Greg Walker announces the renaming of the district along National Avenue as Warehouse Block. Behind him are his father, Randy Walker, left, and Mayor Jim Gray. Photo by Tom Eblen
The mixed-use business district Walker Properties has been developing in a former industrial area along National Avenue has a new name: Warehouse Block.
The family-owned company announced the name, which was voted on by tenants, at a news conference Thursday. The name and a new logo will be used in signage and other branding for the district.
Warehouse Block has a diverse mix of tenants in its renovated buildings. The New York Times featured the development in a story earlier this year as an outstanding example of adaptive reuse and urban redevelopment.
“It’s not every day that Lexington gets in the New York Times,” Mayor Jim Gray said. “What the Walkers have done is a perfect example of creative place-making.”
Randy Walker, an electrical contractor, said he started buying and renovating buildings along National Avenue three decades ago, “at a time when the neighborhood was barely nice enough to be sketchy. Coming from the construction industry, I couldn’t stand letting these buildings go un-maintained and unused.”
Walker Properties worked with city planners to revise zoning codes to allow a return to the way cities used to before the mid-20th century trend of strict segregation of land uses. The company is now run by his sons, Greg and Chad.
Greg Walker said the Warehouse Block has been about much more than renovating old buildings. “We and our clients and tenants are building a community,” he said.
Walker said the company will sponsor the first Warehouse Block party Aug. 21. National Avenue will be closed off for live music and food vendors.
Have you ever wondered why Kentucky is always near the bottom when states are ranked by economic health and well-being?
There are several reasons. But one is that many of our politicians are either wealthy business executives who fund their own campaigns or people who suck up to wealthy business executives to fund their campaigns.
Either way, the interests of wealthy business executives are what become priorities, and they have as much in common with the interests of average Kentuckians as, well, night and day.
This is why politicians perpetuate several economic myths, and why many policies that would improve the economy and lives of many Kentuckians are rarely enacted. What are these myths?
To start with, business executives are not “job creators.” In fact, executives often make more money and Wall Street rewards their companies when they cut jobs rather than create them.
The real job creators are average people who buy the goods or services businesses produce. Consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of all economic activity and indirectly drives much of business capital spending and investment. The more money people have to spend, the more jobs will be created.
Many successful executives also keep wages for everyone but themselves as low as possible to boost “efficiency” and profits. That’s why average people should beware of politicians who are against raising the minimum wage, which has declined in value for decades as executive compensation has soared.
Opponents always argue that raising the minimum wage would do more harm than good, but decades of experience has shown otherwise. Raising the minimum wage also leads to higher pay for other low-wage workers, giving more people more money to spend and boosting the economy.
Beware of politicians who advocate so-called “right to work” laws. These laws aren’t really about protecting anybody’s “right to work”; they are about weakening unions and protecting big employers’ “right” to pay workers as little as possible.
Beware of politicians who rail against government regulation. Sure, you can always find examples of over-regulation. But regulation keeps business executives from cheating and hurting the rest of us and ruining the environment we all share.
It is no coincidence that America’s economy was most prosperous in the decades when average workers’ wages were higher, unions were stronger and government was a watchdog of business instead of a lapdog.
Things started changing in the 1980s with “pro-business” policies and “trickle-down” economic theories that resulted in the highest level of wealth inequality in nearly a century, not to mention the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression and a slow, uneven recovery.
Beware of politicians who want to abolish “Obamacare.” They want to take health care away from several hundred thousand Kentuckians with no plan to replace it other than vague promises of “free-market” solutions.
The free market has never provided good health care for low-wage people. Most hospitals and clinics began as charities, not businesses. Almost every other industrialized nation has a health care system run largely by government, delivering better care at less cost than our private insurance-based system.
Beware of politicians who are “friends of coal.” Kentucky will continue mining and burning coal for decades, but coal is the past, not the future. Most coal jobs will never return. Repairing coal’s damage to Kentucky will be a huge, costly challenge, and we don’t need to make the mess any bigger than it already is.
Renewable energy is the future, and the more Kentucky politicians deny climate change and cling to the past to protect coal-industry profits, the further behind this state will fall.
What Kentucky needs are leaders willing to invest in education, entrepreneurship, economic infrastructure beyond just highways and the social services necessary to keep average people healthy and able to work.
