for the property where we all knew that it should go. No rezoning, no BOAR, existing parking facilities and the ability to begin this summer - game over.

What will happen in the next few weeks?


Blake Hall said...

I heard awhile back that the city was looking to convert some of the government buildings to have retail on the first floor in order to recoup some of the costs of maintaining them. Has anything come of that? It seems like a good idea to me but I haven't heard anything about it for some time.
Personally, I love streetcars and would love to see them in Lex, but I don't expect them to become a reality for some time unless they really tie them to the historic streetcars that Lex used to have. A kind of "Look what we used to have" thing.
Too many Lexingtonians only view downtown as the "speed bump" of their commute. Hopefully the progress it's making will change that.

Lexington Streetsweeper said...

Blake, I believe that the city is still looking to open those storefronts to new commercial, but to do that the City has to relocate to a new structure. Talk has been to look at the Transit Center as a site. Then there is the massive debt which they may incur should the "Free Rupp" movement hit some unforeseen, yet predicted, snag in its financing scheme.

As for the streetcar issue, i have had a few new thoughts on that to be coming soon.

Lexington Streetsweeper said...
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