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Lexington’s Downtown

June 26, 2008

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.


From → Lexington, Politics

  1. MoveForward! permalink

    To counter your last 4 points quickly:

    1. TIF financing will likely not be used since the Webbs recently stated that they can move forward without it. One of th requirements for securing TIF money is to show that you cannot proceed with the project without the funding, and judging by their comments they can clearly go ahead without it.

    2. What is significant about the farmer’s market moving a few blocks away? Do you think people won’t be able to find it? It’s not the specific block of downtown on which it’s located that attracts people to the farmer’s market.

    3. The proposed parking space in the Phoenix Park area is for underground parking, not the surface of the park. They have proposed major improvements to the park itself as part of the development.

    4. I am very frustrated by the argument about the “historical” buildings being torn down. Nobody ever gives any real reason for calling them historical other than they are occupied by some quirky businesses. I think these businesses are great and have unique character, but it’s not their locations that give them that. Also, what are we talking about, a couple hundred people out of hundreds of thousands of residents that actually frequent those businesses? I frequented the Dame myself, so please don’t say I don’t understand. You know what? I’ll still frequent the Dame when they find a new location because I went there for the music and the crowd, not the dilapidated old building in which it was housed. Those buildings on that block are in terrible shape, they are ugly, and they should have been condemned long ago like the Woolworth building was.

    Let’s progress and spur our economy, not hold onto the past and squash our city’s massive potential.

  2. MoveForward!: I agree with you that preservation of a building just because it carries “historical” value is lackluster reasoning. And the fact that CentrePoint developers want to proceed without public funding is at least a little more respectable. However, I think you’re ignoring the main argument of this post: developments like this involve a matter of principle (i.e. private, for-profit enterprises should not have the right to exercise their will to power over a downtown community.

    I also cannot stand the argument that we need to “progress” and exercise our full potential by letting some company build an upscale hotel. If we really want to progress in Lexington, we should stop cutting city government support for assistance to senior citizens, homeless people, people who live in truly dilapidated neighborhoods, etc. This CentrePoint project is yet one more example of public energies and resources being dedicated to something that benefits primarily the wealthy elite in Lexington, rather than the entire community.

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