We need leaders with enough courage to create a modern tax system that grows with the economy and eliminates special-interest loopholes that sap government of the resources needed to address Kentucky’s many challenges.
As you listen to the candidates for governor seek your vote in the May 19 primary and Nov. 3 general elections, ask yourself this question: When they promise prosperity for Kentucky, whose prosperity are they talking about? Yours or theirs?
Illustration by Chris Ware, photo by Faron Collins
If developer Dudley Webb can’t finish his long-stalled CentrePointe project, how would you fill the massive hole in the heart of Lexington?
That was my challenge in Wednesday’s column, and did you ever respond, on Twitter, Facebook and email. I quit counting suggestions after a couple hundred. But I read them all, and here are some of the best, most creative and most bizarre.
This game was prompted by city officials’ demand that Webb fill the hole with rock and dirt, since he had made little visible progress for nearly a year in filling it with the underground garage and mixed-use development that he has promised for seven years. City pressure seemed to prompt news Friday that Webb is talking with another, unidentified developer about partnering on the project. City officials have met with that developer and say they are optimistic.
But if things don’t work out, Lexingtonians have plenty of other ideas for this limestone pit, 35 feet deep and a full city block square.
The most popular suggestion by far is to finish the underground garage and put a park on top of it. So many people liked CentrePointe as a grassy meadow, which it was from 2009 to 2013 while Webb searched for financing.
Readers thought retired racehorses could graze there, and it would make a great place for pony rides. Or it could be Lexington’s version of New York’s Central Park, Chicago’s Millennium Park or San Francisco’s Union Square.
Commercial real estate folks say this block is too valuable for a park, and that what Lexington needs is a tax-generating complex of offices, apartments, restaurants and shops.
Several readers wanted to see a development with outstanding architecture, such as the CentrePointe design that Jeanne Gang, the Chicago architect and MacArthur Foundation “genius” award winner, created in 2011 but that was later discarded.
Others who wanted the parking garage completed had other ideas for the top: a huge grocery store, a public market, a new city hall, a symphony hall, a glass-domed aviary or butterfly house, a museum complex, an Imax theater or hanging gardens.
“And Christmas lights,” wrote Christian Thalacker. “Lots of Christmas lights.”
A retired University of Kentucky professor suggested turning the site over to UK administrators, who could quickly fill it with dormitories, since Webb had already torn down all of the block’s historic buildings for them.
Others wanted to make better use of the hole than as a place to park cars. It could become an amphitheater, sunken gardens or a sports arena.
Others suggested a below-ground horse-racing track, basketball and racquetball courts, a zoo, a giant sandbox, a skateboard park, a roller derby rink, a go-kart track, a giant Ferris wheel, the world’s largest burgoo pot or a fire pit for community marshmallow roasts.
More adventurous readers wanted to create the world’s largest plastic ball pit. Others wanted the hole filled with foam or blue Jell-O or Vaseline and glitter. Several suggested installing the world’s largest trampoline.
“Are the food trucks still looking for permanent spots?” Lara Bissett asked via Twitter. “#FillCentrePit with food smells and watch people fall in like lemmings.”
Noting that Webb had once proposed creating a “Lake Lexington” water feature, many readers wanted to see the pit filled with water.
CentrePointe could become a wave pool, fishing pond or swimming pool, complete with a resort-like water bar on the end near McCarthy’s Irish Bar. The idle construction cranes could stay on as diving platforms.
Melody Hughes Ryan suggested other local-themed water park features, including The Great Compromiser No Wave Pool, honoring Henry Clay, and the Belle Brezing Hot and Steamy Tub.
Some suggested a water slide coming off the roof of the Lexington Public Library or a zip line down from the top of Lexington Financial Center or a bungee slingshot from High Street.
“Fill it with North Lime donuts and West Sixth beer and let us swim in the deliciousness,” Matt Gordon tweeted.
Others wanted paddle boats, a Noah’s Ark replica or a riverboat casino on the lake.
Some suggested the pit as a place to put Webb, Congress, various other politicians, liberals, Republicans, Duke basketball fans and impudent newspaper columnists. Among readers with this line of thinking, Webb was the overwhelming choice.
“Fill it with all of Dudley’s broken promises,” tweeted Rob Morris, a blogger and car-repair shop owner who has been a longtime critic of CentrePointe. “Wait. We’ll need a much bigger hole.”
