Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Chevy Chase's resurgent intersection

Last Friday, as Mrs. Sweeper and I were coming home from the Gallery Hop, I saw a quite beautiful sight.  The evening was just perfect for getting out either to stroll through downtown looking at art or taking the kids to the ice cream shop for a cone or two.  Many a family was out doing just that.  Downtown, couples meandered through stop after stop of art and in Chevy Chase, hoards of families with kids were descending on Graeter's and the treats within.

 I tell you, the sidewalk in front of the Ashland Plaza was crawling with activity and both McAlister's and Graeter's were full.  The scene reminded me of the days when Romany Road was hopping.  I hope that it still is on Tuesday nights after Jazz or baseball in the park.  But this scene in Chevy Chase is today a rarer sight than some 30 years past.  The one thing that would make it better still would be the presence of some seating, you know, some tables and chairs or benches kind of like the sidewalk dining that we see downtown.

There is some sidewalk dining space already in Chevy Chase.  At Starbucks, at The Beer Trappe and Bourbon n' Toulouse, even Charley Brown's has some outdoor seating but I think that that has more to do with the smoking ban than anything else.  The area around the newly opened shops is in need of real seating.

The former Buddy's location had a so called patio for outside seating although it is right on the parking area, but it is there.

Speaking of Buddy's, it has not surprised me that it did not sit vacant for very long.  While @GossipGirl40502 will most likely tell you that the trendy things always begin early in her favorite zip code, the Chevy Chase area is just now getting in on the band wagon of brewpubs.  The South Broadway area, downtown and even W Sixth St., saw the micro or nano brewing sites before the 40502 but soon the Corner Brewpub will be taking over the old Buddy's spot and the intersection will become even more active.

I would not doubt that sometime, maybe near the end of Summer, somebody will organize a Colt trolley tour of all the local brewhouses or brewpubs in town, perhaps beginning and ending in the Distillery District.  I think that it would be great if it could benefit some local charity while exposing Lexington to the growing number of local brewers.

Update, May 3, 2012
Today, they put out at least two picnic tables in front of Graeter's and Business Lexington posted details about the brewpub.  When I mentioned the brewpub to the Lextran management and suggested a Brewhouse Hop, they seemed receptive.  What do you say, can we make it happen?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Was It Worth $7,000 A Foot?

From 2 years ago  
The Clematis in front of our house in in full bloom, giving a bright blast of color when you walk toward the door coming home. Each year I think that it just get better and better looking with many more blooms than last.

The wire frame horse in the Court House Plaza was supposed to be full of blooms from seven different varieties of Clematis in time for the WEG.  If you look today, the vinery of the collective plants only rise to the top of the hindquarters.  Did they stop tending them with change of administrations.

That made me think of other differences in priorities and how they are handled.  I recall, as I am sure you will also, probably the most iconic campaign commercial of the victorious Jim Gray.  The one where he is standing on South Limestone near the end of the renovating construction that summer.  In discussing the overall cost of the project and the disruption it caused to so many businesses and commuters, he utters the almost comic, "$7,000 a foot".  I am sure that that resonated with the voters, especially in those slim economic times.  Times that I am wondering if we are out of yet.

Now, considering that there was a big to-do on the weekend that it reopened to normal traffic and has seen many other University related celebrations (most notably the 8th National Basketball Championship), I feel confident that business owners who stuck it out and the ones who followed construction think that the $7,000 a foot was well worth it.

There was a lot written about the timing and extent of the closing, by owners and bloggers and others who felt that this work was somehow unfair to the "stakeholders".  Since the end of construction there has been nary a peep in public from either the owners or the bloggers as to whether the redo was worth it.

The most silent is the one who, I think, benefited the most from the phrase, Mayor Jim Gray.

Earlier this week, the APA (American Planning Association concluded their 2012 National Convention in Los Angeles.  In the closing address, Renée Jones-Bos, Ambassador of the Netherlands to the United States, noted that Dutch engineers have been forced to approach large infrastructure and planning projects head on and are known worldwide for their expertise. She also pointed out that American cities may learn from their Dutch ally’s proactive embrace of cost-benefit analysis.

The Dutch are well known for weathering almost constant calamities and for wresting their country from the ravages of the North Sea.  So much so, that they have come to think of it as part of their DNA.  Another part of Dutch DNA is found at the entrance to the old port of Amsterdam in a sign which reads “The cost comes before the benefit.”

To all of those who have cried and whined about the outlandish outlays of the City and State for projects leading up to the WEG, and to all of those who have wondered where the windfall profits that were predicted have gone, I say this; the benefits have only barely begun.

