Thursday, June 30, 2011

Again With The Grocery Stores

Grocery stores are in the news again.

The Business Lexington recently broke the news that I have been sitting on for a few days so I guess it is okay to talks about now.  The Kroger store in Chevy Chase has had a parking problem for lo these many years.  About as many years as since the returned to a Chevy Chase location.  As they made the stores bigger, the problem just got bigger too.

The first building that I remember on this property was a Colonial Alber's grocery store and, like Kroger, they sat back off the street with parking in the front.  At that time, the entire block of Lafayette (now Marquis) Ave. was filled with houses and commercial businesses had yet to encroach.  This and a sister store on Southland Dr were their only foray into the Lexington market.  Built in the mid 'fifties, in ten years they were gone.

Masters TV & Appliances had moved from the present Charlie Browns spot and stayed until a Higgin's KRI branch opened.  Neither one lasted very long.  Then came the Piece Goods Shop, a fabric and sewing store, which lasted until the very early '70s.

Kroger, which had had a presence in Chevy Chase since before the war (WWII), had moved to the 500 block of S. Upper St., then decided to return, tore down the old building and (if I recall correctly) brought the building a bit closer to the sidewalk squeezing the parking a little in order to bring in the delivery trucks to the rear.  Over the years, they have had two expansions and have approached their 40,000 sq. ft. limit for the B-1 zone.  Parking and the increase in population/area from which they draw has become a greater and greater mismatch, even after they acquired additional property.

A possible solution, placing the parking on the roof.  Hey, why not, it has been done successfully in Florida.  (I guess that goes along with Florida's own Fark tag.)  My feeling is that the engineering and the space necessary for the ramps up and down is going to be too costly and that it might be better to excavate for all the mechanical, food prep and offices.  That would leave much more of the ground floor for sale area.

I like the idea if it being right up on the sidewalk (10 feet back)and a possible cafe style seating area.  Even a art style bus stop could be designed into the facade.  Bring back the old type display windows and an awning and you have the urban feel of the rest of Chevy Chase.  It does seem strange to be talking about parking solutions in such a walkable neighborhood as this is.

The title does say stores - plural - so what is the other one.

A legal ad in the Wednesday Herald-Leader stated the intention of applying for a couple of liquor licenses for the old Joe's Crab Shack location on Nicholasville Rd. near Regency Center.  Also, within the last few weeks, an amended development plan was approved for a mystery tenant and the 15,000 sq. ft. structure is clearly labeled as a grocery and an attached liquor outlet.

Do we know any small footprint stores which would like to keep its plans quiet for a while?

The name on the legal ad was ......................Trader Joe's.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Finishing What We Started

Does anybody remember this piece of topiary and how it was to look during the World Equestrian Games?  

This wireframe of a raring horse was planted with 7 varieties of clematis representing the 7 continents from which the games contestants came.  It was placed more than 2 years ago and the plants were to be tended and fed so as to be in full bloom during the games.  It is supposed to be a legacy of the games for the "Horse Capital of the World", yet it seems to be dying back.

Last year the vines had risen to the height of the base of the neck, now they barely make it to the hindquarters.  Someone has really fallen down on the job of maintaining this piece of public art.

The State Government and the Horse Park were the main driving force behind the WEG and the Lexington Government basically tried to move heaven and earth to be ready in time for the games.  The did move a lot of earth. But this topiary is on State property(the Court House Plaza) and the City made many announcements with it as a backdrop.  Both entities seem to lay some sort of claim to it, but I don't think either of them are doing much for it.  Could the change in administration have had this much effect on things?

Similar type questions may be asked about our street trees downtown.  Since I have been working downtown the street trees on Main St have been put in three times and the trees that were originally put in under Urban Renewal are all gone.  

Does anyone remember the well shaded plaza in front of the "Gold Bank", otherwise known then as Citizens Union?  Or the benches under those shady trees?  All gone.  Something about the public using them during the day.