The CentrePointe pit in downtown Lexington. Photo by Tom Eblen
Ronald Reagan: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
Jim Gray: “Mr. Webb, fill in this hole!”
That historical reference, from a former colleague, is one of many quips and wisecracks I have heard since city officials notified CentrePointe developer Dudley Webb last week that they consider him in default.
Before the city gave Webb permission to excavate his long-stalled development’s underground garage, he had to pledge $4.4 million in December 2013 to restore the property to a grassy meadow if he stopped work for 60 days.
If Webb did not fill the hole, the agreement gave city officials the right to take out a mortgage on the property to pay for the work.
Although there has been no obvious progress since last summer, Webb disputes the city’s claim that work has stopped. He has demanded that city officials retract their default notice, and his attorney has threatened to sue if they don’t.
“We’ve made great progress,” Webb told the Urban County Council last Thursday. “We’re so close to getting this deal done.”
Council members listened politely but said nothing. After seven years of empty promises, Webb’s credibility is lower than the bottom of CentrePit.
If Webb and city officials can’t reach agreement, the issue will end up in court, which could make for an interesting discovery process. Who was the mysterious dead investor? Did he ever exist?
Nobody really expects the hole to be filled. That would make no sense. Lexington needs the underground garage — and a successful, tax-generating development on top of it.
The “restoration” agreement was an attempt to give the city some leverage to keep Webb on task — or force him to turn the property over to another developer if he can’t get the job done.
Until then, the fenced-off crater, where two tower cranes have stood idle since they were installed in early December, will continue hurting surrounding businesses and sucking life out of an otherwise rebounding downtown.
CentrePointe has become a Lexington joke, so we might as well have a few laughs. Here is my challenge to you: How would you fill this hole?
Post your suggestions on Twitter or Facebook, with the hashtag #FillCentrePit so I can find them. If you don’t use social media, send me an email at email@example.com. No phone calls, please.
I will write a follow-up column Saturday based on the best of your suggestions. I’m looking for humor and creativity more than practicality.
To kick off the conversation, here are some ideas I have seen and heard:
■ Many have suggested drilling a few feet sideways into the Town Branch Creek culvert and allowing CentrePit to fill with water. Then, Webb would have a version of the Lake Lexington water feature he proposed years ago. (Drill carefully; a major sewer line runs between the pit and Town Branch.)
■ A manipulated photograph making the rounds on social media shows CentrePointe restored to its fenced-meadow state with the People’s Bank building, which must be moved from South Broadway or it will be demolished, placed there.
■ Several people have suggested putting the Noah’s Ark replica proposed for a Northern Kentucky religious theme park, which has been controversial because of tax breaks it has received and requested, in CentrePit, either to float or be buried.
■ One friend suggested a public contest to guess how many dump truck loads of soil and rock it would take to fill the hole.
■ Another friend suggested filling CentrePit with water and renting paddle boats. A pay lake for fishing might be more appropriate. Every time I think about how Lexington got into this mess, the phrase “hook, line and sinker” comes to mind.
The best solution, of course, would be for Webb to get financing and get to work — or turn the block over to someone who can. Until then, we might as well laugh about CentrePointe. Otherwise, we’ll just want to cry.
Recently renovated houses on Rand Avenue off North Limestone Street. Photo by Tom Eblen
My column last Monday about the quickening pace of renovations in the North Limestone corridor generated some heated discussions on social media about “gentrification.”
In case you aren’t familiar with the term, it was coined in the 1960s to describe the displacement of poor residents when people with more money move into a neighborhood, leading to higher property values, rents and taxes.
It is a politically charged word sometimes used to try to shame people interested in historic preservation, or who want to improve property in neighborhoods where they wish to live or invest.
As urban living has regained popularity in Lexington after decades of suburban sprawl, re-investment in old neighborhoods has led to worries about gentrification.
It is a legitimate issue, because business practices and trickle-down economic policies have created a widening gap between rich and poor. Many hard-working people struggle to make ends meet after years of stagnant wages.
But gentrification can be subjective and complicated, because it involves touchy issues of class, race and capitalism. There are no easy solutions.
Two thoughtful essays about gentrification in Lexington were written by Bianca Spriggs in Ace Weekly last June and Joe Anthony in North of Center in May 2012. Both are worth reading online.
