Thursday, July 29, 2010

What Are They Coming To See?

We have been told too long now that “Company is coming” and that we need to be ready. To that end, we have made big improvements to our roads and other facilities, although I think that we have greatly neglected some of our existing built environment just because we are used to it.

Here is a telling account from one of our overseas (Great Britain) guests.
The appeal is being able to see multiple world class disciplines in one place. Personally, I was going to stay the whole event - travel around KY the days I wasn't that interested, see every discipline and generally enjoy myself and learn about some disciplines I've never been involved in - reining and endurance mainly.

I've been priced out. Ironically now all I'm seeing is the eventing, when I can see that much cheaper at the same level at Badminton and Burghley for a fraction of the cost. I'd love to stay longer and see something else, I will never have the chance to see reining at that level in the UK for example. …
By not making the tickets affordable the WEG organizers have now impacted many more Kentuckians than just those in Lexington. Our “world class” landscape and other local specialties do have an allure but not when we are just out to “soak the visitor”.

He goes on to tell of his experiences and opinions of the WEG decisions.
a) They knew the finances were going to be strained by looking at previous WEGs
b) They knew a long time ago the economy was going to pot and have not reacted, as far as we can see, appropriately.
c) They (I don't believe) really looked at what their visitors would want
d) They've underestimated the power of goodwill. They've treated the volunteer base very poorly, they've misjudged many elements.
d) Incidentally there are also many minor hiccups. Ticket master wouldn't allow me to pay as my card holder address is in the UK. No problem says the literature... in reality on the form you have to fill in your state, from a pre-selected list. Ummm ticketmaster... not everywhere has states.... It wasn't easy to buy for multiple events and choose your seats. hello. I'm travelling half way around the world. I don't want best available, I want to quickly and easily (you know, like the theatre or an airline) choose my seat. Confusion over parking, can I have a car etc, etc, etc all just make it too hard.
Items c) and d) are the ones that speak the loudest to me and despite the latest Herald Leader article on the WEG volunteers, the accounts that I have read elsewhere paint a very sad tale. This from a horse person in Tenn.
I started out wanting to be a volunteer, but the process became increasingly more annoying. First I was told I'd know by March...I actually got my official "we didn't chose you for eventing" notice last week. By then I'd long since bailed. I looked into general volunteering--what a morass of conflicting information and delay. I gave up on that, too, pretty quickly, and bought tickets for my daughter and myself. Now they're saying that general volunteers must agree to at least 6 shifts of 8 hours each, on non-consecutive days--ie, you've got to promise to be available for the whole thing.

Hello? I live 5 hours away. It's two months until showtime. They're just now getting the details together?

I don't have a hotel room yet. I'm waiting until people start cancelling.
And one from Pa.
Are the WEG people completely desperate for general volunteers or something? I signed up a bit ago online, and then got a URL for some kind of survey to fill out about skills and so on, which I haven't returned yet because my mom is having health issues and I'm trying to figure out if I can even possibly go, and now in the last two days I've gotten a DIFFERENT survey thing saying they wanted to give me an assignment, then another email with an actual assignment saying I was supposed to respond in a week if I was going to be able to do it, and today (note, have not responded to ANY of these yet because my mom only had a doctor's appointment today about things and I wanted to see how that went) I got yet another email with a link to online training.

I mean, if it was just 'sign up and here's your assignment and go here to see the training information' then that'd be one thing, but they keep sending the survey emails and asking for a response as if the information is important, or to confirm your interest, and then... sending the next bit anyway.