But I ask Mayor Gray, was the $7,000 a foot worth it, both in the short run and in the long run?  And should we do it again?

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Ways To Go On Food Trucks

I seem to have a lot of entries about dining and all of the new places going in downtown, but short of Centrepointe and 21c there is little else to speak of.  Any new offices lease their space and (sometimes) remodel, then just set up and go to town. No major announcements, no fanfare.  I guess the dining and entertainment news will have to suffice as development news.

One subject on the dining front is the movement toward food trucks and carts.  It does seem that we are again trailing the rest of the country in allowing food trucks, but we also appear to be looking at allowing them just in the downtown area.  Is this not a community wide service for which we have little or no rules?  Should not all of our ordinances apply across the whole of Fayette County?  Is downtown the only location that the food trucks wish to serve?

There are many websites which describe  the food truck situation in cities throughout America and a few of them have maps which display the locations of certain vendors, either on a semi-permanent or rotating basis.  The site for Austin, Texas is broken into several sections and shows only four food trucks in all of their downtown.  Far fewer that any other section mapped.  It also appears that their downtown covers much more territory, as one would expect for their population.

A larger population, a larger area, more density and greater diversity and only 4 food trucks to serve them.  Why are we trying to be so different?

I have heard some news reports that there is fear that food trucks could impinge upon parking spaces or loading zones for hours at a time.  I can see the concern, but I look at the timing and size of the local beer delivery vehicles as more of a problem.  Food deliveries do not seem to be a major factor for all of the restaurants and, I guess, they take place in the early morning. On my noontime walkabouts, it is the sheer number and size of the beer delivery trucks (and where they park) which I see as a deterrent to downtown traffic movement.  

One day I saw 4 or 5 extended length trailers on Short at Cheapside at one time, three were from the same distributing company.  Three truck, four or five men in one location blocking a full lane of traffic for an unknown time span.  Should we not be doing something about that?  I seriously think that the situation is worse by campus on most days.

Comments have also been made about the two announced hotels and their delivery docks or lack thereof, but our growing dining and entertainment district draws no such attention.  I believe that it should.

The proposed regulations have provisions for length of stay at any one location and the frequency with which any particular food truck may return to said locations and they all look to be centered on the downtown area.  Could that be because our suburban streets are not amenable to locating such street vendors on public property?  What should stop several of these vendors from setting up along side some of our larger parks this summer and appealing to the visitors of our evening sports or music events?  I can imagine the Big Band and Jazz series or afternoon/evening ball games with specialty foods for a quick dinner, can't you?

The discussion on food trucks looks to me to have a long way to go, but at least we have a start.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

21c And The Road Ahead

It was about a month ago that I wrote about our possibility of getting a boutique hotel along the lines of a 21c in- of all places – the old First National Building.

This morning, the main headline of the Herald-Leader was the announcement of just such thing. The 21c corporation has signed on the dotted line to purchase the 3 parcels and put in motion a request of the Urban County Council for tax incentives and federal grants for this $38 million project. They may even request a TIF district of the state, though it is unclear what properties it may include or what public infrastructure needs be built.

My friend over at Kaintuckeen quoted Mayor Gray as calling it the “worst kept secret in Lexington” but this is the latest of such proposals made for this building and the only one to actually make it into the media.

You see, this building has a number of issues which may hold any redevelopment at bay. The First National Building is on the National Register as a site and as part of the Downtown Commercial District. For as much good as any such listing has afforded some other properties, after the CentrePointe controversy, our local folks would put a major fuss should undue alterations be proposed.

Any conversion of this century old building will necessitate new fire rating and sprinklers and an alternate method of egress, a fire escape. The previous proposals included various ways of accomplishing this, but I am told, either our local Historic Preservation or the lending institutions have balked and the plans wafted away like smoke. Like the Melodean Hall situation across the intersection, good new uses proposed for fine old buildings run up against safety and preservation issues which can really complicate matters.

Mayor Gray appears to have worked very hard on convincing folks that a 21c hotel needs to be in Lexington and whether his company is called upon to provide construction assistance or not, his 40 years of business and 6 years of political experience may be put to the test.

Concerning the TIF for 21c, I cannot figure out just how big on an area or just what amount of public improvements can be done in the area. I know that for CentrePointe, the district covers the primary block but also includes the old Court House and Cheapside Park, and the parking lot across W. Short St. The Cheapside work is about ¾ths done but the Lexington History Museum has major work planned. Perhaps the sidewalks and other street improvements could be made to aide the movement along Upper and Short St.

