Dec 052012


Fayette Urban County, Kentucky (December 4, 2012) – North of CenterEditor Danny Mayer today announced that he is soliciting nominations for a People’s Commission on the Rich. The commission will be tasked with examining the issues and concerns of the most fortunate of Fayette Urban County (FUC) residents and recommend needed changes to city council.

Mayer is forming the commission because of a number of recent reports related to the rich and wealthy, including concerns raised about greedy developers, the impact of rich people on public access to the commons, overbuilding at the Kentucky Horse Park, and the excessive commitments of public capital to expensive leisure pursuits.

“Our community has a long record of reaching out to help those who need lots of money. We can be proud of many of those efforts, including the Kentucky Horse Park and Rupp Arena,” Mayer said. “But we also have ongoing challenges. This is a complex issue. It’s clear we need to step back and take stock … to examine long-term challenges and outstanding needs.”

This year alone, the city will dedicate over 60% of its lending capacity in the federal low-income “Section 108” program in order to attract a downtown boutique hotel. Additionally, the city has contributed over $20 million to the purchase of rural property development rights, which often directly benefit Fayette Urban County’s higher income agricultural and horse farm owners. In the current Mayor’s budget, the county will pay $1.25 million to begin preparations on a Rupp Arena renovation (down payment on a $500 million-$1 billion redevelopment of the area into an “arts and entertainment zone”) that will primarily create amenities beneficial to the more- and most fortunate.

In addition to evaluating the economic stress the rich place on the county, the Commission will also examine the cronyism that plagues many rich FUCer communities. “Several issues have arisen lately that suggest we should get our best problem-solvers around the table and come up with new ideas to make sure we’re doing our best for all of our citizens,” Mayer said. “We must ask the question, Is that goal possible with the concentrated wealth and cronyism we have in this county?

To that end, the commission will examine the long-term debts and infrastructure improvements necessary to house and entertain those who are rich, and it will analyze how these costs get passed onto the community at-large.

There is an urgency, Mayer declared, but also a need for broad perspectives.

“Horse FUCers, coal FUCers, the Religious Rich, the 4%ers, the creatively rich. These are just some of the many categories of rich that exist here in Fayette Urban County—and this doesn’t even touch the large body of social science the Commission might wish to consider: psychoses and traumas, business knowledge and habits, hierarchies, environmental and democratic impacts, drug use,” Mayer observed. “The avenues of inquiryare as limitless as their debt capacity. There is much serious work to be done.”

Mayer wants to hear from more than just the advocates for the very wealthy. “People with no homes, workers at non-profits and adjuncts teaching at schools who have seen their funding slashed,” he said in describing the demographics of potential commission-members. “Public sanitation and safety workers, veterans groups, disc golf players, concerned working class laborers, unemployed artists, tenured faculty members, immigrants of all documents—even the rich are encouraged to apply.”

Anyone interested in serving on Mayer’s People’s Commission on the Rich should contact Danny Mayer’s place by snail mail, c/o North of Center, 430 N. MLK, Lexington, KY, 40508, or by email, Enclose a 1-2 paragraph description of your interest, general availability and qualifications (if any).  Preference given to snail mail applications. Deadline to express interest is January 25.


Nov 072012

This was written about 12 years ago, but since it is late on deadline night and–hey, it is topical–here you dear readers go.

By Danny Mayer

I was twenty-three and living in Charleston, South Carolina, before I had the pleasure to make my own holiday.  It was Thanksgiving, still Hawaiian shirt weather for the coastal lowlands, and I was left, like many of my co-workers from the restaurant where I earned the money to pay for my Masters degree, with nobody to celebrate. Continue reading »

Jul 042012

Requests better Cheapside representation for local print publications

Below is a public appeal revised from an initial June 25 private email sent to area papers, council reps and county Mayor. The author would like to apologize publicly for the part in the private email where he called the Mayor a pimp when “you marketed yourself well” could have sufficed. He promises to attempt to learn from the experience.

Dear Jim,

In the past two years since North of Center has had a presence at Cheapside Pavilion, the city has moved our distribution rack no less than four times. In each instance, these relocations have further removed NoC from the central “Pavilion” area that the city has spent money to redevelop. And my publication is not alone: Chevy Chaser, Ace and a number of other publications have also been relocated. Currently, we are so far removed from the Pavilion area—on the other side of the Courthouse on a portion of Upper that has little pedestrian traffic—that tourists and residents alike would have no idea from visiting the block that the city has a vibrant print culture. Even the bustling Saturday Farmer’s Market rarely extends out to where we’ve been put. And the results have been clear: since the latest move, our circulation in the area has dropped 50%. Continue reading »

Jun 062012

By Danny Mayer

True readers of the Lexington Herald-Leader know Joel Pett for what he is: a regional treasure. Pett, the paper’s Pulitzer-prize winning political cartoonist, mostly focuses on local and state politics. Though he’s often derided in the paper as an offensively appalling liberal, Pett is an equal opportunity observer. He has an admirable knack for creating things that piss off all sorts of people.

