Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How Do We Deal With The Potential

There lately was a post, on the net, concerning the potential of the City of Lexington. The author commented that none of the places that he had lived before could match the offerings available here in Lexington, yet that is not quite enough for him(or other young professionals). Lexington, he claims, could be so much more, as could many other cities across the U.S. Lets take a look at the common failings of Lexington, as detailed by this author.

The criticism basically begins with the look of downtown and the overall appearance of things. On the positive side, there are “many wonderful old buildings “ and many are worth saving and repairing as long as it is someone else's money being spent to do it. Development decisions are not solely determined by the look of the final product. Need and financial viability are also necessary to even up the return on investment. Great looks are just icing on the cake.

There is also the subject of “far too many empty lots” and that is a valid comment, as long as we are not just staring at the CentrePointe block when we say that. There are plenty of others, with as much development potential near the center of town, that have struggled through adversity without success.

The numerous parcels along W. Short St., which provide parking spaces during the day for offices and for the entertainment district at night, are necessary because our young professionals cannot live downtown. They HAVE to commute.

Some lots on N. Mill St., between Short and Second, have been proposed for a multi-story residential building to be filled with condos – expensive condos. Nothing that the usual young professional with a small family could live in, these were to be million dollar plus type units. Does anybody continue to call this a failed project?

What about the lots/lots on the west side of DeWeese, across from the National City Building? How long have these formerly well designed structures been gone and nothing to replace them? Another failure?

Will we call the CVS venture a failure because of the reviled suburban design or the unwillingness to pay for the relocation of some underground utilities(something desired) plus the redesign of a corporate model? Could this whole block benefit from a good design and still make it without a parking garage?

I see two locations, one on either side of the Calvary Baptist Church, and both former sites of auto dealers which hold good potential for some sort of downtown development. They are currently being used for surface parking and thus wasted in terms of generating tax revenue. Further south, on Limestone, the University holds several parcels with high development potential.

All of the foregoing are within a few blocks of the Main/Vine couplet and immensely develop-able, but there are others just a little farther out. The former Popeye's Sign Co. block was proposed for a 7 story mix of condos and retail which is now down to 20 townhouses and a two-story restaurant. Quite a difference from something that was supposed to be of similar density to the Lex across the street. When are we going to hear the rising ground swell from the young professionals, to do something with these lots and the various others nearby?

I do remember when a small handful of young go-getters bought into some of the most rundown locations with the intentions of renovation and gentrification. They did not wait for it to get done, they went in and did it. They did not ask for someone to change ideas to suit them, they presented ideas that they could make work for them. Right now, we have someone working very hard on a building, which for all intents and purposes, is in direct line for the Scott St spur of the Newtown Pike Extension project.. The old Scott Hotel building is looking very nice and is a historic structure. It should take a minor adjustment to realign the spur road to avoid this labor of love.

When it comes to the assessment of the “ugly modern “hi-rises “, I think that we have to allow ALL styles and ages of architecture or we will have folks calling for the total removal of split-level ranches and the like. Even the formerly bland Lexington Center complex looks better than it did when built, so there is hope for some of them.

Will these problems, along with the ones of suburban sprawl, the crumbling shopping rows and the public transportation system be fixed easily? Not really. The price of oil and private transportation may take care of the sprawl question. They may fall into the same level of disrepair that we saw in the inner city when it becomes prohibitively expensive to live there and work in the city. The shopping centers may have to re-purpose themselves with mixes of uses which will serve their local constituents.

The public transportation element? It will only get better when we use it more. Consistently full buses or trolleys will bring more frequent runs and better timing. Requesting routes to more destinations, and then USING them will go far in bettering the system for all.

I guess, what I am saying is that we can't just whine and complain about what some won't do for us or how we don't like the way that they did something. We may just need to get on board and then begin to steer a bit by shifting the balance of the ship.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Rail Accomplishments

Well, here is an interesting piece of information. Norfolk-Southern, in 2010, has played a big role in industrial development and generated a lot of new jobs. Not bad for a years worth of work.

Out of 67 new industrial sites and 28 plant expansions, was even one in the Lexington area? Has Lexington industry added any new carloads to the more than 132,000 mentioned in the announcement? Were a few of those 2,000 jobs in the Central Kentucky area? I don’t think so.

It appears that roughly a third of those location and expansions dealt with alternative fuels production or distribution. I doubt that we will have any of those here as long as “Coal is King”. As for coal being hauled by rail, there are still many rail abandonment requests, in Kentucky, made annually. We talk of growing crops for bio-fuels and research on production, but I don’t see it moving very fast.

Lexington does have a growing industrial area on the north side, just where Citation will cross the N-S mainline and there were 2 new or expanded facilities placed in operation recently. Our very own Big Ass Fan Company, manufacturers of some of the largest industrial ventilation fans known, sits right along the rail line and nary a rail spur in sight. Will they be shipping everything by truck? God, I hope not.

Then, basically next door, we have the relocated Kentucky Eagle beer distributor who, I would think, could benefit from a rail spur also. Ironically, they moved from Angliana Ave. and direct access to the rail yard. We don’t brew this stuff here. It has to be shipped in from somewhere else and if it is not coming by rail (we know it can’t come by pipeline) then it must be by truck.

