When the Downtown Development Authority was formed, one of its earliest and most important missions was to develop a master plan for Downtown. As a member of the Downtown Development Authority’s Advisory Board, I pushed as hard as I could to help ensure that we did create a master plan.
I thought that once we had a plan everyone signed off on, we would be able to avoid the battles like the one regarding CentrePointe that has consumed us and divided us during the past four months.
I even argued with my neighbors when they said I was being naive. Unfortunately, they were right.
To create this plan, an international consultant was retained. The meetings were open to the public. There were lots of these meetings over several months, and many of us attended and participated in every one.
Many months later, after many hours of city employee time, probably even more citizen hours, and some $400,000, we ended up with what was touted by all as a great master plan for downtown.
The Downtown Development Authority accepted this new plan without dissent. The council and planning commission rejected none of it, although they did table a few items to be discussed at a later time.
But it is important to keep in mind that even those tabled items were the result of extensive citizen input.
Then, the first time someone decided to make a massive dollar investment downtown, their investment immediately trumped the investment the rest of us made throughout the years with our personal time and dollars, and more recently the investment we made in working to create this great plan for downtown.
The CentrePointe project totally ignores some of the most important concepts and principles outlined in that plan (specifically building height limits and the retention of the historic fabric).
One can safely assume that all of the people that participated in that planning process are the people who really care about downtown. They cared enough to get involved.
If there is a silent majority out there (as one councilman suggested) who wants to see downtown leveled and replaced with the largest and most massive piece of architecture one can imagine on that block, where were they during the planning process?
Why do we spend our time developing these plans – more of which are in progress – when they are ignored?
Part II: The Thousand Year Suck & The Dawn of CentrePointe
(Author’s preface: For the past two months I’ve been recovering from an oxycontin-induced coma, which I only recently emerged from. The first thing I did after waking up, after drinking a large glass of orange juice, was write this article)
A long time ago, in an age when indoor plumbing was something of a novelty and black people were sold like meat upon the slave trading post at downtown’s CheapsidePark, the city of Lexington, Kentucky, was known as “the Athens of the West”.This designation, which one hears often when the future of the city is discussed, almost wistfully, in terms of its illustrious past, is one that harkens a bygone mecca, wherein Southern gentility meshed with Big Money and equine fetishism, where luminaries-of-the-time (such as statesman and orator Henry Clay, psychologically battered first lady Mary Todd Lincoln, and, more recently, Henry “James Brown” Earl, the most-drunkenest, most-arrested man in these United States) lived, breathed, and contributed to the rich history of Bluegrass Country.
In her glory days Lexington was the largest settlement in Kentucky, becoming (briefly) the beacon of the commonwealth, leading the state in terms of per capita intelligence, economics, and horse worship.Yet like so many American towns, the rapid suburbanization in lieu of Eisenhower’s interstate-fueled post-World War II America effectively cut short whatever promise “the Athens of the West” might’ve delivered on, as Lexington began her long and deadly romance with mediocrity – bleeding her populace out into the hinterlands, cannibalizing her neglected urban core for now-defunct shopping centers and strip malls (most notably the House of Usher-esque Lexington Mall and the hideous and encapsulating New Circle Road, respectively).The atavism of her populace, placated by bourbon, basketball, and the spectacle of equine abuse, thus paved the way for the present day “confrontation” between the agents of mediocrity and the so-called “creative class”.
And with twenty-first century corporatocracy breathing down her neck and a controversial, history-raping building to be erected in the heart of her downtown, all Lexington’s collective best and brightest can do to stop it is Xerox a few angry fliers, hold candlelight vigils, slam bad poetry, and give incoherent, paranoid phone calls to KET’s Kentucky Tonight.
“Athens of the West” I’d like to introduce you to “The Horse Capital of the Universe”.Play nice, y’hear?
The writing is on the wall – or, to be accurate, the lack of wall that used to be Triple Crown Lounge, a bar that until recently provided a stunning view of PhoenixPark and (especially during its hours of operation) an accompanying sociological study of the park’s homeless residents.All that remains of the former waterhole are rugged, hollow polygons of concrete where, on a quiet Lexington night, one can see the ghost of Joseph Morton weeping over an empty whiskey bottle, crying out to a lonely sky “why, God, why?”
I’m sure that a lot of people (especially those who read and contribute to this blog) feel like Mr. Morton’s ghost in lieu of the repeated failure of the preservation establishment to score any real victories against the Webb Company and its pet CentrePointe.In a lot of respects the general feeling among the indigenous, non-horse breeding, urban “creative class” is one of profound, devastating ennui: How can a soulless corporation usurp the very dwelling space where they, the “creative class”, have become so fond of getting shitfaced?Isn’t any one respecting our demographically coveted creative classiness?
The answer to this question will not (and I repeat, will not) be found in the pages of Richard Florida’s book, The Rise of the Creative Class, so brandished like a defective Ark of the Covenant by CentrePointe’sgrassroots opposition.Nor will you find it resting in the chambers of City Hall.To truly understand why CentrePointe will get built and Lexington will continue its inevitable slide into post-American feudalism, one must consider the history of the place.