(Now, if they really wanted to encourage me to volunteer, the NEXT email would be about how they've organized some kind of low-cost housing set up for volunteers or something, because no way can I afford $400/night or whatever the ridiculous price is for a hotel room somewhere in the vicinity.)
The needs and desires of our guests should be paramount to our endeavor and not the quest to separate them from their money. We should be encouraged to show our best southern hospitality

Wikipedia defines this southern hospitality as follows,
Some characteristics of southern hospitality were described as early as 1835, when Jacob Abbott attributed the poor quality of taverns in the south to the lack of need for them, given the willingness of southerners to provide for strangers. Abbott writes: “[T]he hospitality of southerners is so profuse, that taverns are but poorly supported. A traveller, with the garb and the manners of a gentleman, finds a welcome at every door. A stranger is riding on horseback through Virginia or Carolina. It is noon. He sees a plantation, surrounded with trees, a little distance from the road. Without hesitation he rides to the door. The gentleman of the house sees his approach and is ready upon the steps. ”

Abbot further describes how the best stores of the house are at the disposal of visitors. Furthermore, says Abbott: “Conversation flows cheeringly, for the southern gentleman has a particular tact in making a guest happy. After dinner you are urged to pass the afternoon and night, and if you are a gentleman in manners and information, your host will be in reality highly gratified by your so doing."
Such is the character of southern hospitality.
Several cities are viewed as being bastions of Southern hospitality. These include New Orleans; Lafayette; The Upstate of South Carolina known as the Golden Corner; Charleston; Columbia; Nashville; Charlotte; Wilmington; Lexington; Birmingham; Houston; Tulsa; Little Rock; Memphis; Richmond; Annapolis; Jackson, Mississippi; Stillwater, Oklahoma; Savannah, Georgia., Augusta, Georgia and Atlanta, Georgia.
The above list is not inclusive nor in alphabetical order but I would hope that we, the rest of the state of Kentucky not tied up in the WEG mess, will extend the real meaning of “Southern hospitality” and mitigate a lot of the damage that has been caused so far.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Street Scenes As We Get Closer To WEG

I have been surprised at the response to the last post, especially the part about the WEG prices. Everyone seems to be talking about the lack of ticket sales and the sudden reduction of some event prices. I still cannot afford to see any of the events, with or without the rest of the family.

I really must thank the guys over at Barefoot and Progressive for their link and the response of their readers. They are not just another Kentucky blog.

Now, on to some of the other things going on in town. First district councilwoman Andrea James has been featured in a video on looking at the conditions of the downtown sidewalks. Not so much the walking surface but the poorly placed nightly obstructions. I have looked at some of these in the daytime.

Easily the best use of space when the tables are not in use is this place on the corner of South Limestone and West Vine. The new streetscape is a real boon to the walkability of the area and I am sure that it will be better when the whole project is done.

I think my next favorite would be the stretch (above) from The Taste of Thai to Bellini's on Main St. I think that they could be pushed a little closer to the street and I would hope for a bit more coordination from all the restaurants there. At night it is a little tighter but not all that bad.

Mia's(above) also does a good job of storing the furniture during the off hours but the narrowness of the Short St sidewalk does cause problems at night. Just around the corner and up Limestone, a la Lucie's(below) tries hard to not crowd the space too much. If North Limestone were to be done like they did on the south side things could be real sweet.

The part of Short St on the west side of Cheapside also has its good neighbors during the daytime. Most of Cheapside's (below) tables along the street are tight against the building although there could be some widening of the sidewalk in the future. I would certainly hope that Short is considered soon after they turn it into two-way.

We have talked many times about Mill St and, to be sure, it could be turned into a pedestrian mall quite easily. Most of the bar there store their tables and chairs inside during the day and those who do serve lunch outside have very limited seating and still crowd the street. All in all they do the best that they can. The one place that I consistently see as a poor effort toward storing their tables out of the way is on Main St in front of Victorian Square. DeVassa rarely leaves sufficient space for two to walk their door and seems to try to make it more convoluted each time I go by there. Two examples are shown below.

These tables are usually stacked near the two light poles and not beyond the parking kiosk where there is more room. A relocation of the trash/recycling receptacle would also ease things a bit. A little more thought should go into their arrangement.

I have also noticed a new collection of public art which, though small, I hope grows to include all of downtown. I would like to know what you think.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Things I've Heard This Week

Some days the information just flows from the street. Today was one of those days.