Our local factory for construction cranes, Link-Belt out on Palumbo Dr., removed their rail spur a few years ago but are in the expansion mode themselves They will be unveiling more of their telescoping crawlers in the near future. These must be shipping by truck as well. Thankfully, the industrial lead that is there services International Paper, Kentucky-Indiana Lumber and the Young warehouse complex on that road.

Lexington is losing some of their industrial customers, but that doesn’t mean that we have to lose the industrial spaces or facilities. Things like incandescent light bulbs are a thing of the past and maybe the existing building cannot be re-fitted to the newer technology, but whatever may replace the products/buildings could still use an efficient shipping/receiving mode that rail provides.

The railroads, or at least N-S, appear willing to assist in the work. Is our economic development effort working closely with them and others? I don’t see any evidence of it but I could be mistaken.

In terms of some positive railroad news, the R.. J. Corman rail group is working hard in the Rupp Arena parking lot with what looks like the anticipated boarding site of a Lexington version of the “Old Kentucky Dinner Train”. Honestly, I saw what appears to be drainage and sub-base work under the Oliver Lewis Bridge. As you can see here, we are looking back at the Arena with clearly some drains, set just wide enough for some tracks and at the lowest point of the earthworks. The alignment veers left and then back right and parallel to the parking lot pavement with just enough length for several cars while leaving the locomotive under the bridge.

Looking in the other direction it sweeps in a curve right into an existing track of the yard. This track has been the location of the unloading of the sand train, but it seems to have been shifted to the right in this photo.

I have also noticed that at the corner of W. Main and Oliver Lewis Way, they have leveled a spot for, probably, some corporate identity display. If it is similar to their display in Nicholasville, I would expect the current Corman boxcar and two locomotive shells, all decked out on a gorgeous red livery, set on rails to proudly proclaim that they are in Lexington to stay. This is not as exciting as an announcement about regional rail but if this will bring revenue service to Corman rail, then I am all for it

How nice would it be that, if next year, Lexington could be one of those N-S locations and the recipient of some of those jobs? Something to work for.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Growing Old In Lexington? (2)

Since we all realize that we will end up elderly at some point, it is now commonplace to think and plan that, in the future, an assisted care facility and maybe some visits from the kids is a done deal. You would think that we would site our planned facilities a little bit better.

It is only since the end of World War II and rise of the “Baby Boomer” generation that the idea of nursing homes and assisted living facilities has exploded as an industry. The image of the “The Waltons” TV show, where a multi-generational household lives and solves their everyday problems makes for great nostalgia, but it is not a lifestyle for today’s modern family. Living with your parents, or even fairly close to them, is looked upon with disdain and loathing. I think that it is something about having to be self-sufficient and making a life for yourself. Whatever the reason, in today’s world we have an ever increasing number of places to house our elderly.

Mayfair Village is located on Tates Creek Pike across from the Lansdowne Shopping Center. Hardly a great distance when measured form door to door, but there is a busy, four-lane divided highway and a very busy parking lot without a single sidewalk in sight.

Sayre Christian Village is off Camelot Dr and probably 1,000 feet, as he crow flies, from the Tates Creek Center. Winding through the neighborhood, down the hill and along Wilson Downing Rd makes walking to the center about three times as far, especially if you are going to the grocery.

Richmond Place is on Rio Dosa Dr. and not far from the Locust Hill Center but getting there without encountering heavy traffic and no traffic light is not something most seniors want to do.

Public funded facilities are not much better. Connie Griffith and Ballard Place, both located in the very walkable downtown are nowhere near a supermarket, pharmacy or general shopping type stores.

Church supported senior housing in the downtown area like Christ Church apartments or Central Christian’s place on Short St. have full access to the shopping that is downtown but again groceries and drug stores are a long way away.

These are just a few of the many elderly care facilities in Lexington but they all require driving somewhere for the basic necessities of life. Even recreational needs like walking to or in the park with the grandkids, or swimming, or….you name it, you HAVE to drive somewhere to do it.

Our seniors just don’t fit in out in the suburbs, stuck at home, unable to drive (or walk) to see friends, sometimes unable to do for themselves. They are then relegated to the facility of their children’s choosing (kind of like warehousing them for the time being) and visited by them if they have time. There they are safe, secure and we know where they are when we want to go see them.

Both of my sets of grandparents lived within a fifteen minute walk of where I grew up and I visited often. My aunts(one on each side) lived with them and we all got together on a regular basis. None of them went to a long term care facility. My maternal aunt did decide to retire to Florida when her circle of friends here began to dwindle and she could no longer drive. She had cousins and friends in Florida, but they were in the same shape as she and she soon returned to Kentucky, settling a block or two from where she had been.

Where we place our elderly care facilities is not so much an issue of land use or being allowed by the comprehensive plan or zoning because they are allowed in just so many zones. But where in those zones is the more important question. The higher density residential for the able bodied is usually placed adjacent to the shopping center and the elderly buffered just a little by less intensive uses some distance into the neighborhood. They don’t create as many peak hour trips as the apartments and shopping so their traffic impact will be minimal and won’t disrupt the neighborhood. We place them in the neighborhood but we don’t incorporate them into the neighborhood. And we wonder why they tend to just wither away.

We all will have to make a choice someday, either about your parents or yourselves, or it will be made for us. It seems to me that we should be working to make those decisions easier on ones who have to live with the outcome of those decisions.

Those are some of the things that we should be working on right now.