Our downtown street trees have been placed in tree wells and either mulched or surrounded with a grating of some sort. Then we just sit around and watch the weeds take over, the brick pavers buckle and the iron grates lift due to the roots being confined to the wells.  Eventually, the trees encounter stress or disease and begin to decline and die.  We have an urban forester on staff but he and his crew are kept busy looking at what we can do next, while the present situation continues to devolve.

Sometimes, looking for the next big thing just gets in the way of finishing or maintaining what we have.  We are continually painting the doors and windows and ignoring that the foundation leaks.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Public And Semi-public Spaces

Since my last post, I have been trying to be cognizant of how we also maintain our private open spaces as well as the public space I spoke of earlier.  This would be the sidewalk cafe type spaces that our downtown restaurants are allowed to use in order to bring vitality and vibrancy to the streets of Lexington.  Some are the patios around the campus area and some are the tables and chair along the newly widened sidewalks downtown.
The front porch dining and drinking areas near campus are all on private property but the mess that can be left behind from a good nights partying has to go somewhere.  I believe that most of the establishments really try to patrol after themselves on the big nights but when it is just a small crowd and the litter is miniscule, I know that there can be lapses.  I watched as the patio at the "World Famous" Two Keys has being hosed down the other day and as the water rolled off on to the sidewalk, it carried a fair amount of cigarette butts into the new rain garden facility, joining some that were already there.  

I know that the sidewalk abutting a property is the responsibility of the property owner, as pertains to repair and snow removal.  Some of them actually do such repair and clearing. Just who is supposed to maintain the rain gardens and keep them clear of debris is unknown to me.  I do think that the adjacent property owners should not be helping to pollute things further.

The sidewalk cafes add just the right touch to our downtown dining atmosphere and the addition of some mature shade trees would help even more.  It is a shame that we have been either selecting the wrong species or damaging the ones that are installed, but we have switched out trees on Main St. at least three times since 1972.  Our downtown trees never get to the nice shady size which is good for sitting out under.  Most diners need their shade.

The shade comes in the form of table umbrellas, but what is good for the diners is not always good for the pedestrians passing by.  I need to duck or tilt my head whenever I (6'4") pass by these areas, although Mrs Sweeper (at 5'3") walks by unimpeded. The tips of those stays would poke me right in the eye.

The restaurant servers who work these tables are pretty conscientious about keeping the area clean but the the bar areas can get quite messy.  It may be the alcohol or the age/mindset of the patrons.  Go figure.

In general, I think that it is the total mindset of Lexingtonians that is at fault.  Have we not noticed that with the indoor smoking ban and all the outdoor "smoking stations", out sidewalks and especially the street intersections are still filled with butts and wrappers.  As I left work the other day, I saw a few ladies exiting the rear door of the circuit court house, one of them lit up, and headed over to the parking garage.  After a few quick puffs and before she could enter the elevator, she flicked a half smoked cigarette into the street.  She was walking past a receptacle for said butt at the base of the steps, but hers went into the street.  I am not sure that I could find a better example of public service and disservice in the same package.

If we really want to change our city for the better, we will need to make a major adjustment to our civic attitude.

Friday, June 17, 2011

My Ideas From Greenville - Without Making The Trip

The word is filtering back from the Commerce Lexington trip to Greenville S.C. about the lovely landscaped public spaces and the many shaded garden spots which dot their downtown.  The implication is that we here in Lexington could and should do similar spaces.  We can, but it would not be the same.  I don't think that we know HOW to treat our public open spaces.

For the most part, we are pigs when it comes to using our current public space downtown and elsewhere.  

I was at Thursday Night Live, an idea that we borrowed from Greenvile, and watched as our young, vibrant revelers began their evenings drinking festivities and the aging rockers mixed with the other downtown dwellers, all to some really decent music. Some were there to be seen and some were there to partake of a free event so graciously provided by sponsors there to take your money any way they can.  

