Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lexington Mall, Is Something Happening?

Last night, WKYT (channel 27) led off the late news with a story that was supposed to detail the latest in the chain of events relating to Lexington Mall. Their implication was that something was afoot.

The TV station had this to say about the abandoned mall.
In a statement given to 27 Newsfirst, a spokesperson for Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry says, "We are aware that there have been serious conversations between private interests and Saul Centers Properties, which owns the site. But we have not been advised as to what plans those private interests might have for the property."
Now, while I was aware of a scheduled mayoral forum for last night, I assumed that this was released in that venue. No other news outlet had anything to say about it and WKYT only had a statement form a spokesperson. Next I realized that the interviews with neighbors was done earlier in the day, so this was somewhat like a press release. Still nobody else said a word. Could this be manufactured news? At the end of the piece, the reporter summed it up with the fact that really nothing has changed and the neighbors are just as baffled and upset as they have been.

This morning they had a repeat of the story and added nothing, but the anchor crew kept emphasizing that the word came from Mayor NEWBERRY"S office. Not the administration, or the mayor's office, but Mayor NEWBERRY"S office. I began to think that this could be a subtle hint of an endorsement for the incumbent and a way to get some more talking points into Mr Gray's stump speeches. Still, no other news was talking about it. So, is this just somebody blowing smoke, ala the campaign of 4 years ago?

Simply checking the Saul Centers website showed that they have just this one property in Kentucky and it is being advertised for sale, although the page has not been updated since last July. Lexington is a far piece from the rest of their holdings and the commercial real estate market has seen better days, but Business Lexington today has an article that Lexington is faring better than the rest of the country.

Lastly, rumor has it that the statement is very true. Read what it says carefully. "Serious conversations" (plural) and "private interests" (again plural) and "Saul Centers Properties" (surprisingly singular). I'm guessing that there is more than one interested party. The rumor also goes that a deal is close, as close as settling on final price and the method of financing. Should this occur during the run-up to the primary it would put a nice feather in Newberry's hat in the ring.
"But we have not been advised as to what plans those private interests might have for the property."
Of course not. Just having an idea who the interested parties will indicate what their plans will consist of. We do know that they are not any tax supported entity like the city or a state agency.

I guess time will tell.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What Will Be Done On Main & Vine St

So, here we are in the middle of the downtown streetscape redo and I don't think that anyone has any ideas for moving ahead once it is finished.

To be fair we have only begun Phase 1 of the Main St project and there are existing restaurants waiting for the work to be completed so that they can benefit from it. The Limestone to Upper St portion will see much activity, but what about that part in front of the Lexington History Museum (aka the Old Court House) and Cheapside Park. That location already has a wide sidewalk and rarely a pedestrian traffic congestion problem. Would the local eateries be able to extend that far from the their kitchens. The History Museum primarily uses the entrance on Short so this would be like their "back door", and the monuments don't make for good company to diners.

The section from Cheapside to Mill would make a nice transition into a talked about pedestrian mall but I don't see anything like that being prepared for. And the Marketplace block (aka the Festival Market that some call a fiasco) really did drop the ball from the beginning by not having any ground-floor, street entrance food type retail. Sawyer's and the others on around the corner up Broadway show that it can be done, but is there any move toward that thought now?

On the South side of the street, moving in the same direction, is of course the CentrePointe block and I know that many of you will say that this will never get built, but the original plans called for almost a mirror of the uses across the street. If anything does get built on the block i would guess that we would not let an opportunity like this pass.

The section from Hugo's to the Fifth Third Building has very little potential in its current state and leaves a lot to be desired just like the following block. This block, with the World Trade Center, parking garage and the hotel, has little or no probability of increased sidewalk usage but switching the ground floor office to retail or eatery uses will do wonders for the possibilities.

The Vine St project will tend to soften the speedway image of the existing street, but the daily foot traffic along these four blocks will have to increase greatly in order to make it worthwhile.

Working back toward limestone from Broadway, the first block has only two possible street front retail locations, the hotel bar/streetcafe and the vacant office at Mill St. Actually the entire Mill St frontage is prime for some sort of street-based food or retail, what with the overhangs and all, and that would tie nicely with the aforementioned pedestrian mall. The Kinkead Tower building has no public -friendly space along the whole of its Vine St frontage and unless something is done the idea of widening the sidewalk there is a waste of time and money.