Here’s my view:
Neighborhoods are not static. They are constantly changing for many reasons. Some of those changes are good and others are bad, depending on your perspective. I see a lot more good than bad happening in North Lexington these days.
Many of these neighborhoods were created a century or two ago for wealthy and middle-class homeowners. Suburban flight led to disinvestment, deterioration and crime. A lot of owner-occupied homes became low-income rentals owned by people who didn’t take care of their property.
There are many good houses and commercial buildings there worth preserving and reusing. There also is a lot of community fabric and culture worth respecting and nurturing.
The return of more owner-occupied housing in these neighborhoods is a good thing. It is a fact of life that homeowners have more political clout than renters. That often results in more investment, better policing and less crime in neighborhoods with a significant share of owner-occupied homes.
That doesn’t mean rental property is undesirable. In many neighborhoods, such as mine, renters contribute a lot to community life.
Thanks to investment by new residents, businesses, non-profit groups such as the North Limestone Community Development Corporation and some professional renovators, many of North Lexington neighborhoods are becoming safer and more economically diverse places to live.
That doesn’t mean I like every house-flipper’s craftsmanship or tactics. But some of them are doing good work.
It is inevitable that some renters will be displaced. But I think renovators and re-sellers have a moral obligation to treat people fairly and, when possible, help longtime residents stay in the neighborhood.
Lexington is still small enough that business people’s reputations precede them. Quality work and good ethics will pay off for those who practice it, especially if others in the community speak out about bad actors.
Some absentee landlords will be displaced, too, and that is a good thing. Poor people often pay high rents and utility costs for substandard housing — and then get kicked out if they complain to Code Enforcement.
There are better solutions to affordable housing than steadily deteriorating homes owned by absentee landlords. The Urban League, Community Ventures, Habitat for Humanity, AU Associates, churches and others have done a lot of good work on affordable housing over the past two decades.
This wave of private investment in North Lexington, and the city’s new affordable housing trust fund, provide a good opportunity to address some of these gentrification issues in new and creative ways.
For one thing, people who choose to live in urban neighborhoods rather than more homogenous suburbs are seeking cultural diversity. That’s because diverse neighborhoods are more interesting places to live.
How can the city, non-profit groups and developers work together to keep low-income people in these neighborhoods, while at the same time improving the quality of housing they can afford? How can neighborhood revitalization work for everyone?
Neighborhoods are like any natural environment: The more diverse they are, the more healthy they are and the more sustainable they will be over time.
Central Kentucky’s farmers are just getting their plants in the ground, but a new crop of local art is ready for harvest.
For the fifth season, the Lexington Art League is selling 30 CSA “shares” of “community supported art” using a similar model to what local farmers have been doing for years with “community supported agriculture”.
The 30 shares will be on sale through Thursday for $400 each. Each share includes an original piece by nine local artists: ceramics, paintings, leatherwork, screenprints and photography.
This year’s artists are Brian and Sara Turner of Cricket Press, Matthew D. Cook of Borderstate, Elizabeth Foley, Lennon Michalski, Joe Molinaro, Nadezda Nikolova, Brandon C. Smith and Melisa Beth.
The artists were chosen by the league’s curator, Becky Alley. Each artist is paid $600 for their work. Since the program began, the league says its CSA program has sold 1,890 pieces of locally produced art, providing $37,800 in income for local artists.
“CSA is a celebration of local talent and an investment in the artists whose creativity and unique abilities distinguish and enrich our community,” said Stephanie Harris, the league’s executive director.
Shares can be purchased online at Lexingtonartleague.org or by calling (859) 254-7024. Shares in future CSA “seasons” also are for sale.
The Lexington Art League, headquartered at Loudoun House in Castlewood Park, also sponsors the annual Woodland Art Fair each August.
Real estate entrepreneur Rock Daniels has been buying, renovating and reselling former rental houses in the first block of Rand Avenue. His contractors are basically rebuilding many of the century-old bungalows, which were structurally sound and have nice architectural detals, but had badly deteriorated after years as rental units. Photo by Tom Eblen
First it was downtown mansions. Then East Lexington bungalows. Now, North Lexington cottages. The popularity of in-town living has brought another wave to Lexington’s home renovation market.
With most of the antebellum houses and Victorian mansions redone and selling for more than $500,000, a good business has developed in complete renovations of homes built a century ago for working-class families.