On the one side there were the roped off sections of the bars and restaurants along Cheapside and alcohol flowing as quickly as they could bring out a fresh supply.  Tables, chairs and patio umbrellas for those who got there early.  Lots of smiles, handshakes and hugs and kisses all around.  There is one tree on that side of the pavilion and the area around the base, just a patch of bare ground, was used as a staging/storage space for the outdoor bar.  Nothing like what is described from Greenville.

On the old courthouse side there are two trees and their patches of dirt which were used for some seating and stroller parking or just plain walking over.  You see, the sidewalk was filled with sponsors booths and a couple of expensive new autos on display.  Not a blade of grass in either of them.  Between the bourbon beer truck, the new autos and the food/wine tents clustered at the front "entrance" to the space there was no space left to get around.  The lush greenery spoken of in Greenville is not to be seen in Lexington.

Between the kids, the dogs, the jostled drinks and the sometimes breezy gusts of wind, by the end of the show the ground is littered with spilled food (with or without containers), napkins/wrappers, cigarette butts and who knows what all.  Were we all raised to do this kind of thing in our own homes?  I don't think so.  So, why do we do it in our cherished public spaces.

The new Court House Plaza is no different.  The grassy lawn is beginning to show stress and wear along the edges of the pavers and the vegetable oil stain from the Kettle Korn booth of last falls Spotlight Festival is still visible.  Chewing gum blotches and butts are a common sight no matter how many folks they have sweeping the place each morning.  Young children running from fountain to fountain and sometimes a discarded or forgotten article of clothing will join the wet litter at the drain.  Why do we do this?

Our new, wide sidewalks and their environmentally correct rain gardens are sparsely planted and occasionally weeded, but the litter which shows up in them is usually left for a few days.  I have noticed that they have irrigation tubing, for when it is really dry, but it is supposed to be buried in the mulch and not laid out on the surface.  Since we have spent so much money of designing and building these things, shouldn't we act like we are going to maintain them correctly?

Should I even mention the Phoenix Park?  Have we not abandoned that to the "homeless" and others who are down on their luck?  This park, with the intellectually enhanced library on one side and a fountain and mock stream on the other for the non-readers.  How else would the parents let their children play and climb on the rocks, when it is plainly signed as prohibited?  The park benches are all scratched and faded as are the lighted bollards while graffiti mars the few tables there.  Do we even care about this place?

Thoroughbred Park is too far east for most downtown people to get to and Triangle Park is being rebuilt ( I can't wait to see how quickly we can get to work on that  one) and still we want to take over a portion of the CentrePointe block - as public open space.  Are we nuts?  We don't take care of what we have in the way of non-revenue producing property and we are asking for more.

Greenville has spent three decades bringing their streetscape plan to life and has some apparently beautiful downtown trees while we are on our third set of saplings along Main and Vine since they went one-way back in the early '70s.  There is no reason to bring ideas back from these quality cities if we do not also bring the will to use them in a sustainable manner.  Private property owners can evict and prohibit those who abuse their open space or they can charge sufficient fees to cover the maintenance or repairs.  Public spaces have no such luxuries. 

We HAVE to quit abusing our public open spaces.

Monday, June 13, 2011

CentrePointe, Why Now?

The other day I indicated that I believe that the CentrePointe project will begin to move forward - sometime this year.  I know that many of you will say that the recovery has not come that far as yet, but I think that things are starting to break.

It has to do with the economic effort known as QE2, or a second round of quantitative easing.  This is a way of increasing the money supply and (in a manner of speaking) stimulating the economy.  This latest round is winding to a close at the end of the is month and some investor fear that capital may begin to flow away from the emerging markets and back to the safety and security of the American dollar.  That could be why the story that I was told featured a large Spanish equity trust and the desire of said trust to invest in American commercial development.  I wonder, are the Spanish moving their money before the coming restructuring of the Euro by the European Central Bank?

The figure that I heard was nearly $40 million in advance and the rest to follow.  That would be enough to start CentrePointe, no matter what the eventual project will look like.