The next block has been a disaster since it was redone during the Urban Renewal era years ago. The PNC Building (originally built as the Citizens Union Bank aka the "Gold Bank") started out with a nice plaza area along Vine St, with several shady trees and benches to go along with the sheltered space over the ground floor entrance. These amenities were removed when they began to be used as intended so that now that space is just dead public space. Increasing such a "dead space" without some anticipated new use invites ridicule. The only thing worse could be its near mirror "dead space" across the street at the Vine St face of the Fifth Third tower and its adjacent parking garage. Luckily the small office building on the corner of Upper and the access way to the rear of McCarthy's could allow the bars patrons to have some sidewalk cafe possibilities in the future.

Finally, the CentrePointe block's Vine St side and the south side of the street leave just the restaurant at the corner of Limestone as a bright spot of downtown activity. That is a whole lot of area to cover and a lot of money spent to have nobody speaking of how they would like to use the space.

Can I hear some suggestions?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I got this from Natural News.
Growing awareness among the American populace about the health benefits of wholesome, raw milk has been steadily increasing over the past decade, putting many state and federal officials into a frenzy. The harsh crackdown tactics used in the past to deter farmers from selling, and consumers from buying, raw milk are giving way to a new approach that anti-raw milk fanatics hope will put an end to the sale of raw milk.
Why would the state and federal government officials get so upset over something that the people find so healthy? In our current America, the health benefits of raw milk are becoming more and more widespread and desired by consumers, even faster than the organic movement that industrial food producers are hoping to cash in on. The USDA has decided that they cannot stop organic food production and giant agri-business has decided that they can get in at a profit, but that same relationship does not transfer to the milk production.
"While millions of Americans are seriously injured by or die from pharmaceutical drugs every year, U.S. regulatory agencies are busy devising new ways to prevent family farmers from selling a natural, health-promoting food to their fellow citizens."
And pharmaceuticals are not the only ones, the e-coli outbreaks and recall cost our citizens $millions each year and yet those businesses are not inspected more closely, nor are they shut down with their equipment confiscated. No, these are the firms that are rewarded with bigger and bigger contracts which put more farmers OUT OF WORK. This is just the kind of thing that our government should be doing in times like these. Therefore:
Stopping people from consuming raw milk is a top priority for federal and state officials.
This makes no sense.

In the nearly three years that I have been in a cow-share program, I have not noticed any of my fellow members dropping dead from the milk, quite the contrary. I have seen my son's eczema totally clear up. I have seen a friend diagnosed with "lactose intolerance" drink milk and cream on a daily basis. My whole family feels better and stronger from the milk.

Factory processed milk is pasteurized to the point that all the beneficial pro-biotics and vitamins that naturally occur in milk are removed.(this is to kill any stray unhealthy virus that may be present) Then manufactured vitamins and minerals are added back in(these are not as good for you as the natural ones) as well as the unpronounceable items that extend shelf life for the retailer. If you need it in there then why did you take it out, only to replace it?

This makes no sense.
"As private buying clubs have been gaining popularity, officials have begun targeting them to shut them down.

Several buying clubs have recently been targeted in Georgia, Missouri, Wisconsin, and even Massachusetts where raw milk laws are more lax. Recent emails obtained through freedom-of-information requests revealed that the FDA, the Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection, and other public health and agriculture officials have been planning to raid up to 20 different buying groups in Illinois as well."
This makes no sense
"Americans are increasingly choosing to drink grass-fed, farm-fresh, nutritious raw milk rather than the filthy, processed milk substance available at the grocery store.
"Americans must stand up and resist the tyranny or else face the elimination of one of nature's perfect foods."
This is what make sense

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

They Will Get Blindsided Sometimes

I caught a little of the Council Planning Committee session today and began to realize that some of our council members have little or no clue as to where they stand in most of their processes. This evening, I forced myself to watch the replay for some of the details.

There was a presentation on the status of the recommendations of the Downtown Master Plan and where we go from here. It started slowly but picked up steam as it went along, but I am not sure that some of these folks know what is going on.