The wave that started in neighborhoods such as Hollywood, Kenwick and Mentelle has washed up North Limestone.
Rock Daniels, a real estate agent who twice ran unsuccessfully for the Urban County Council, is buying and virtually rebuilding early 1900s houses in the first block of Rand Avenue, just north of Duncan Park, as well as some houses on nearby streets.
Laurella Lederer was doing the same thing before him. Having redone much of Johnson Avenue, she is now working on the second block of Rand.
Broken Fork Design has redone several houses and multi-family units, including the Fifth and Lime Flats. It was a much-needed renovation of an apartment complex built after the 1963 demolition of Thorn Hill, a circa 1812 mansion where Vice President John C. Breckinridge was born.
Chad Needham, who redid the old Spalding’s Bakery at East Sixth and North Limestone and the building that now houses North Lime Coffee & Donuts across from it, has done several other houses and commercial buildings in the area.
Needham’s most recent project is especially impressive: an early 1800s house at the corner of North Limestone and West Fifth Street that became commercial space long ago and had fallen into terrible shape. Beautifully renovated, it now houses Fleet Street Hair Shoppe.
Rand Avenue, created in 1892, still has most of its original houses. A notable exception is No. 264, a vacant lot since about 2001. It was the childhood home of Elizabeth Hardwick (1916-2007), whose father was a plumbing contractor.
Hardwick left Lexington for New York in 1939 and became a famous fiction writer, essayist and critic, a founder of the New York Review of Books and wife of poet Robert Lowell. She was recently inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame.
Since the 1980s, though, Rand Avenue has largely been rental property. Broken Fork did one of the first renovations there — the house where the Spalding family started frying their famous donuts in 1929.
Daniels, who lives in the Hollywood neighborhood, saw Rand Avenue as a promising area for young professionals who wanted to live near downtown, wanted a house and yard rather than a condo, but couldn’t afford larger renovated houses.
The first house he renovated sold in November for $182,500. He is now doing nine more on Rand, three of which are already under contract, two to medical school residents and one to a physical therapist, he said.
Daniels showed me through one of them, a circa 1910 frame cottage with about 1,200 square feet. It had been a rental house for years. He bought it for $36,000, is investing about $80,000 in renovation and hopes to sell it for about $165,000. His nearby renovated houses are priced around $145,000.
With each house, his contractors install a new roof, take the house down to the studs and make any needed structural improvements. They preserve what historic fabric they can. But except for restored heart-pine floors, most things will be new: windows, wiring, plumbing, heating and air, insulation, kitchens and siding on the non-brick houses.
Many houses have small interior coal chimneys that can’t be reused. They are removed for a more open floor plan, but the bricks are reused for walks.
“We try to save and repurpose as much as possible,” said Daniels, who grew up in a National Register historic house in Bristol, Tenn.
Daniels wants to buy all of the rental houses he can on the street, he said, but none that are owner-occupied. In fact, he said, he has offered to make improvements on those houses at cost.
He will soon be building a new porch for homeowner Janice Hamilton and her husband. She has lived there since 1981 and likes what is happening on her street.
“When I first moved here it was a lot of older people, most of them homeowners,” Hamilton said. “And then a lot of them died out and it became rental property. So it became a little this and that.
“Now I’m glad to see it coming back to the way it used to be,” she said. “A lot of people give Rand Avenue a bad rap. We had some bad tenants years ago. But it’s quiet, it’s close to town. Everybody looks out for each other. I’m looking forward to new homeowners.”
Daniels sees a lot more potential for restoring North Lexington neighborhoods.
“Of course, we’re looking for what the next Rand Avenue is going to be,” he said. “There are so many people who want to move downtown.”
Click on each image to see larger photo and read caption:
Ben Kaufmann, left, and Rob Rosenstein joked with each other April 10 while inspecting the 1869 Odd Fellows Temple at 115-119 W. Main St., for the first time. “As long as you’re smiling, I’m OK,” Rosenstein told Kaufmann. Photos by Tom Eblen
For people who care about Kentucky’s history, culture and irreplaceable architecture, the past week was one of highs and lows, thanks to two good guys and one who should be ashamed.
First, the good guys:
“Let’s chase the ghosts away!” Ben Kaufmann said as we entered the front door of the Odd Fellows Temple at 115-119 West Main Street last Friday morning, setting off a burglar alarm.
