Nov 202017

Town branch by rheotaxis, part 3


By Danny Mayer

Reveal, Clean, Carve, Connect is a strategy that ties the nuances of Lexington’s rich substrata to development potentials on its surface.

–From Reviving Town Branch, Scape/Landscape Architecture Team

In February, 2009, the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority (KEDFA) delivered preliminary approval for the creation of two Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts in downtown Lexington: the 14.25 acre Phoenix Park/Courthouse development and the 25 acre Distillery District. Combined, the two developments projected to cost their developers $490 million to complete, of which the city and state had committed to rebate up to $135 million—or about $3.4 million per downtown acre.

Map from

Continue reading »

Jul 052012

With LFUCG approving $2.5 million of local funds for the Rupp Entertainment Zone, the state now will contribute a matching amount to the project. Combined, the $5 million will purchase real estate; pay salaries for a project manager (Frank Butler, $260,000/year) and administration; implement some project studies and site surveys; and do a little design work–but no actual construction on the arena.Total costs for Rupp Zone redevelopment range between $600 million and $1 billion. Here’s what we’d do with the first $2.5 million down payment from the state.

Unfortunately, we are limited. The state has confined the scope of its development funds to the Rupp Arena structure only—and not to any of the other non-Rupp Arena 40 acres included in the Rupp Zone. Here’s how we would deal with that limitation.

The first million dollars will build upon our proposal for spending the city’s $2.5 million portion of the proposed Rupp Entertainment Zone investment: the creation of agricultural Fayette Proud products grown on park land, marketed to the region, and sold at weekly county markets that are open to neighborhood, county and regional private farmers. Of this amount, $100,000 will pay three years rent on the Fayette County Proud ag offices, which to utilize state money, will be located somewhere in Rupp. $700,000 will route into LexTran to design and staff daily free bus routes that leave from Rupp and travel to the Fayette Proud markets located throughout the county. Essentially, this would be an expansion of a type of service LexTran successfully offered during the WEG. Ideally, the money will help also help LexTran experiment with new routes for the 21st century needs. Ideally, on their way to the different weekly markets, routes could run from Rupp through established small-scale commercial corridors and any neighborhood and county parks. Any remaining money from the million dollar state investment will pay for daily “events” (artists, musicians, local theater troupes, middle-school dance clubs, etc.) at the Rupp shuttle drop-off site. Located at the other end of the Fayette Proud markets, such events might provide a wonderful “cap” experience after a full day bussing the county.

With the rest of the state money, $1.5 million, we will heed the advice of Gary Bates, Rupp Zone Master Planner, and slow cook it. We will invest into several local first portfolios, including the city’s Fayette Proud markets.

We have two chief reasons for slow-cooking the Rupp Zone.  First, the task force convened to study Rupp redevelopment issued a poor report that, incredibly, makes no reference to the very serious risks cities and their populace take on when they partner in arena construction. Chilling the fuck out and surveying honestly both benefits and costs seems in order here.

This is especially important considering the fraught nature of contemporary sports capitalism and arena entertainment. As funding models change, as “the game” gets further from the grasp of ordinary fans, it is not a slam dunk that a brand new arena, with little new seating capacity, can pay off the high costs of coaching, recruiting, infrastructure, scheduling, etc. necessary to retain both the UK basketball gold standard and the LFUCG bond rating. We don’t want a gigantic, costly, 20th century dinosaur anchoring down our 21st century downtown.

Jun 062012

Parks, transportation, agriculture

Editor’s note: With public money now starting to pour into the Rupp Arena Opportunity Zone, NoC decided to start a series called, “What we’d do.” In the series, we will take the money earmarked for Rupp, and in most cases any stipulations applied to that money, and develop alternate plans for re-directing it into more socially, environmentally and economically beneficial projects. Total costs for Rupp Zone development range between $600 million and $1 billion.

In order to receive the $2.5 million in state economic development funds earmarked for Rupp Zone, residents of Lexington-Fayette Urban County must generate a matching $2.5 million in funds from the upcoming local budget. Reports indicate that city leaders plan to bond (borrow) half of this amount, $1.25 million, and then to re-direct $1.25 million of county-wide funds from a variety of agencies into a pool of money to be used specifically for the Rupp Zone. Here it is in mathematic form: Continue reading »

Apr 172012

Dear Jim,

I am sending a third follow-up to my April 9 letter that requested information regarding those who invested in the Rupp Arena Arts and Entertainment Task Force report. As a matter of open government, I asked—and your office agreed—to offer up the list of people who paid for the privately funded report, which by now has been used by both city and state leaders to determine whether the $300+ million Rupp project constitutes good public investment. Eight days and two follow-up emails later, I have yet to receive a response.