The topic of two to one way streets elicited a question of just when they would be completed, although the council has allocated no funds nor decided on a timeline to BEGIN. This also caused council member Beard to bring up the outdated sign ordinance prohibiting overhanging, perpendicular signs in the downtown area. He then had to be reminded that the council had revised that ordinance some time ago and since then, no signs have been changed out. I begin to wonder if members keep up on just what it is that vote on.

Parking, in particular the Parking Authority, was brought up by Vice Mayor Gray. The question was: Is, or should, our parking situation making a profit? Since the Authority is less than 4 years old, was Gray not on the council at the time it was created and was he not part of defining its goals and purposes. And, again, council member Beard questioned why the City owned garages were NOT part of the Authority's purview.

Then came the real bru-ha-ha. The idea of Design Guidelines. From Lawless to Feigel and Ellinger to Blues and Stinnett, I am not sure that any of them understand what is meant by "design guidelines". It is so easy to throw the terms "form based" and "design standards" around like they mean something, but these guys must think that they just magically appear. Council member Lawless asked why, after the Council adopted the Master Plan, that no guidelines had been brought forth and enacted into ordinance. That answer is real simple. The Council has NOT asked the Planning Division to prepare any. Nor have they funded a consultant to assist in preparations, nor a staff to oversee any review process. The Council has not even given any indication of which type of guidelines they would prefer, form based-strict control- hybrid, nothing. This situation is worse that an un-funded mandate from Congress.

If I recall, the council adopted the Downtown Master Plan in response to the CentrePointe controversy, in a very knee-jerk reaction. Now, they think that that adoption will have some teeth in the CVS drugstore project review. In the meantime, they have been advised, either as a group or individually, that they need to decide what they want to initiate. If we have a strict set of guidelines, do we have an individual or a board rule on them? If we have a set of "form based" rules, then should they be strict or somewhat lax? It was pointed out that under some "form based" rules, two of our popular projects(Main & Rose and Nunn Lofts) would not have passed and the despised Federal Attorneys office building would have sailed right on through.

And there was the discussion of the various conversations about the Cox St lot of the Lexington Center. One of the recommendations in the Downtown Master Plan is to build an amphitheater there and the DDA has not changed that in any way. Yet, somehow the idea has spread from the Creative Cities Summit and elsewhere, that the new arena should (and would) go there. Now the council members became worried because they had no communications from Lexington Center and no representation on the exploratory panel and no part in the location decisions. Any new arena and its location (and name-it will probably NOT be named Rupp so it should not be referred to as the new Rupp Arena) has not been decided upon so everyone can put their noses back in joint. What was not spoken of was the non-theoretical development that has been approved by the Lexington Center Board, the lease with R. J. Corman for the local dinner train. While everyone else was jockeying for a position, the Corman people came in with a masterful creative move to tie the Distillery District to the Lexington Center and the rest of downtown, and our council members are apparently unaware of it.

This is not the first time that I have seen this type of behavior in council members. Many times they have been shown, looking intently interested in the presentation or to answers to inquiries yet later, show little or no understanding of what they have voted on. All that most of them know is that they DID something, sometimes they are not sure WHAT.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Oh Yeah, And There Was A Wedding

It was very difficult to get up this morning. Not because of the missing construction outside the room or the late hour of the morning. It was more the lack of having any sightseeing or getting back and forth from downtown DC by the Metro and there was no decision to be made about which ethnic style of dining that we would try for the day. Today we were back in Lexington and the short vacation to Washington, DC is just a blur of memories and their repeated relating to all of our friends.

Last week, Mrs Sweeper and I left town (you knew that I wasn't doing much around here didn't you) and took the Amtrak Cardinal to Washington DC. Just us, for a few days for the first time in years. Fourteen hours on the train, rolling through beautiful countryside with fellow travelers heading for points nearer or farther than ours but all with the idea that this was a great way to travel.

We got to Union Station approximately 1 hour late and spent some time agonizing over just which type of Metro fare card would do us the most good, but we finally bought our passes and ventured into the world of doing what we could without an auto. From Union Station we got on the Red line to Metro Center, switched to the Orange Line and rode out to Vienna Va. That is about equivalent to staying in Georgetown or Nicholasville from downtown Lexington. Exiting the Metro station to the Park-and-Ride lot, it was a quick step across the street to the hotel and some dinner, then bed.