Kaufmann, a real-estate investor and financial adviser, had bought the 1870 Italianate and Second Empire-style building 10 days earlier at a Master Commissioner’s sale and was getting his first look inside the $750,000 investment.
The building housed Bellini’s restaurant until it closed Jan. 1. The building and restaurant owner, NGS Realty, was in bankruptcy last year and neglected the building. In late January, city Code Enforcement officers stepped in to board up missing and broken windows to protect the building and passing pedestrians.
Kaufmann and Rob Rosenstein, former owner of Liquor Barn, plan to renovate this landmark, designed by noted Lexington architect Cincinnatus Shryock, and then rent it, mostly as restaurant space.
Over the decades, the building housed offices, restaurants, bakeries, bars and stores, most notably Skuller’s Jewelry, which was there for more than 70 years. Skuller’s recently restored sidewalk clock has been a downtown icon since 1913.
The building’s hidden treasure is the third-floor ballroom, which hasn’t been used publicly for years because it lacked an elevator and modern stairway. But it may be the best-preserved part of the building, whose last major rehab was in 2000.
The white ballroom is stunning: 40 feet wide and nearly 60 feet deep, with a vaulted ceiling 25 feet high and original plasterwork. Tall, arched windows look out on Main Street, although the view is now dominated by the idle CentrePointe pit.
A quick inspection revealed few structural problems in the building and only a couple of small roof leaks behind the ballroom, where interior walls had been torn out for a renovation that was never completed.
The first floor, where Bellini’s operated, has beautiful mosaic tile floors, vintage tin ceilings and two long, handsome bars. The second floor also had been partially stripped out for renovation. It originally housed law firms and, in recent years, apartments.
“Watch out what you wish for, you might get it,” Kaufmann joked as he added up renovation costs in his head.
“As long as you’re smiling, I’m OK,” Rosenstein kept saying with a laugh.
These guys enjoy teasing each other, but they realize the Odd Fellows Temple is a diamond in the rough. When polished, it should be a hot property. Old downtown buildings have become the preferred location for upscale restaurants and bars.
Kaufmann and Rosenstein are good businessmen looking for a profit. But they also are doing Lexington a favor by saving one of its architectural gems, a place that holds generations of memories and should create many more in the future.
“This is an important building,” Kaufmann said. “I want to restore it to its original beauty.”
Lexington is lucky to have these guys. If only Georgetown were so lucky.
Scott County is about to lose its first brick house, a Georgian mansion that early Thoroughbred breeder Robert Sanders built on Cane Run Creek south of town in 1797. The house has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973.
The property’s condition has deteriorated since a company owned by Kenneth A. Jackson of Kentuckiana Farms acquired it in 2007. The Scott County PVA values the house at $121,120 and its 25.5 acres at $202,299, according to the Georgetown News-Graphic. United Bank of Georgetown holds a mortgage on the property.
Preservationists say Jackson has rebuffed their attempts to help him protect the house or find a buyer at a reasonable price. Jackson recently sold adjoining parcels for development. A salvage crew has been removing fine interior woodwork — the house’s most distinguished feature — with demolition scheduled to follow.
Efforts to save the house did not appear to be fruitful by late Tuesday afternoon, said Jason Sloan, director of preservation for the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation.
All indications are that the house will be torn down Wednesday, Sloan said.
Some people would say this is Jackson’s property and he should be able to do with it as he pleases. But when someone buys a National Register house of this significance, I think he assumes a responsibility to Kentucky’s heritage, whether he likes it or not.
To neglect this house for years and then demolish it in the hope of pocketing a bigger profit may be legal, but it’s not right.
Click on each image to see larger photo and read caption:
Gray Edelen, left, an art history student from Bardstown, talked with medical students Taylor Gilbert of Lexington, center, and Amanda Pursell of Louisville about Robert Tharsing’s 2011 painting “A Natural History of Kentucky”, which hangs in the University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center. Photos by Tom Eblen
On a recent afternoon, small groups of University of Kentucky students huddled around paintings and sculptures on display at UK’s Chandler Medical Center.
As you might expect, some were art history majors. But they were there to help 17 medical students.
The medical students weren’t really there to learn about art, but to observe it — very closely — and then describe what they saw and what they thought it meant.
The goal was to improve the medical students’ observation and communications skills to make them better at diagnosing patients’ illnesses.
