Quick! Think of a city you love (outside of Lexington). Really savor that mental image. Let your positive thoughts run for a bit.
Got it? OK.
If you’re like most folks, when you think of your favorite city, you think of one (or a combination) of a few key types of memories:
- Places. You remember neighborhoods, buildings, parks, alleys, establishments, etc.
- History. You remember important things that happened there.
- Products. You remember things that they have or that they produce there.
- People. You remember who you met and how they treated you there.
I have the wonderful affliction of loving nearly every place I visit – but always for different reasons.
I loved crawling through the historic back alleys (and patronizing the restaurants and bars) of Boston’s North End. I had the fortune of being there in a little Italian restaurant while Italy won the World Cup in 2006. I remember the flags, the honking, the cheering, the flavors and smells…
I loved going to Tokyo with a couple guys I worked with in my last job, and visiting the temples at Asakusa and seeing the bewildering variety of Japanese people at the temple and at surrounding neighborhoods and markets. In one of those inexplicable cultural moments, I remember 3 separate families awkwardly approaching me to take pictures with their sons (and giving me their sons’ “business card” afterward).
I love Portland. I love Austin. I love Boulder.
More than anything else, I love the utter originality of those cities’ places, history, products, and people.
But Lexington is the city I chose.
Our city leaders often go on tours of “model cities” which Lexington might be able to learn from, including Boulder, Austin, and Madison. In the process, they see many unique things to love about those cities.
But too often, rather than focus on what original qualities Lexington should leverage, our leadership focuses on what those cities have that Lexington does not: “If Madison has bike trails, so should we!” (No, I’m not opposed to bike trails; I am opposed to the mindless parroting of other cities’ actions.)
Lexington must be original.
What impressions do we make on people when they visit Lexington? What impressions do we make upon our own citizens? What unique experiences do we create?
Here are a few which jump out at me. I’m sure there are more I missed. (Add your own in the comments below!)
There are the memorable places like no other – Keeneland, Ashland, Gratz Park, the UK campus, the Transy campus, Victorian Square, and the downtown pasture at CentrePointe, just to name a few. (OK, I’m joking on the last one.) I love the North Limestone neighborhood that Lowell’s is privileged to be a part of.
There are the memorable histories of Henry Clay, Town Branch, the East End, and the Carnegie Center.
There are the memorable world’s-best products – basketball, Camrys, horses, and bourbon.
There are the incredible people of our city – smart, thoughtful, hard-working, and funny.
When we’re looking to influence how people – tourists, visitors, job applicants, investors, business owners, our own citizens – view our city, we need to amplify our best assets.
And, when we are presented with the rare opportunity to leverage all four memorable assets – original places, original history, original products, and original people – at the same time, we must jump on those opportunities.
Right now, we have such an opportunity with Lexington’s Distillery District and Town Branch Trail. Many people still don’t know that Lexington even has a Distillery District, so I’ll offer a brief overview. On Manchester Street, there are several old, historic, and distinctive distillery buildings and warehouses which were last used last century to make bourbon in downtown Lexington. They used the water supply from nearby Town Branch, a stream which used to run through the center of Lexington, but is now buried under Vine Street. Several of Lexington’s best and brightest people want to transform the largely abandoned district into a vibrant neighborhood with entertainment, arts, shops, restaurants, and – for the first time in nearly a century – distilling. Businesses are already beginning to open in the district, and one – Buster’s – is an entertainment venue which is already attracting notable new talent to Lexington. The Distillery District would also be the starting point for Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail.
This afternoon (at 4 PM), Lexington’s Urban County Council is voting on whether to issue $3.2 in infrastructure bonds for the Distillery District. Issuing the bonds would not be a handout – the funds would be reimbursed through taxes on the new commerce that takes place within the District. Also, the funds would be released incrementally – as new commerce takes place, more funds would be available for needed infrastructure improvements.
The bonds would be used to create parts of Town Branch Trail (a greenspace and walkway along historic Town Branch), to improve pedestrian access along Manchester Street, and to look at how to improve utilities, roadways, and streetscapes along Manchester as well.
Lexington is in a financial pinch at present, and there are many on the council who just want to “wait a while” for things to get better in the economy. The trouble with waiting is that – often – waiting turns into permanent deferral, and projects never get done. Unlike CentrePointe – of which I have been highly critical – the Distillery District has active businesses and active investors who are ready to utilize the improvements that this bond offers. These businesses are poised to contribute far more than $3.2 million back to our city’s coffers over the coming years.
Lexington has the all-too-rare opportunity to create a unique place in our city – the kind of place which ultimately would stand next to Keeneland, Gratz Park, and Ashland as one of Lexington’s “signature” locations. We should leverage our our originality – our unique and memorable places, history, products, and people – to craft a better Lexington.
That’s why we should support the Distillery District, even in difficult financial times.
Let’s be original.
(This post is awfully late in getting up – If you don’t have time to contact your council person prior to their 4 PM vote, please do take the time to see how they voted. And remember that for the next election.)
Postscript: The backroom intrigue as the council vote approached.
Next: 7. Plan Well