Jan 292010

By Beth Connors-Manke

Having only recently moved to the north side, I walk around a lot, trying to get an eyeful of my new neighborhood. One place that has become central to my wandering to and fro is the intersection of North Limestone and Loudon. It’s an interesting place: small antique shops and towing companies hold their own against industrial-scaled buildings like the old brick Farmer’s and Builder’s Supply Company. There’s the railroad track on Lime south of the intersection, and there’s a big utility facility—all of this with houses surrounding it.

It’s “urban core” at it’s most urban: lower-income housing meets the grittiness of industrial development.

The LexTran/Kitchen Planning Center building on the corner of North Limestone and Loudon Avenue.

I appreciate that mixture, and I also value that this area of the city has the lowest rate of automobile ownership in Fayette County, according to the Central Sector Small Area Plan. Whether by choice or necessity, many northsiders benefit from bikable streets, walkable sidewalks, and the bus system. This side of town needed, in a most basic way, the tax referendum passed several years ago that kept LexTran afloat and eventually allowed the transit system to grow.

LexTran, in fact, has its administrative headquarters at 109 West Loudon. The transit authority owns a large area near that intersection, including the old brick Kitchen Planning Center that sits right at the intersection and across from the HopHop building.

On January 11, LexTran officials, including General Manager Rocky Burke, met with several northside neighborhood associations at Al’s Bar to discuss the future of the Kitchen Planning Center building. LexTran is considering plans for the vacant Kitchen edifice as well as the long warehouse behind it that runs along North Limestone.

LexTran has a formal plan for the buildings on the books, one created several years ago. Now, with the growth the transit authority has seen in the last five years, LexTran is again looking at the possibilities for renovating or rebuilding the structure to house its more than 200 employees at the administrative office and make more room for buses.

The project is in its early stages and all the funding has not yet been secured, but LexTran is expecting to fund the overhaul through federal dollars. Based on design consultant projections, the project could cost $10 million.
According to Jill Barnett, Community Outreach Coordinator for LexTran, the transit authority expects “to pay for the project with funds from the TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) Grant program and Section 5309 of the Bus and Bus Facilities Livability Initiative Program Grant program.”

Once the work gets underway, LexTran believes the renovation of the corner, which would include razing the warehouse for bus parking, could be completed in 24 months. According to General Manager Burke, the decision about the fate of the currently standing Kitchen Planning Center will lie in the financial viability of restoring the building. Whatever the final decision, LexTran says it plans to pursue green practices with the renovation of the corner, including Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.

Many residents at the meeting expressed interest in the fate of the Kitchen Planning Center, some sharing memories of the building’s past lives, others concerned that any historic value be preserved.
“The old buildings impart a charm to this area and make it unique, so I would like to see the old Kitchen Planning Center restored. Plus, it is more environmentally friendly to restore an existing building than to demolish it and rebuild,” said Tara Rodriguez, the Castlewood Neighborhood Association president.

Marty Clifford, president of North Limestone Neighborhood Association and candidate for 1st District Council, also sees possibility in the project. “We are hoping the building itself be a monument and part of the community. My understanding is they are thinking green, community and attractive—something the community will directly benefit from and be proud of.”
Some also suggested that LexTran showcase an ArtStop bus shelter at the intersection, much like has been done on Third and Elm Tree near the Lyric Theatre.

Other residents made clear that they see the LexTran project as important to the rehabilitation of the intersection.

“The LexTran proposed development on the corner of Limestone and Loudon provides a great opportunity for Lexington and specifically the north side of town. Identified by the Central Sector Small Area Plan as a focus area and potential node of activity, the stretch of Loudon between North Broadway and Bryan Avenue with concentration on the Limestone and Loudon corner should become a destination corridor,” said Gentleman Griffin VanMeter, who resides on North Limestone and owns the HopHop building that sits across North Limestone from the Kitchen Planning Center building.

“LexTran can act as a catalyst and help jump start this destination node with a mixed used development that not only serves their programming needs but also engages the needs of the adjacent neighborhoods,” VanMeter continued. “A development with retail will energize the area, and if done correctly provide more and diverse revenue streams for LexTran. The hope is that LexTran models their development after successful public transportation-based mixed-use developments and seizes this opportunity. The neighborhood hopes that LexTran thinks and acts big and progressively.”

If you have a vision or suggestions for the corner of North Limestone and Loudon, email them to NoC at noceditors@yahoo.com. Suggestions will be published in future issues.

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