“It’s good to learn how to see the bigger picture by looking at the details,” said Taylor Gilbert, a medical student from Lexington.
The exercise grew out of a presentation by Amy Herman, a lawyer and art historian who travels around speaking about what she calls “the art of perception.” In early February, Herman spoke to a packed classroom at UK’s College of Medicine.
Herman began this work more than 15 years ago when she was education director at the Frick Collection, an art museum in New York City. She had heard how art historians at Yale and the University of Texas worked with medical students to improve their perception skills, so she set up a similar program at the Frick for the nearby Cornell University medical school.
Amy Herman. Photo provided
When a friend heard what Herman was doing, she suggested that these skills could help other professionals, too. Homicide detectives, for example. Herman contacted the New York Police Department and, within six months, she was training every newly promoted captain.
A Wall Street Journal reporter wrote about the program in 2005 and, Herman said, “My world exploded.” She left the Frick to start her own consulting business. In addition to medical students and New York cops, she now trains agents for the FBI, CIA and even Navy SEALs.
As Herman began showing slides of paintings to the UK medical students and asking them to describe them, she forbid the use of two words: obviously and clearly.
“We work and live in a complex world, and very little obvious and even less is clear,” she said. “No two people see anything the same way, and we have to understand and enrich our appreciation for that fact.”
Herman showed what appeared to be an abstract painting, but was really a picture of a cow. Few saw the cow until she brought attention to it. She then drew lessons from landscapes, still life paintings and portraits of “handsome women of the 18th century” that held subtle clues about their lives.
“Perception goes both ways,” she said. “How do patients perceive you when you walk into the room? Do you put them at ease? Is it easy to ask questions? Your patients may have an entirely different perspective than you do.”
Herman said people often make mistakes by trying to “solve” problems too quickly, before they have taken time to assess a situation.
“Before you decide what to think and what to do, you need to say out loud what the issue is,” she said, adding that some of those things may seem too obvious or be embarrassing to mention but can be vital details.
Herman showed a painting of an elderly, obese and naked woman sitting on a sofa. When asked to talk about it, an audience member began by describing the sofa’s upholstery.
“You need to say what you see and not dance around it,” Herman said. “I always tell police officers you will never get in trouble for saying what you see. Saying what you think is an entirely different story.
“Raise the issue, even if you can’t explain it,” she added. “Raise any inconsistency, because with more information somebody else may be able to answer the question for you. Also think about what’s missing. What should be there but isn’t?”
Herman said she recommends that child abuse investigators ask a child to smile. Seeing whether a child’s teeth are clean says a lot about the care they are receiving.
“Small details can provide volumes of information,” she said. “Body language and facial expression tell us a whole lot.”
When describing observations, choose words carefully to be precise. And don’t make assumptions. The three most important questions to ask when problem-solving: What do I know? What don’t I know? What more do I need to know?
“There are often things hiding in plain sight that you are consciously or unconsciously not seeing,” said Herman, who gave an embarrassing personal example.
Several years ago, while running in New York, she noticed a man in a wheelchair walking a puppy. She loves puppies, so she asked him if she could pet it. After playing with the puppy for several minutes, they parted. Within minutes, she realized that the man had looked familiar. It was Chuck Close, a famous artist she admired but had never met.
“He’s one of my favorite artists in the world, but I was so focused on his puppy that I didn’t even notice the man was a captive audience right in front of me,” she said. “Don’t miss what’s right in front of you.”
Christina Romano left, an art education major from Louisville, talked with medical students Katie Donaldson, center, of Independence, and Amy Chen of Davis, Calif., about Warren Seelig’s stainless steel and fabric mesh sculpture, “Gingko”.
Before his death in 2013, railroad magnate R.J. Corman put permanent conservation easements on his 1,200-acre Jessamine County farm, which includes a 65-acre natural area around Jessamine Creek. Photo by Tom Eblen
NICHOLASVILLE — April Corman Colyer says her father always told her and her siblings that the farm he and they grew up on and gradually expanded to more than 1,200 acres would never be developed or sold out of the family.
When railroad magnate R.J. Corman said something, he meant it.
Before he died in August 2013 after a long battle with cancer, the founder of R.J. Corman Railroad Group arranged to put permanent conservation easements on the farm, the family planned to announce Sunday.