The next morning, bright and early, the construction crew began to finish up the site prep work on the lot next door and we all know just how soundproof hotels are these days. We took a reverse ride back downtown to the Smithsonian and the Natural History Museum. We took a turn around the Sculpture Garden and on the National Archives, then trying to avoid the Tea Party protesters, went back across the Mall to the Air & Space Museum. We could have spent the whole day in there but had to leave early due to a reception for dignitaries and a presentation of Obama's announcement on the Space Program. Our dinner consisted of a visit to Jaleo's for a fabulous tapas meal. A walk along the Mall toward the Metro stop while again avoiding the protesters and a ride back to the hotel.

Friday morning we went downtown again, this time to the National Geographic Society building and more of the general sightseeing of a major urban city. It was while we were there that my brother, the father of the bride, called with transportation details concerning the rehearsal dinner (Oh yeah the wedding). The wedding site was well outside the downtown area in Leesburg(about the same as Mt. Sterling) and the rest of the guests were staying there. We finished what we were doing and made our way back to the hotel in time to be picked up and drive about 45 minutes to Leesburg. This is NOT my idea of a convenient area to get around, but I don't have to live there. It was while getting back from the rehearsal dinner that we decided to rent a car for the day.

Next day, we called for a rental, parked the car in the lot and went downtown by Metro to see the area around the Union Station and the Shoppes(Mrs Sweeper loves to shop). We left ourselves plenty of time for the delays that they were predicting due to track maintenance. The traffic and some not quite current directions from Google, an unplanned mis-turn and other general foul-ups caused us the nearly miss the ceremony. We got there just in time.

Sunday morning I returned the rental and the Mrs finished packing the bags. We then checked out, took Metro back to Union Station, had breakfast and packed some food for the train and relaxed all the way back to Cincinnati. Do I wish that we could get closer? You bet. But we will take what we can get. I heard many comments from others on the train (there were so many cell phone conversations going on in that car) and all were very positive about train travel, the leg room, the convenience, the lack of stress and the scenery. The only stress was from those on the other end who were wondering just where those to whom they were talking were.

Mrs Sweeper and I both agree that this was one of our better vacations and that train travel is THE way to go when possible. I cannot say enough about the Amtrak personnel, from Tom Holley in Cincinnati to the conductors and crews on both ends of the trip and the gate crew in DC. itself. They were professional and efficient and good at their jobs. Sure, we left in the middle of the night and we got back just after 1 AM, and I am sure that I would like a bit better schedule and speed, but this is they way that I prefer to travel. I had a great trip.

Oh yeah, And there was a wedding.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Some More Notes on Creative Cities Summit

The "summit" is over and they have been to the mountaintop, they have seen their prophet-the voice crying out in the wilderness- Richard Florida and they are charged up to now go out and BE creative.

I said that there would be more Twitter conversations and I was right. There was a short back and forth about the morning speaker and whether or not the Cox St parking area of the Lexington Center needed to be redesigned. I believe that this was just a hypothetical.

Another picked up where they left off from the day before concerning the power poles on Euclid.
DougMartin10th @Lshevawn Everybody hates KU utility poles on Euclid. Will public pay higher utility costs 2 bury? I'm for it, but are citizens?
Quickly followed by

bself Did anyone ask us?
Is this meant to imply that all major utility upgrades or new development is to be by referendum? Nothing gets done until an election can be held?
EricPatrickMarr Lemme guess. Umm, no?
Eric is one to not let a chance of an uninformed comment go by
@PohlRosaPohl: Leadership means knowing what's needed and pursuing it, not submitting every idea to a public vote. That's followship.
Asking about cost of burying utilities misses the point: the cost of FAILING to bury is IMMEASURABLE. Failure, forever.
The point is: That there in no money for that size of a project in anyone's budget these days
@Lshevawn Why he's my HERO
Can't you just see her clasping her hands and batting her long eyelashes.
Lshevawn @DougMartin10th YES. I would pay for it bc I value beauty of place/space & believe we MUST invest in future of our city
I now doubt that if all 600 attendees agreed as such that they could pay if off in their lifetimes.