Like the journey of CentrePointe from announcement to completion, this boutique hotel may have more than a few setbacks.

On a lighter note, the people in the restaurant being finished on the corner of Short and Limestone which has a tentative name of Southern Table, tells me that they will open for lunch in the next week or two and for dinner about a week after that. The décor is starkly white on white and the menu is to be California fusion I believe, maybe not new for Lexington but not your usual fare.

With all the new openings on Short St, can it be long before someone calls for some real street work to be done on that section.

I have been trumpeting all of the new places downtown but there have been some closings also. While we were wondering about The Taste of Thai and Sam's Hotdogs since the Webbs bought that property, Giacomo's, with their bright yellow delivery scooter, has been sold and closed without explanation. I will also miss the Good Foods Chapter 2 in the lobby of the library. I don't know the whole story on that either.

I am always open to conversation so lets talk.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Where Is Lextran Going With This?

This showed up on my Twitter screen this morning.

Yes, the weather is beautiful for this time of the year.  Temperature about mid-fifties and a dry, high pressure system overhead.  Just a beautiful day to get out and enjoy.

But a bus ride?  This city’s transit system is geared toward getting the employee to his job, be he an industrial shift worker, a white collar, 9-to-5er or a service worker in the retail trades.  One thing this system is not aimed toward is the family oriented excursion to the park or other relaxing pastimes.

Those of us who were at work could find no time to get out for a pleasant ride on the bus and those of us who might wish to have an easy ride to the larger parks or entertainment locale have found that routes and scheduling are inconvenient.

All in all it is just a very confusing suggestion for Lextran to make.  Even Keeneland has no racing today.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Spring, And Development Sprouts Again

I have been watching downtown for a while and now that Spring is here we have a lot of things shaking in the wind.

I think that we all know about the new Shakespeare and Co. coming at the corner of Short and Broadway. They have been taking a long time getting to where they are, but there was a lot to do. I have taken some photos of the corner since 2008 when the old Clark hardware building was painted and the former Wrokledge space needed a little fixing up.
August 2008
March 2008

First came the outside repairs of the windows and the tin mouldings at the cornice and gutters, 
then a matching paint job. 
And then we waited. And we waited.

Oct 2010
The construction barrier went up, the roll-off dumpsters arrived and a lot of things must have gone on behind the scenes. Dumpsters came and went. Materials arrived and disappeared inside with still no mention of what it was.
Late July 2011
The name became known, but little else and that gave little indication of what was to come. It was the foreign press that gave the best information on an interesting looking restaurant (and I hate to use the word) chain out of the United Arab Emirates. With a fabulous ethnic menu and exquisitely decorated facilities, Mrs. Sweeper and I could only wait with great anticipation of an opening date.

The end of the Thursday Night Live series last year brought thoughts of celebrating our anniversary there toward the end of 2011, but the concrete floor was still to be laid. Little did I know that almost the entire foundation and structural support system needed to be replaced. It is no wonder that it took so long.

They are working on the finishing touches in the past few weeks, as seen below.


On the other side of the parking lot, the Behr family is now quickly working on the former Metropol building, transforming it into The Village Idiot. 

A spruced up paint job and a renewed interior will bring this place right up there with Shakespeare and Table 310. I hope that they can influence someone to replace that dead street tree on Mill St by the right hand parking lot.

Aug 2011
Feb 2012

Mar 2012

Not the same as downtown but not so far away is the seemingly equally working time on the new version of The Jefferson Davis Inn. Announced with some fanfare and replacing another proposed development, a 7 story mixed use project not really accepted by the neighborhood, the block just stood there with a hole in the ground and a construction fence. I was even asked if the guy behind it was digging the foundation and pouring the footing was doing the job all by himself.

The builder told me the other day that sometimes “it seemed that way”. This project was started during the worst setback of a recession that most of us have seen and applying for and getting a small business loan took way longer than anticipated. After 14 months the loan has come through and the hard work of preparing foundation and steel is behind them. The walls are going up and an August opening date is being set.

Henry Clay Public House

Back downtown, across Upper St from the old Court House, is the third lot of Jordon’s row. A building being lovingly restored by only the fifth owner since it was built in early 1800’s for Henry Clay. It soon will be the site of Doug Breeding’s latest venture, the Henry Clay Public House. It looks like an opening date could be as early as late May or June. This building will still have the owner’s office on the second floor and a small apartment on the third, but it will be another site for libations and snack foods downtown.

Now can we bring on the rest of the retail and housing stock to revive a real downtown?