I watched as some of the people most involved with the streetscape redo walked around and did some spot checks. One of the longest discussed spots was the rain garden structure near the corner of S. Upper St. With a long level and several tape measures, they checked and rechecked the concrete retaining wall and the paving stones along side it. This is around a section where I have seen them pour, cure and then trim off some excess with a power saw and then tear out and re-pour work that was not correct.

Later I caught them again near Main & Broadway. In front of deSha's, there was a contractor installing one of the new wireless transmitters for the free wi-fi that is to be available downtown. In fact, he was placing it on top of a post that holds the traffic signal arms which cross both Main and Broadway. This mast, and all the rest along Main St are to be replaced in the near future. Nothing like job security when you are working with stimulus money.

On the way back in the other direction, I passed some contractors in front of the big blue tower(5/3rd Building) and they were talking about the rain garden at that end of the block. I heard the words " Its all wrong, That wall is all wrong". My question now is, will we accept wrong work or will we have it redone? Will it be redone before the WEG?"

Next, the section in front of the electrical box at the entrance of the parking garage was having bollards installed. In holes jack hammered through recently poured concrete AND the asphalt base for the final pavers. I wonder if these were an afterthought or an omission on somebody's part.

I have also been asking Tom Eblen about his column comparing the two mayoral candidate's presentations at the Hunt Morgan House. He has so far "been unavailable for comment" as the journalism phrase goes. Others seem to want the answers too.

I heard two of the most preposterous suggestions at Tuesday's talk by Jim Gray. One lady proposed that the volunteers from the Arboretum could maintain the CentrePointe block, as a "central park", with donated plants(all native species) and it would all be totally free. It would not cost the city a dime. I guess she has forgotten all about the little fact that the city does not OWN the property. Just buying it for the assessed value would take $6 million plus which the city does not have to spare. Another woman stated bluntly that the city did not need a department store or any major retail (other than a pharmacy and a grocery) and that all shops should be small boutiques selling things to the tourists. I wanted to tell her that when the oil runs low and gas runs high, the tourists won't run at all.

Speaking of the WEG, some of the ticket prices have come down and today the Lextran shuttle fares have come down. The ticket sales are still down and if this equine related forum is any indication quite a few of our usually relied upon visitors are considering staying home. Is the world really coming to call?

We will keep our ears open.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Preparing For Guests

We are nearly 70 days away from the FEI games and all the buzz is that the world in coming to Lexington. All aspects of the city are being cleaned up and beautified so that we don't look bad for our guests. Everywhere from South Limestone to Main and Vine Streets, even the new Cheapside pavilion.

I have noticed that the topiary frame of the rearing horse which is supposed to covered with plant life is barely half full. The Spotlight Festival logo painted on the sidewalk in the Court House Plaza is dull and flaking. These and other little touches seem to be waiting until just the last minute to be taken care of.

It may be hard to see, but in the photo on the right there is a sign on the side of the Hyatt which reads "We are ready for the games. are you?" This pedestrian bridge connects the Central Bank Tower to the recently refurbished Hilton Hotel. (They were doing some finishing landscaping today.)

I was also happy to see that the HorseMania horses have hit the street so that they can begin to acquire their coating of grit and grime before our guests arrive.

Speaking of our guests, it was reported today that the ticket prices have been reduced for some event sessions as a way to sup lagging sales. Less than 50% of anticipated sales have occurred so far and, if I heard correctly, less than 40 thousand of those were sold overseas. If our overseas visitors are coming all this way they will surely attend more than four or five sessions during the Games. My math, being as poor as it is, leaves us with under 10,000 guests.

I will leave you with one last spruce-up that needs to be done - but won't - and it was brought to my attention during the discussions on downtown design guidelines and the CVS.