For most of the twentieth century Lexington lagged far behind her regional and national peers in those very attributes in which she once took pride.Wings firmly stretched, she gave birth to Man O’ War, Hamburg Pavilion, and the largest carbon footprint in the nation.In terms of the revitalization of her downtown, Lexington floundered like a beached whale; her city leadership proved to be short-sighted, unimaginative, and lethargic one administration after the another, allowing UK to embrace her sprawling manifest destiny and her urban core to atrophy into one of the most inhospitable urban environs within the state of Kentucky (Seriously: where’s the grocery store, bitches?!And have you ever spend any time in the North end beyond Al’s Bar?Deplorable, given the intimate nature and size of her downtown) while nearby Louisville and Cincinnati undertook massive efforts to re-energize their riverfront downtowns and curtail suburban sprawl.Meanwhile, Lexington’s former best and brightest fled like rats from a sinking ship (another of her time-honored “traditions”) as institutional NCAA’ism and unfettered equine interests (and their accompanying tourism/auction dollars) rose to their current apogee, thus paving the way for a public too distracted and self-absorbed to heed the whispers of CenterPointe at precisely the time when something could have been done to stop it.There aren’t enough candles in the world to light against the harsh reality unfolding right now.
First and foremost, the maxim “money talks, bullshit walks” comes to mind; regarding the Webbs, without whose malignant development history the downtown of present-day Lexington would not be what it already is, they have proven time and again with projects like the Festival Market, the soulless Victorian Square, and the just-as-high-as-CentrePointe Big Blue Trashcan that money will always drown out the cries of this particular bullshit-fond citizenry.So it should come as no surprise that the Webbs will rack up yet another monstrous structure via Lexington’s bid to reclaim some her past glory by way of FEI Alltech World Equestrian Games (whose impact on development city-wide can be compared to cleaning up your apartment only when you have guests over – but what of the person who actually lives there?), an outcome that is as inevitable as it is sad.
For that matter, moneyed interest will always beat the Herald-Leader editorial page, which has been virtually absent from this debate since before the beginning and deserves, I think, some of the blame.The very reason why I dropped out of UK’s J-school was to prevent myself from becoming an H-L fucktard; their heads’ too far up MayorNewberry’s ass to notice his virtual nonchalance, too ill-equipped to report on the story “until it was too late”, too busy writing human interest dreck and unending UK sports columns, the city’s chief news organ has committed the sin of omission, leaving the development debacle up to a disorganized readership rather than leading it.And we’ve seen where that got us. (eh, Ace Weekly?)
Thus blindly following Mr. Florida down the rabbit hole doesn’t help, but hinders Lexington’s dilemma – not only insofar that he waters down the very notion of creativity into a commodifiable good too easily digested by corporate adoption, but his theory, when applied, presupposes that co-opting other cities’ “creative class” success stories is a righteous substitute for the processes by which a truly creative class native to a specific region might emerge organically and successfully.Sending Newberry, Gray & Co. to Austin, Texas, to study its thriving nightlife and its (OMG!) 24/7 downtown undermines whatever uniqueness Lexington might have retained during her decades of abuse, and thus ideologically paves the way for “anything better” to supplant a homegrown creativity which currently might exist within her but remains nonetheless alien to the myopic lenses of a mayor who (apparently) keeps a copy of Florida’s book on his desk, like it even matters.Yet still the best and brightest flee.And still the U.S.S. Lexington sinks…
If stemming the tide of youth-flight and ensuring viable historic modernity even remotely mattered to the city, then she would have purchased the block prior to the Webb’s CentrePointe machinations, but this assumes the LFUCG can effectively plan more than three months into the future.And if this truly mattered to her citizens, we would’ve seen hipsters and hillbillies alike chained to the Diversified Development bulldozers, maybe even some of the young scions of Lexington’s Old Money crowd pitch in and help purchase some of the buildings, seeing as to how they’ve got some nifty ideas about it, but no: “Too little, too late” was to be the grassroots battlecry.
So fell the Triple Crown Lounge, the first of many dominoes in an ugly process that will only serve to benefit Lexington’s highest valued citizen: the tourist.If only we could’ve enlistened a Maktoum brother in our cause.
I, along with a few other people I know, will soon be leaving Lexington for greener pastures.While we all have our different reasons for escape, mine have been laid out above:Living in a place that throws bushels of TLC at rich out-of-towners and indifferent horses, where moneyed douchedbags prance around the crumbling confines of their own little fishbowl amid the smokescreens of March Madness and Keeneland, that would throw its own mother under the bus just to make a quick buck, does not engender an environment conducive to livability. It engenders an environment of decaying urban despair.
With her history as a guidepost, and current trends charting a course of her future, the Lexington of the future will be one in which passers-through marvel at her natural Bluegrass beauty, pay tribute to her rustic charms, and blow thirty bucks on a UK ball cap.