I am of course dismayed that my elected mayor is apparently blocking the release of information that will give constituents some basic information regarding a several hundred million dollar project that, if enacted, will largely be funded with our federal, state and local tax dollars. I am more disappointed, however, to realize that I am apparently a second-class Lexington citizen.

Consider, for example, the treatment your office has given Ben Self, another publicly engaged downtown citizen connected to a local first start-up media outlet. As you’ll recall, in March of 2011 when Ben and his on-again, off-again startup blog ProgressLex informed you and area citizens about a plagiarized economic development report submitted to the city by Angelou Economics, your office responded publicly and pointedly within 24 hours. In fact, not only did you respond to Ben and ProgressLex in this time-frame, but you also carried out to the letter his group’s demand that the city exact a return on its $75,000 stake in the $150,000 report.

As a publicly engaged downtown citizen–someone who like Self has committed a great amount of time, energy and household money to write about my city and region–one would expect I’d receive close to the same treatment by my progressive, downtown-loving mayor. One would expect, that is, that I’d be listened to. After all, I am asking much less of you than Ben and ProgressLex. Though I find the Rupp Task Force report fraudulent in all the same important ways as the Angelou Report, unlike Self I am not demanding a refund on services. Nor am I asking you to take a public stance on a project you seem stubbornly committed to. For the past several months, I have been requesting instead that you provide something much easier: the list of people who invested $350,000 in making the Rupp Task Force report a reality, along with the amount each individual invested in the project.

It’s hard not to infer a great divide in political representation. When Ben contacted you as a concerned resident, you responded swiftly and decisively. By now, after I have waited between 2 weeks and 12 months (take your pick) for you to make good on your promise to make the Rupp donor list public, I’ve learned my pecking order in this city: well behind citizen Ben Self and his media board at ProgressLex. It’s enough to discourage public civic involvement in my community. And it’s your fault.

But hey, let’s let bygones be bygones. A new spring is emerging, so I’ll give you a second chance. It took your administration less than 24 hours to respond to Self, both publicly and privately, and to make the strong political move of questioning the Angelou report. I’m not asking you to to do anything bold like that. I’ll be happy to receive a private email, with investors and amounts attached as a word or excel doc, by say, sundown Thursday ( April 19).

You don’t even need to send me warm regards, though of course I’m sure you do that for first class citizens. It is, after all, just a nice thing that mayors normally do for the right people, right Jim? To make the right citizens with the right viewpoints feel represented, spoken for, acknowledged.

Danny Mayer

Fayette Urban County resident

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

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.

Jan 252012

Dear Council-At Large Steve Kay:

I am writing to pass along two neighborhood watch encounters that I, as a fellow neighbor in the Martin Luther King Neighborhood, recorded on Friday, January 20 at approximately 11:00 AM. As you know, you have spearheaded the effort to create a list of activities that I must be vigilant about monitoring–assuming, of course, that such incidents occur within two blocks of the recently opened New Life homeless day center on Martin Luther King near Third Street. With that in mind, here is some neighborhood surveillance work for you to log in your official incident reports.

Incident 1

The first New Life area encounter occurred when I bumped into Jerry Moody on the corner of Third and MLK. I note this particular chance encounter because it occurred as a direct result of the Day Center’s opening in our neighborhood. Jerry, a neighbor of ours living a block from you on North MLK, has been volunteering regularly at the center. We met this late Friday morning as Jerry was leaving the center, and as I was headed to an anti-corporate rally downtown. We loitered together in front of the gas station for 10 minutes and had a wide-ranging though amiable conversation about being out of smokes, the impending political castration of Kathy Stein, and our work on several different non-council supported community projects taking shape.

For the sake of your neighborhood watch, I should say that Jerry is a white male, late fifties, standing around 5’8″ and weighing approximately 150 pounds. He generally looks “homeless”–you know the look I’m talking about, right Steve? Since chance encounters like the one I had with Jerry are a big part of why I moved to the city (to be around a diverse group of people), I would like to go on record and report this positive incident of New Life Day Center-related interaction.

There is one problem, though, with my report of meeting Jerry. Here are the categories that you have created for us to use in developing surveillance reports:

Panhandling in the street

Panhandling at a residence or business

Approaching cars



Gatherings of six or more

Threatening behavior

As you can see, my interaction does not fit into any of the above categories that you have spent city time developing. (In fact, most of the above offenses seem to happen closer to Rupp Arena, where large crowds of drunks regularly gather, with some regularly panhandling for tickets and most negatively effecting car traffic.) Maybe you need to include better, less pejorative, categories, for the MLK neighborhood (at least around the New Life Day Center that the neighborhood watch targets)? Here’s one category: positive city interaction. Here’s another: positive associations that come with knowing that some of your neighbors take an interest in working with down-and-out community members. Can you put a strike down for each of these categories on the day of January 20?

