[Note: The UnTower Manifesto is a three-part series about responding to the failure of CentrePointe. You can read the full story of that failure here.]
The final piece of the UnTower puzzle is what to do with the pit now that the historic buildings are gone and the promised tower cannot be built.
Up front, let me declare that I don’t have all of the answers regarding what needs to be done with the block.
But I do have some general principles which we might start to apply to the site.
- Create a vibrant destination which attracts in-town residents, weekday workers, other folks from throughout the Bluegrass, and tourists.
- Make that destination a distinctive place which no other city has (and this doesn’t need to be a towering monument to ego)
- Create public and private spaces within the destination which allow the community to create shared experiences while also providing a much needed economic boost
- Balance the types of uses within the development to include an attractive mix of retail, nightlife, dining, and lodging options
- Ensure local businesses have significant presence within the development to help supercharge the local economy
- Ensure that the space is well-integrated with the surrounding community and that its design promotes circulation throughout surrounding businesses and public spaces
- Build it soon. Remove the eyesore that the UnTower scandal left behind.
So lets look at these principles in more detail.
Destination. If we want the UnTower block to directly feed the local economy, we need it to function as a destination for both our visitors and our community. The previous imposing design did not encourage local residents to participate in the space.
Distinctive Place. The new development should, to the extent possible, function as a signature place for Lexington. Much like Keeneland and our horse farms showcase Lexington as a city like no other, the new development should showcase our city, our region, and our people. Portland, Austin, Miami, Chattanooga, Denver, and even Louisville have these memorable and distinctive signature places. Lexington should, too. A distinctive place will draw people (and dollars) into our community; A forgettable one will not.
Public and Private Spaces. The most effective places (like those in the cities above) combine public spaces with private enterprise. Thus, memorable shared experiences can also feed the local economy.
Balanced Use. Others have proposed using the block for a single kind of use – say, a new basketball arena. Such dedicated uses of the property would be counterproductive to our economic engine. To get the biggest economic bang for the buck, we should encourage a unique and balanced mix of stores, restaurants, attractions, clubs, and perhaps a unique ’boutique’ hotel. (My best-ever customer experience was at a Kimpton Hotel, which made for a hugely positive impression of Portland in general. What if Lexington could wow its visitors like that instead of giving them a bland cookie-cutter hotel?)
Local Businesses. To supercharge the impacts of the dollars spent within the new development, we should try to ensure that many of the businesses located there (30%? 50%?) are local businesses. This will yield two big benefits. First, it would contribute to the distinctive character of the place. Second, it would keep a significant portion of that money in Lexington.
Integration. When CentrePointe was proposed, many derided the design as too fortress-like and too disconnected from the city fabric. The UnTower scandal offers an opportunity to correct that mistake. The new development could more thoroughly integrate with several aspects of downtown development. The site borders Phoenix Park, Courthouse Plaza, and the History Museum / old Courthouse / Cheapside complex. An ‘open’ design would promote circulation through those spaces (and into surrounding businesses) and would better integrate with our other urban initiatives (such as our street improvement plans).
Build Soon. Regardless of the type of development we ultimately put on the UnTower block, we probably have missed our window for using it to improve our city’s appearance for the World Equestrian Games in 2010. Nonetheless, we cannot allow the crater left by UnTower to remain.
Is this list comprehensive enough (or even correct)? Probably not. Feel free to point out what I got wrong or what I missed.
In any case, this is the kind of civic discussion that the citizens of Lexington must engage in if we are to build a better community – and if we are to heal the scar in the middle of our city.
[where: E Main St & N Limestone St, Lexington, KY 40507]