On April 25, LexTran officials, including General Manager Rocky Burke, met with community members at Luigart Studio to discuss the future of the Kitchen Planning Center building at 101 W. Loudon Avenue. Occupying much of the northwest corner of the intersection of N. Limestone and Loudon, LexTran owns the buildings on the corner and currently has its administrative headquarters at 109 W. Loudon. LexTran is considering plans for the vacant Kitchen edifice as well as the long warehouse behind it that runs along N. Limestone.
An Earlier Meeting
For more than a year, community members have been talking to LexTran about how it will utilize the Kitchen building. In January 2010, Burke and his staff met with several northside neighborhood associations at Al’s Bar to discuss the building’s potential. At that meeting, residents shared memories of the building’s past lives, while others expressed concern 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, of the Castlewood Neighborhood Association.
Marty Clifford, of the North Limestone Neighborhood Association, also saw possibility in the project. “We are hoping the building itself be a monument and part of the community – 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 N. Broadway and Bryan Avenue with concentration on the Limestone and Loudon corner should become a destination corridor,” said Griffin VanMeter, who lives and owns a business on N. Limestone.
“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.”
Recently, LexTran has been able to move forward with the project — and hopes to fulfill some of the requests voiced by residents at the January 2011 meeting. The transit authority has chosen Sherman, Carter, Barnhart, an architectural and civil engineering firm, and Messer Construction for the project. Charlie Carter, of Sherman, Carter, Barnhart, presented findings from the feasibility study of the 1928 Kitchen building. To the layperson, the structural report was interesting, but not easy to assess. If this were the exact same audience from the 2010 meeting at Al’s Bar, the presentation would probably have fallen flat. However, this wasn’t the same audience, although there were a few of the same faces.
This Luigart audience was less resident and more business owner – in particular business owners currently renovating buildings along N. Limestone. The gathering included Chad Needham (the old Spalding’s building), Lucie Meyers, (the blue building at the southeast corner of the N. Limestone/Loudon intersection), representatives from Broken Fork Designs (residential renovation on Rand and N. Limestone), Clifford (stretch of buildings on N. Limestone between Seventh Street and Loudon), and VanMeter (Bullhorn building). All asked technical questions about the construction of the building.
This different crop of participants is a sign of the fragile, but accelerating, private investment in Limestone north of Fifth Street. These are the entrepreneurs willing to take a chance on the nether regions of N. Limestone — the dirtier and poorer part that will be harder to “revitalize.” These seem to be the type of business owners who help the city “feel safe” (or safer at least) in committing money for infrastructure repair.
In fact, Mayor Gray had met with General Manager Burke several hours before the meeting, encouraging LexTran to, as Burke recounted, “think beyond building”— meaning, hopefully, to think about how the renovation could buoy surrounding area. As this heavily trafficked intersection is in the shitter when it comes to the actual roads, sidewalks, and curbs – some of which are the city’s responsibility — several at the meeting were ready to believe that the magic wand of the LexTran renovation could make the area better.
The romantic drawing of the sparkling and new intersection from the feasibility study made several attendees drool. In pastel watercolors, the drawing included whispy trees, bike lanes, and a road surface design to look like a trolley turn-around. And, best of all, pristine curbs. (At least one audience member murmured in joy, or maybe orgasmic pedestrian delight, at the thought of curbs.) We, along with Carter who unveiled the drawing, believed for the moment that N. Limestone and Loudon could be as beautiful as any streetscape further south.
A Dream Deferred
As lovely as those dreams were, some of us quickly remembered the context. First, the millions for the LexTran renovation are federal money bequeathed to the transit authority, not to the city. Surely, the money must be used for LexTran’s property, not a streetscape that encompasses all of the intersection.
Second, the zoning for industrial uses near that intersection substantially limits idyllic visions of Limestone north of Seventh Street.
Third, E. Loudon from Shropshire to N. Limestone looks like the movie Tremors was filmed on/under it. (Remember that 1990 Kevin Bacon classic? In it, large underground creatures pop out of the ground to eat the inhabitants of a small town.) On this stretch of Loudon, there are potholes, sinkholes, and wavy pavement. There are crumbling and busted curbs. In many places, utility strips have been ground to dirt by on-street parking. (Cars pull up on the utility strips to avoid being sideswiped by the many large commercial trucks that use E. Loudon as a through-street. Consequently, utility structures get broken, which is why it is against city ordinance to park on utility strips.)
In other words, many of the area upgrades that depend on city ordinance and city money are far from imminent.
However, General Manager Burke and Messer Construction announced an optimistic timeline for beginning work on the LexTran project. They say that, depending on administrative red tape, work could begin this fall. However, that isn’t to say that LexTran has decided yet whether to demolish or renovate the Kitchen building. The next step for the project is to analyze cost to determine whether renovation of the 83-year-old building is feasible. If not, LexTran may have to build a new edifice. The transit authority does still plan to raze the warehouse that runs along N. Limestone for bus parking.
“We built this city on rock ’n roll”
Well, no, Lexington wasn’t built on rock ’n roll, but let’s pretend that we can determine the foundations for building, re-building, imagining, re-imagining the northside. In doing this, let’s put pressure on any and all potential resources for our neighborhood. The LexTran renovation is certainly an important park of this picture. However, the LexTran project isn’t a panacea, so here’s NoC’s proposed slate of projects on which to apply our collective grit and determination:
Take E. Loudon back from the nightmarish landscape of Tremors by pushing it up the city’s list for wholesale repair. Find federal funds if necessary. This needs lots of neighborhood work and support.
Advocate for a noise ordinance that limits industrial noise that ruptures ear drums, interrupts sleep, and limits the neighborhood’s use value.
Insist that “revitalizing” practices from small developers, non-profits, and governmental agencies maintain the cultural and socio-economic diversity of the northside. No need to go too white, or too hip, or too yup.
Demand that our streets and parks be clean, safe and functional for all residents. This includes demanding greater access to public gardens and markets.
Oh, yeah, and we need those curbs, too.
Add your ideas to the slate by emailing them to NoC at email@example.com or posting to noclexington.com. Suggestions will be published in future issues. If you are interested in working on the “Finish Loudon Avenue!” campaign, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.