Pett’s most recent cartoon to rouse the ire of Herald-Leader readers poked fun at the more shady underside of UK Basketball Coach John Calipari’s NCAA career. In the May 8 comic, a giant NCAA Champs trophy looms between two taped shards of paper (“This space vacated,” “This one, too…”) and a runty, deflating basketball perched atop a trophy base reading, “Lose at IU, Take My Ball And Go home Award (One and Done).” Below the trophies, a plaque reads, “Coach Cal’s Trophy Shelf.” Continue reading »

Apr 092012

Dear Jim,

On February 7, your assistant Susan Straub responded to my email request for the list of financial contributors for the Rupp Arena Arts and Entertainment District Task Force study, along with amounts that each contributor donated. At the time, I was curious—and am still now—about who actually paid for the $350,000 study, and how much each contributor invested, so starting last January I began asking your office for that list of investors.

Mainly, my interest was rooted in good consumerism and rudimentary English 101 skills of authorship and credibility: I wanted to know who is funding the people who say that Rupp and its environs need large amounts of prioritized public capital. But with city and state budgets now in the news, this question has assumed an added journalistic urgency. It has re-entered the news cycle.

At the state level, the Rupp Task Force study was surely used by lawmakers last month in their deliberations over where to direct diminishing public funds. In an austere budget where most state run agencies can expect cuts of 8.4% for the upcoming fiscal calendar—a decision that the Governor himself has cautioned  will likely lead to delays in service, loss of federal funds, facility closures, unfilled positions, and possible layoffsthese leaders no doubt relied upon the Task Force’s privately funded work to determine that the Rupp project should receive $2.5 million in public state funds.

Here at the municipal level, the privately funded Rupp Report promises to play a large role in the city’s budget. The state funds now commit Lexington to $1.5 million in additional public money, which will come from the upcoming Fayette Urban County budget. As you formulate Lexington’s budget priorities and run up against a limited amount of city capital, the Task Force document helps prioritize Rupp’s needs over, for example, local agencies like the Explorium of Lexington, Big Brother Big Sister, Moveable Feast, Salvation Army, Baby Health and the Hope Center—which in your previous budget experienced cuts totaling $125,810 (or about 1/10 of the money destined for Rupp in this budget alone).

In her Feb 7 email to my query about the donor list, Straub responded, “You are correct about the list of people who contributed to the task force costs. It wasn’t quite ready for the final report, but we’re close. As discussed in an earlier e-mail, I will give you a list of the individuals, not of the amounts of their contributions. You will have it as soon as it’s complete and it should be soon.”

My apologies for the public format. I hate doing things this way. But after the third or fourth email, one gets tired of all the delays and begins to suspect that you really aren’t interested in circulating this information. When I received no response to my February 17 email follow-up, I resolved that the public might could compel a quicker response from you than Straub. After all, you do claim the mantel of progressive, constituent-friendly, mayor, right?

So I’ll ask again: can you send me the list of Rupp contributors and their specific monetary investments in the Rupp report? I—and who knows, maybe others, too—would like to know who paid for the study that, in this year’s budget cycle alone, has reaped $4 million of public monies–over a 10-1 return on private investment thus far for the under-writers of the Task Force report.

With March Madness over, it is time now to commence with the real world of budgets, and with the spring reality of what happens when some things get overwatered and others wither from want.  In this season of rebirth, it is high time to reveal the Rupp rain-makers.

Thanks for your prompt response to something promised over two two months ago,

Danny Mayer

Fayette Urban County citizen

Apr 042012

Elkhorn to Lockport, part 2

By Danny Mayer

“Thank you for showing me Gest today, the two lock houses facing Cedar Creek those bureaucrats will soon raze.”

My breath flashes vapor at each line. Nearing late-afternoon on the Kentucky River, the sun has only recently asserted itself in the sky, somewhere near Stevens Branch on pool 3, four river miles past. This would have been before the portage at Gest, Lock 3 across from Monterey, and before the exploratory amble up the hill to see the two Gest lock houses in decay, the result of a strategic decision by the state and its people to abandon upkeep of grounds and water. Before the ham and cheese on bread, before the piss breaks, before reloading and shoving off, one-by-one from the remnant pad below the lower lock gates, to ferry back into the main-stream (eddying overnight at Severn Creek) on our way to Lockport.

Say, three hours ago. Continue reading »

Feb 082012

By Danny Mayer

The central question surrounding the Rupp Opportunity Zone concerns its value. Will the capital outlays—human, monetary, carbon—necessary to redevelop the 50 acres surrounding Rupp Arena match the value projected to spring from the end-product? Will Rupp investment provide good value to the city? That is the question, and as usual, the answer depends on where you stand and how you define value.

The 47 appointed members of the Rupp Task Force have answered that question positively. This unelected body, with not a single publicly elected representative serving on it, spent $350,000 to issue a report calling for a $300 million renovation of Rupp Arena and construction of a new city convention center. To this body of vested UK boosters, downtown developers, bankers and other city business leaders, any capital servicing the Rupp environs is certain to provide a good return-on-investment (ROI). If designed well, they argue, any money shoveled into the small urban sliver of expensive Fayette County land will unlock private investment and provide enough economic returns to benefit the entire city.