If we can't get our local corporate citizens to make downtown look better, then how are we going to force a regional or national developer to give us better design?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Proposal For The Fourth Of July

The more hear from folks about last weeks celebration of the Fourth of July and the good job that they did in arranging the venues, the more I believe that most of Lexington think like Mrs. Sweeper. They are under the assumption that there is no good place to park and many stay home.

Mrs Sweeper's desire to catch the trolley and ride in is a good idea even if it is impossible. But why is it impossible in this day and age? The Fourth of July only comes once a year regardless of when you celebrate it and everybody should be encouraged to attend, therefore the city and all of its satellite agencies should do their part. I think that Lextran is one agency that should step to the forefront and provide shuttle service from the neighborhoods at a reduced cost for that one day.

I do realize that Saturday is a normal workday for many folks and it may be a hardship on Lextran and their overtime scheduling, but how often does the Fourth fall on a Sunday and celebrated on the Third? Perhaps if more people were encouraged(and enabled) to get downtown there would be less reason for the suburban retail to be open and thus more folks wanting to get downtown.

This may be something to think about before next year.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Celebrating The Fourth (A Little Early)

I love the downtown celebrations. Especially the Fourth of July, even when it is held on the Third.

When we woke up yesterday and wondered just what we would be doing for the day, I never dreamed that we would leave the young ones at home and do the Fourth by ourselves. I assumed that they would go with us like before but the are in their mid teens and it would be bad to be seen with us.

Mrs. Sweeper asked, as we were getting ready to go out the door, "Where is the closest trolley stop?".

I looked back in disbelief and said "What?".

"I thought that we could walk in to the nearest trolley stop and go down to the street fair and parade", was her answer.

I had to explain that, in the best of times, the trolley ran at lunchtime -11:30 to 1:30- and the evening run for the bar scene AND that the east/west run only went as far east as Midland Ave. and that the main streets would be closed off event. That intersection is nearly a five mile trek for us. We have been known to do it before but we did want to walk around some while we were there. I also suggested that we could take the car and park somewhere close and then walk.

"Well, that is just crazy." she said, "Why don't they want people to come downtown and participate without having to make it difficult? There will be no place to park. With all the streets blocked, you can't get to the garages or get out of them." I did have to agree with her.

We took the car in as far as Woodland Park and walked from there. It is an easy walk that I have done all my life. I do agree that a free trolley ride from these inner suburbs would bring many more folks down for the celebration and may cause some from farther out to consider it. Many of our city residents feel that downtown is somewhere that they go, but only begrudgingly. We should make it far more easy to attend our downtown events.

Once we got downtown, we found that not near as many streets were blocked and the arrangement around the Courthouse Plaza plus the addition of the spaces on Short St. made the whole flow much smoother. I feel that it allowed the businesses to participate more and that it involved many more people. My long time readers will know that I see great things for the Short St area and more changes to come, so I see this as a stepping stone toward that end and would like to keep it for the years to come.

The parade, though shortened, was what we have come to expect (and some loathe) a political and social statement. The politics I can stand, as the reflect they most basic political statement that this country has made- to separate ourselves from others and declare independence. The social differences are just something that we are free to express and I can take them or leave them. Mostly I care to leave them.

I did see one thing that have written about lately. A group of street performers set up on Main St. and playing music. No schedule or advertising but just playing for the crowd. I don't know if they took donations or not but they were doing their part in celebrating the Fourth, their way, and I celebrate them.

After the parade, we made our way back to the car and home for a rest and dinner before all of us going to the fireworks show. Parking was not difficult and the seats were plentiful but the crowd was the most ill-behaved that I can recall. No fights or nastiness, just wandering everywhere by folks of all ages, talking on cell phones and jumping in front of others to take pictures.

And then - BOOM - it was over. Just like that, done. Twenty five minutes and thanks you can go home. My youngest turns to me and says "So, why did we come here?" I replied "To get us ready for the real show tomorrow in Richmond where they know how to do it right".

Lexington, you are getting better but you could learn a few things from Richmond.