Incident 2

The second incident occurred after leaving Jerry and passing the squeaky clean Day Center and the filthy and decaying vacant office located right next door to it. At the intersection of MLK and Second Street, I was passed by two joggers. The two men nearly caused an accident when they attempted to cross illegally at a red light, which forced a car to slam on its brakes and swerve chaotically in an attempt at avoiding the illegally crossing men.  Looking back on it, I shudder to think of the immense economic damage that might have been inflicted on the car!

The joggers were both white males, both wearing specialized black jogging tights.  One jogger, 5’9″ and late 30s/early 40s,wore a black cap and blue long-sleeve wick-away jogging shirt over top an undershirt, grey in appearance. The other jogger, 5’8″, early 50s, bald on top, wore a yellow reflective jogging vest. The two men did not appear to be patrons of the Day Center, but since the incident occurred within the two-block radius you have specified neighbors should report to you about, I pass it along here in the spirit of neighborly surveillance. At the very least, if the joggers cannot be banned from the center, maybe we could have the police track them down and ban them from the block for six months. Please put this in the category of “approaching cars” and “threatening behavior.”

What do you say? You with me? Let’s clean our neighborhood out of these white jogging fiends!


Your MLK neighbor and constituent, Danny Mayer

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 »

Oct 122011

By Danny Mayer

If you want to know how the Rupp Arena Arts and Entertainment District Task Force will shake out, look no further than a Friday, April 1, 20011, Lexington Herald-Leader editorial entitled, “Not just another pretty venue.” The editorial lays out all the basic talking points used by virtually every leader and writer covering the topic. It begins with three paragraphs duly noting that, yes, Rupp is already a world-class facility that is the envy of the basketball world, and that, yes, neither the replacement nor the renovation of it should rank high on “Kentucky’s, Lexington’s or the University of Kentucky’s [list of] most pressing needs.”

After making the brief case for why it is utterly useless and irresponsible to do anything at all to Rupp, the editorial spends the final 15 paragraphs rolling out the city and university’s sales pitch to the public, their plan for doing what they’ve just told you they shouldn’t do. Their idea is that a shitty project for the city, state and university can be securitized into one giant super-shitty project that will magically turn profitable for all interested parties. Continue reading »

Aug 102011

By Danny Mayer

What do you get when a state university that operates as if it were a multi-faceted corporation starts sharing notes with an abashedly pro-big business city mayor? In Lexington, Kentucky, thus far you get a privately funded study to set the terms on how much public city money will suck into the state’s flagship public university, the University of Kentucky (UK), so that its quasi-private Athletic Association can fund improvements to a downtown arena used by its men’s basketball team.  In Lexington, you staff the study with people holding vested interests in making the project work at all costs. Then you enlarge the area and scale of the project nearly three-fold to 46 city acres, call it an “opportunity zone” and officially christen the territory the Arena, Arts and Entertainment District (AAED).

That committee, the AAED, is slated to report phase one of its findings in early September, according to Tom Eblen writing in the July 31 Lexington Herald Leader. In preparation, here’s how we got here.

How a district gets is born

The Arena, Arts and Entertainment Task Force is the most recent group tasked with overseeing Rupp arena renovations. In the 1990s, as the college negotiated a new lease on Rupp Arena, UK created a study to look into the possibility of relocating the arena to an on-campus location nearby Commonwealth Stadium.  Athletic director CM Newton has since acknowledged the study was simply a ploy to get more concessions on athletic association’s Rupp lease. The ploy seems to have worked. After signing a long-term agreement to lease Rupp, the thirty-year old arena promptly received a $40 million facelift in the late 1990s and 2000s.

With the university a decade away from needing to renegotiate its lease, in 2008 UK began angling again for better terms on the site. At that time, the state university lobbied for the London-based sports marketing and branding firm IMG and its subsidiary, International Stadia Group (ISG), to perform a feasibility study. Essentially, the study was to see if it (the private investment firm IMG and its subsidiary ISG) could pay for improvements by assuming a certain private stake in the the Rupp Arena experience.

After this report went belly-up in the 2008 financial crash, the University, forced to slum it once again, return to the public municipal trough. For the past year, they have been met with open arms by new Lexington mayor Jim Gray. The head of a building corporation with a multi-national presence, Gray has a creative-class driven vision that champions using public money to help specific private downtown developments clustered in a narrow area around the city’s Main Street.