Yet to the Fayette County resident who does not live, own property or run a business adjacent to Rupp Arena, is not affiliated with the UK Athletic Association, and does not attend conventions, arena concerts or UK home basketball games, the public investment will surely hold less value. The privately-funded Rupp Task Force subcommittee on Finance, chaired by big-time UK Athletic Booster Luther Deaton, has already outlined several local funding streams–park and water/sewer funds were both mentioned–that the city may need to capitalize upon. For non-downtown taxpayers (most of the city), this means that freeing up local money to pay for the Rupp transformation will have direct negative costs: at least some money earmarked for the entire Lexington community and our own unique neighborhoods will re-route into downtown.

For a Fayette County resident, then, valuing the Rupp project might be understood better by a simple cost comparison between development funds and projects. In Lexington’s ninth district, for example, outgoing council member Jay McChord has generated $2.5 million for park development, with the majority of that money coming from private sources. This investment has resulted in over 100 acres of new park land opening up across the district. At Shilito Park where much of the money was directed, funding produced a 2.25 mile healthway trail, improvements to a number of baseball fields, a resurfaced tennis complex, space for soccer and lacrosse, and expansion of a disc golf course. In addition, the $2.5 million investment netted other area parks playground equipment, four more healthway trails, a dog park, rain gardens, native plantings and a “sensory garden.” In the Ninth District, the $2.5 million in public/private funds have built community value by creating publicly accessible spaces of healthy activity, leisure and transportation. Park upgrades have also built property value and connected geographically disperse suburban neighborhoods and people, from mall rats on Nicholasville Road beyond New Circle to Unitarians attending church on Clay’s Mill nearby Man O’War.

In contrast, consider the plans submitted by UK booster Luther Deaton’s finance subcommittee. Unlike the Ninth District funds stewarded by McChord, initial funds directed to Rupp will produce nothing of value. Deaton’s group allocated most of the first $2.5 million in Rupp funds—all public money from the city or state—to achieving what the privately-funded Rupp Task Force had pretended to do: $500,000 will pay a real administrative staff; $600,000 will pay a real program manager to create a real plan of the area; $450,000 will create a real financial feasibility study; $200,000 will provide an arts facility feasibility study; and $500,000 will clean-up the site. City business leaders have called for an initial $300 million investment to be poured into Rupp’s 50 downtown acres. In terms of value for city residents, that should work out to a project with 120 times the value as McChord’s Ninth District funding for parks. It won’t even come close.

Dec 312011

Late-submitted notes from Lexington, KY, the longest continuously running occupation in North America.*

“The city now known as Lexington, KY, is built of the dust of a dead metropolis.”
George Washington Ranck, History of Lexington Kentucky: Its early annals and recent progress(1872)

Monday, early

The caravan leaves, late, from Occupy Lexington at 9:48 AM for the Santa Clause press conference in the governor’s office 30 miles away in Capital City. Clause is in town to speak to Governor Beshear over what a recent North Pole press conference cited was “a litany of Christmas-killing coal initiatives that the Kentucky governor endorsed during his first term in office.”

We arrive in time to hear Steve Beshear’s office secretary tell Santa, some of his elves, a few media and Don Pratt that the governor will not be able to meet with them today. He is out of the office, does not carry a cell phone, and is generally and otherwise unavailable to hear what Father Christmas has to say. Undeterred, Santa merrily asks that Beshear receive the gifts of coal and switches he has brought. Continue reading »

Dec 072011

By Danny Mayer

Last week, city leaders unveiled a fresh round of updates regarding plans for the Rupp Arena Arts and Entertainment District, known politically as the Rupp Opportunity Zone. Leaders envision a public/private/public urban development project that will link the city, UK and the downtown private business community. The centerpiece of the Opportunity Zone is Rupp Arena, home of UK basketball, whose renovation costs the city hopes to leverage to spur further development of the 47 city-owned convention center acres that it sits upon. Continue reading »

Nov 232011

Pedestrian take on Lexington development

By Danny Mayer and Beth Connors-Manke

As Lexingtonians continue to adjust to the reality of dwindling city finances, last week elected leaders began soliciting bids for outside consultants to develop plans for two-waying a number of Lexington streets. These include the north-south running Limestone and Upper Streets, and the one-way downtown cross streets Short, Second, Main, Vine, High and Maxwell.

Public support for two-waying derives from numerous studies that claim one-way streets inhibit vibrant urban activity. The reports generally cite two, seemingly contradictory, environmental effects that one-way streets have on traffic. First, car-goers find them inherently confusing and difficult to navigate. Suburban shoppers frustrated at navigating downtown’s one-way thoroughfares rationally choose the easier option of patronizing outlying malls. Second, one-ways compel traffic to move faster. Thus, those who do pass through town naturally travel too fast to stop at urban retail shops and restaurants. Continue reading »