For the next few weeks - the DDA and the planners of the Fourth of July have the block until the 10th I suspect - nothing will be apparent concerning impending construction.  I even doubt that this years Spotlight will be able to use the space, and frankly, I think that the Short St. corridor is the better location.  I am keeping my eye out for someplace to put the fill which needs to be removed (Oliver Lewis Way Phase II?) and the fleet of trucks to haul it.  The dry heat of August and September could make downtown Lexington quite dusty this year.

I think that the clock is ticking.

Friday, June 10, 2011

CentrePointe. What do I know about it?

TrusT Facade renovation
Last night Mrs. Sweeper and I went downtown, not to the Thursday Night Live but, to the gallery opening at Gallery B.  I am not particularly fond of the group who played last night and I do like looking at good art.  The guys from the new TrusT bar were there showing off their "signature" drinks and talking about the upcoming grand opening.  I will say that if they are taking as much care in details on the inside as the are on the outside, the place will look fantastic.  The new facade is looking nice.(see left)

There are some folks downtown who are making things neat and clean.

The artwork was interesting and sometimes I think that I can do better (and times when I know that I cannot) but it all looked a bit pricey.  Maybe I just don't know real art when I see it.

We then did wander down to Cheapside to see if we could run into some friends or at least some folks that we knew.  She says that I cannot go anywhere without knowing someone and this night was no different.  We even got introduced to some new people, and as usual, when folks find out what I do the topic moves in a singular direction - CentrePointe.  

CentrePointe. What do I know about it?  Have I read anything about the new plans and how forward thinking it is?  What is my opinion?  Well, where do I begin?  I usually start by trying to gauge their thoughts and just why they have them.  Then I try to counter their passion for making this space a socialist common area from what used to be (and still is) private property.  One woman last night is looking for an enclosed play area for the children living in the recently built condominiums and apartments.  She also wants NO hotel and NO residential of any kind on that block, as we are getting overbuilt in residential downtown.  It came as a surprise to her that most downtown dwellers are single or childless couples and that many condos are rented out - not owner occupied. 

Many people are of the old school of thought, that we need more retail to bring folks back downtown, while I know that the retail will return when the residents do - and not before.  We have tried the "bring retail" method before and the "bring offices" method, now we are on the "bring entertainment" kick to revitalize downtown.  So, now we have offices in old stores and new bars/restaurants in old offices and some struggling residential redos in both.

The conversation then turns to the things that are missing.  Specific, non-mainstream, limited appeal types of venues and facilities that the infamous "they" need to provide for some of us older folks.  The old folks are not the only ones who do it, in fact it is most prevalent in the younger "creative class" ones that I hear from.  I rarely hear the words "We need to..." it is always "They need to provide...".  When someone does come along and announce their proposal for a solution, the chorus then rises "But that is not what I want".

Ms. Gang and her group were here and the endured the heat of the old courtroom and the cacophony of opinions from young and old, knowledgeable and not and pledged to involve our local talent.  I hope that she likes herding bees.  Ms Gang is talented and has some good ideas, but if what I heard in the last week is true, she will have to work very quickly.

The City will be utilizing the CentrePointe "pasture" for music and food vendors during the Fourth of July festivities, but soon after that I am expecting and announcement that funding is in place(not coming but in place) and excavation for the parking levels will break ground very soon - like before Fall.  What will rise above them is anybody's guess, but they will sit above them soon.

If you were Dudley and the funds were in hand, would you go with what you have approval for or wait for a new round of controversy.  Would you build on the limited good will that has been generated in the community or do you tweak again the design that many say is a timeless facade befitting our emerging downtown?

CentrePointe. What do I know about it?  Maybe nothing, but I am going to wait and see.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Lextran, Really On The Move?

Look at what I saw on the lot at Lextran. It appears as though they have taken delivery of some new vehicles and have applied a new look to them. One or two of them looked to be shorter units and destined for the areas with lesser clientele.

My best hope is that they will not clutter them up with the tacky ads for the Lottery and such just yet.

Now, they need to get on with their new headquarters.