The two most telling tweets came from amartindesign which said:
...90% of the tweets from there have been nothing but name-dropping and ass kissing. Which is from an outside perspective it seems like self-help horse shit (and those are not my words for it)

There also is a bit of a superiority complex vibe coming off of a lot of the tweets.
And boy did feel that way too. I have a feeling that the majority of the attendees have little or no understanding of just who this "creative class" is. They seem to discount anyone not in the arts, or design, or music, or even the offbeat and weird looking realm of their world. That feeling is summed up by none other than our old friend Eric.
@EricPatrickMarr Siiiince WHEN are lawyers "creative"??? ;)
It looks like poor Eric does not even believe his creative guru Florida's own Martin Prosperity Institute. The ones attending this "summit" most likely make up about 5-19% of the whole "creative class". The lawyers are in the 49%.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Some Notes On The Creative Cities Summit

I have seen several things come out of the Creative Cities Summit in Lexington so far, but they make me have more questions than answers.

Richard Florida puts forth the statements of “60 percent of jobs in America are now in service industries” and “We now have a knowledge economy”.

What percent of these jobs are based on the knowledge of a particular subject and what percentage are just warm bodies performing a task?

Do the fast food industry and Walmart service type jobs qualify as being a part of the “knowledge economy”?

Florida would like to see our service jobs lifted like our manufacturing jobs were after the Great Depression. Most manufacturing jobs were elevated (lifted?) right out of the country shortly after the end of the ‘50s, is that what we should do with our service jobs? Some would say that a good portion of our service job are already overseas (India for example).

And here is a good one. “Creativity is the social leveler.” Some of the most creative people on Wall St., those who led us down the path of bundled derivatives and the like, would hardly believe himself as on the same level as an automotive designer. Both are creative, yet one would not be seen with the other in a social situation. On the other hand, there are some who will not tolerate those who are not be tolerant of alternative lifestyles of any sort.

Florida’s keys to success for cities in the future, Technology, Talent and Tolerance are possibly a little out of order. I would put Talent in the driver’s seat. Talent is what brings on the successes of the owner’s creativity while technology in the wrong creative hands can lead to anything from GIGO decisions to computer hacking viruses, all of which end in mayhem and disaster.

Following the remarks about the youth of the early NASA engineers and designers who used to average 28 year in age but now are closer to 60, a tweet went out like this:
@kentuckyguy 20-somthings don't care about space exploration. (Or 30-somthings).
And just like that there was a confirmation from one who calls herself a Community organizer, Non-profit consultant, writer, lover of research, mother, foodie & tree hugger.
“True. It's a waste of $ if you ask me. I care about improving my planet & city 4 my son.” Shevawn Akers.
I wonder if she has ever stopped to realize that the communication advances and the orbiting satellites, that allow her to Twitter to her hearts content, came from this waste of money. That the medical advances from the experiments aboard the International Space Station, which can only be done in the 0g of space, are made possible by this waste of money. “
Listen up, old white guys! Get in the game! Your kids WILL NEVER behave like you or your grandparents! Join them or BE LEFT BEHIND! ’ Shevawn Akers
I think the she is just coasting on the waves generated by “the old white guys” that has pushed her as far as she has come already.

Then there is Caitlin Neal, a design person over at I,D and A, who tweets like it is all about looks and style
“Attn. #LFUCG re: new gov center:" Design and Locate Civic Bldgs Honorably." And, gov bldgs get the best locations!”
I’m guessing that she would NOT like it to be in place of the Lexington Mall

Tom Eblen posted:
“Once entrepreneurial companies get attention in local press, people start taking them seriously”
quoting a Cleveland business development expert. Maybe his favorite newspaper should run a weekly spotlight on the new and emerging entrepreneurs and then keep up with their progress. Then again it just may be too much work for them with all the staff cutbacks lately.