The Arena, Arts and Entertainment District, a 46-acre opportunity zone of economically aesthetic parking lots dotted throughout by a convention center, food court, roller derby court and 20,000+ seat arena, is where “town/gown” relations are at right now.  The AAED is bounded by “the downtown business district, the fringes of the University of Kentucky, the emerging restaurant and entertainment areas along Manchester and Jefferson streets, and five historic residential neighborhoods.” This location nearby recently proclaimed city hotspots has gotten the area touted as the “biggest development opportunity in modern Lexington history”—Centrepointe on steroids.

Addition by addition

Public conversation on the topic seems to have arrived at four conclusions: (1) that Rupp will either be renovated or re-built; (2) That economics will dictate a Rupp renovation rather than new construction because this route will require less public funds; (3) that any re-do requires the geographic scope of the project to greatly increase, that changes occur across districts and not buildings; and (4) anything done must be bonified first-rate, real world class.

From the University of Kentucky side of things, basketball coach John Calipari, whose $4 million annual salary is provided by the privately funded UK Athletic Association, was the first to play up the vital need for world class.  UK Basketball needed to remain a “gold standard” program, he stated. This term, “gold standard,” was later used by UK Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart (salary=$700,000) and UK CEO Lee Todd (salary=$700,000) in reference to any potential changes at Rupp.

On the city side, leaders have used the increased area of the “district” designation to push new urbanist design plans. The key word, municipally, is “design excellence.” Jim Gray has openly called for using city money and leverage to develop the area. The Herald Leader has charged city leaders with creating “something extraordinary to convince the public and its elected representatives that [public money] would be an investment and not an extravagance.”

Meanwhile, most city discussions assume that at least one of the contiguous areas, the recently named Distillery District off Manchester Street, will likewise receive city and state funds for private development of the area. It’s a classic case of addition through addition. The city justifies public money getting spent on un-needed infrastructure upgrades partly on the basis that it’s also giving away public money to private development interests in a contiguous neighborhood.

With the AAED task force yet to release their September report, we cannot yet tally how much public investment it will call for, but traveling one block west to the Distillery District might give an indication.

In his recent city budget proposal, Mayor Jim Gray went to bat for his tough austerity measures—cutting public jobs and funding for social service agencies—to right-size government and decrease city debt. The mayor made a great show, and the media followed right along, of a get-tough veto of what he described as an unnecessary $400,000 bond. The public money was to be used for the construction of 2 disc golf courses and a lacrosse field on public park lands, and a public access ramp for seniors at a planned Seniors Center. Gray stated that he didn’t feel a “Frisbee golf course” was a good investment for the city.

Meanwhile, Emily Hagedorn reports in Kentucky Forward, the same austere city budget issued a $2.2 million bond to pay for infrastructure costs in the Distillery District. Of this amount, $418,000 was authorized the city simply to pay for a feasibility study of the district that abutts the western edge of Rupp’s Arena district. Not a single media source I’ve seen mentioned that bond payment, though several have praised the mayor for his “spread the pain” budget that included the veto of public improvements to park land and disability access for the aged.

Private and public interests

Several prominent investors in the Distillery District, most notably the New Buster’s co-owner Barry McNees, appear as members of the Arena, Arts and Entertainment District task force. Other task force members have relationships, like McNees, that pre-dispose them to benefit disproportionately off increased public investment in the area. Prominent UK Athletics Association backer Luther Deaton (head of Bank One) is on it; so is UK Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart. City developer Dudley Webb, whose vacant lot CentrePointe project four blocks away is asking for $50 million in public city investment on the basis of downtown rejuvenation, has a seat. So does Everette McCorvey, a UK opera professor whose name has appeared in relation to Distillery District projects.

In Mid-April, UK sports beat reporter Jerry Tipton interviewed Faculty Trustee Joe Peek. Peek, a business professor with tenure, confessed his unease with the Rupp proposals. “My concern is that the state, city and university are in bad financial shape, so is it something that we can afford at this time.” Peak’s question is not one Luther Deaton or Mitch Barnhart or Barry McNeese are much interested in considering. They and their specific interests all stand to profit, individually, from publicly funded Rupp renovations. This doesn’t make them inherently bad people (though they may make bad decisions), but it does make them vested people.

It’s notable to me that not a single council person–a publicly elected and accountable official–appears on the 40 person Rupp redevelopment task force Mayor Gray created and charged with setting the terms for city involvement. All that good business of public accountability and my city representatives don’t even have a formal and well-represented position on the crew overseeing the opening stages of a potentially costly Rupp re-design. The question needs to be asked, and often, who will advocate for the larger community interests? Who will say enough, basta?