For at least a generation, but probably longer, Lexington’s downtown has developed in collusion with the preferences of its white, wealthy, citizens. Worse yet, community developers, with only a few exceptions, have ignored the input and welfare of Lexington’s entire community as they pander to the interests of its merchants or social elite.
The most obvious example of this trend is the construction of Rupp Arena in the 1970s, a process that is detailed in Betty Boles Ellison’s controversial and horribly-written book, Kentucky’s Domain of Greed, Power, and Corruption (2001). Ellison claims that the Lexington Convention Center strong-armed administrators from the University of Kentucky to agree to lease the downtown arena. By not having an on-campus arena, UK has lost out on revenues it would have received otherwise. “The practice of protecting downtown Lexington at the university’s expense is so ingrained and incestuous,” she says, “that it continues today.”
Bad writing aside, Ellison’s claims are borne out by acts like the construction of Thoroughbred Park in 1990. According to “Urban Fabric,” an article in the University of Kentucky’s journal disClosure, the park was designed by Lexington’s Triangle Society without the concensus or input of the community. The park replicates with striking veresimilitude the stretch run of the Kentucky Derby. The the artificial rolling bluegrass hills, meant to represent our state’s defining geographic feature, also conveniently obscure from view Goodlowetown, a humble, predominantly black neighborhood that many people interpret to be a testament to systemic social inequality that often goes hand in hand with the horse racing industry.
Now, the most recent community development (which is well-known at this juncture) is the plan to build CentrePointe, a high-rise luxury hotel complex on an entire block of Main Street. The project will dramatically alter the downtown landscape, forcing out local mainstays like The Dame and Busters. The change itself is fine, except for the fact that this decision follows in the wake of a series of developments that precluded the general values of this community.
Lexington desperately attempts to style itself as the “Horse Captial of the World,” and thus it aligns community development and public policy with the upcoming 2010 Altech FEI World Equestrian Games, even when that means foregoing other legitimate investments in public programming. CentrePointe developers boast that the the project will be completed well before the games, a relief for the influx of horse admirers who will be in need of housing when the games are happening.
The problem is not so much whether Lexington actually needs to have a left-of-center music venue like the Dame, an off-beat watering hole like Busters, or a jewlery broker like Rosenburg’s. Rather, it’s an issue of how much a project like this will alter the landscape and patterns of community in the downtown area. Consider some of the points made by the Herald-Leader’s Beverly Fortune:
- The project relies on tax dollars for financial backing.
- The Farmer’s Market on Vine will have to be relocated because of the construction.
- The development will require land from Phoenix Park, on Main and Limestone, that will be turned into parking.
- A significant number of what some consider to be “historically significant” buildings will need to be destroyed.
These alterations are significant enough, I believe, to warrant widespread consensus, especially considering that the Equestrian Games will last for a little more than two weeks, while these changes will affect the character of Lexington’s downtown for decades to come.