From the panel discussion by the four mayor, Steve Kay says “
Three mayors agree: quality of life is the new attractor, especially for young families.”
to which one Eric Patrick Marr quickly fired back
"Quality of life" is a good thing. #BORING is so not. -@ericpatrickmarr needing the microphone at #ccslex
Apparently, he thinks that he should be part of this presentation. But he continues on
"Quality of life" is such a subjective measurement. I hate when my native Lexington uses that weak justification for mediocrity.
“Quality of Life does NOT just mean "a short commute to work w/ soccer practice at 5:30." It means opportunities for The Human Heart.
"Quality of Life" means being able to run on Euclid and Woodland Avenues w/o "The Pandemic of Utility Wires & Poles."
"Quality of Life" means having safe, pedestrian-friendly downtown streets. Not Talladega Super Speedway.
Did he miss the part that said “especially for young families.” And, last but not least, this one
"Quality of Life" means YOUR brainpower is valued - and properly paid for - by YOUR city.
Sometimes I think that he just loves to hear himself talk, but all I hear is buzzword, buzzword, buzzword, cliche. No actual real ideas at all.

Scott Clark chimed in with
“Do politicians use "young families" to mean "people who don't care about after-5-fun?"
When else would young families have the time to do things together if not after 5 p.m.?

There are others, and I am sure, there will be more tomorrow, but when will these Twitterheads emerge from their cocoons of self centeredness and realize that they still make up just a small portion of the creative Lexington folks.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Sustainable And Nourishable Places

It is no secret that I am very pro local food. Mrs. Sweeper and I have tried our best to find, buy and prepare local foods. That is why we frequent the farmers markets of the area and have joined a cowshare program. I also have not been shy in commenting about the shortcomings of the Kentucky Proud program that is run by the Ky. State Agriculture Department.

It has not been an easy task to find certain local food services, but why is it an even more onerous task for the local farmer?

The idea of knowing where your food comes from is appealing to more and more families every day. Concern over food safety and eating of a healthy diet is in the news on a daily basis. So, why are the local, state and federal regulatory agencies not doing more for the growing “locavore” enthusiasts?

Sustainable development and sustainable cities have been buzzwords in the planning literature for several years and yet we are no closer to achieving such a system than we were thirty years ago. These words are now creeping into our mayoral election and yet we still hear of no solutions being put forth by any of the candidates.

Lately, I have seen a new designation put forth, a label of Nourishable Places. Nourishable Places are ones that grow a significant portion of their food within a few miles of where it is eaten AND could grow more in a long emergency. Unfortunately they are found in very few locations in the First World today. The typical ingredients for a family meal – what is that these days?- will travel over 1,300 miles to get to the table. It is getting worse daily.

In some parts of the country, particularly the Northwest, things are changing. According to there are more, smaller farms developing on the urban fringes of their Olympic area cities. Even places like Detroit MI and Dayton, OH. are looking at vegetable farming on some of their abandoned residential properties. There are places in Lexington where we could use some of our reclaimed urban floodplain land for community garden plots if need be.

Those actions may help us out in the fruits and vegetables department but will do us no good for the rearing of farm animals. But here too there we are seeing an increase in the number of small farms.

There are now new problems with this rise on farm animal production on small farms and that is, where do they get their processing done? The number of slaughterhouses nationwide declined to 809 in 2008 from 1,211 in 1992, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. America’s small independent farmers are now being forced to schedule their slaughters BEFORE the animals are born AND drive them hundreds of miles to slaughtering facilities. This added movement causes an unneeded stress on the animals and expense to the farmer.

The interest in grass fed and finished or even organic beef and lamb and the non antibiotic, no hormone added production of these animals means that using some of the larger slaughterhouses opens the possibility of introducing e-coli and other unwanted contaminants.

Slaughterhouses should not be placed just anywhere and certainly not in the most urban parts of a state, but as a matter of economic development and employment generators, they are something that a politician should be aware of.

Lexington may one day find that the concept of “peak oil” or “climate change” is real, or maybe there could be a natural or man made disaster requiring that we sustain ourselves. So far, I think that we as a city would fail the sustainability test. We are somewhat positioned, with the PDR program, to have land in the county that could be used for food production (you know, we cannot eat the horses) but we are lacking in the processing facilities necessary for a city of this size. Home canning, for the most part, is a lost art among the youth of today and butchering may mean that they would have to get their hands dirty, so we may be in trouble.

High-tech, healthcare and horses may be of some priority is certain circles and a vibrant, socially conscious downtown is a priority in others, while health and human safety or social responsibility and government corruption will highlight another’s political rhetoric. If we don’t try to arrange for our very basic needs of good food and water, all of it locally grown or collected and processed, then it may all be for nought.