Without those easements, the beautifully landscaped property that stretches from the U.S. 27 Bypass at Nicholasville to U.S. 68 near Wilmore would have been prime subdivision land in a fast-growing county known for suburban sprawl.
It is the second such action by a prominent Central Kentucky family announced in recent weeks. Arthur Hancock and his wife, Staci, said March 20 that they had put conservation easements on their 2,200-acre Stone Farm in Bourbon County.
Both were arranged with help from the non-profit Bluegrass Conservancy, which is celebrating 20 years of helping landowners permanently preserve more than 24,500 acres of farmland and natural areas in the region.
R.J. Corman in 2004. Photo by Charles Bertram
Corman’s farm includes 65 acres near the headwaters of Jessamine Creek that the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission has designated as the R.J. Corman Natural Area.
“He told us that we would always have the farm, that it would always be something that our family could enjoy, but we would never be able to sell or develop it,” Colyer said.
“My Dad had a great vision and foresight, and he knew what would happen had he not set something like this in place,” she added. “Inevitably, the pressures of development are too great.”
Colyer is director of public affairs for the railroad services company her father started in 1973. R.J. Corman Railroad Group now has 1,500 employees in 24 states, including 700 in Kentucky.
She and her husband, Korey, and other family members live in five houses on the farm, including the one where Corman grew up as the son of a state highway toll booth worker.
The farm has been improved with 14½ miles of white plank fences and 15 miles of roads and recreation trails. It hosts several 5K races each year and an annual community Fourth of July celebration.
Corman planted hundreds of trees on the property, including maple trees that are tapped each year for syrup that is given to customers.
The farm adjoins about 800 acres that contain company shops and other facilities, including the headquarters office and aircraft hangars that are frequently used as event space for charity fundraisers.
The farm has about 300 head of cattle, chickens, a corn crop and a garden that provides vegetables for the company cafeteria.
The conservation easements permit no more than another 2 percent of the farm to ever be used for impervious surface, including buildings or roads, Colyer said.
“He wanted it preserved for his grandchildren and many generations to come,” she said. “He would always say when I was younger that if the land was to ever be sold, then the proceeds had to go to charity. It doesn’t exactly work that way now, but he has put constraints in place so that it can’t be sold.”
Colyer said she is happy with the decision, because the farm is as special to her as it was to her father.
“It has been a constant in my life no matter what was going on,” she said. “It’s home, but it’s more than that. It’s part of me. It’s where my heart is.”
Corman’s best friend, Central Bank President Luther Deaton, lives on 20 acres adjacent to a back corner of the farm. They could look across the farm and see each other’s houses a mile away.
“When he started buying that land, he said, ‘I don’t want anything to ever happen to it. I just want to make it beautiful so people could enjoy it.'” Deaton said. “And you’ve seen what he’s done.
“I get up every morning and look out at all that land and the cattle, all the green grass and trees,” Deaton added.
Conservation easements can have significant estate and tax benefits for landowners, said Mackenzie Royce, executive director of the Bluegrass Conservancy, the non-profit land trust.
“They can make it more affordable to pass land between generations,” she said, adding that no public funding is used and the land remains on tax rolls.
Royce said these two major easements are “a testimony to how it has begun to catch on in the community. The pace of conservation has really accelerated.”
The Bluegrass Conservancy was created in 1995 and recorded its first conservation easement in 1998, a cattle farm in Jessamine County. Conserved properties since then have included horse farms and natural areas along the Kentucky River.
“We’re not anti-development or anti-growth,” Royce said. “We’re about helping farm families in our community conserve our most strategic land for future generations and balancing that with the growth that we know is going to happen.”
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Peter Rapoport cuts bush honeysuckle around Jessamine Creek Gorge near Wilmore on April 5, 2014, after a wildflower walk led by Julian Campbell, a botanist and expert in native Kentucky plants. Campbell is trying to organize small groups of volunteers to fight the invasive species in sensitive areas of the Kentucky River Palisades region. Below, a dutchman’s breeches flower, and Campbell holds a rare snow trillium. Photos by Tom Eblen
This is high season for wildflower hikes along the Kentucky River Palisades, where plants found few other places in the region put on a colorful show.
It also is the time when keepers of these natural areas take a break from months of battle against invaders determined to choke out these delicate native species.
The Palisades have suffered widespread damage in recent years from invasive plants such as garlic mustard, wintercreeper euonymous, Chinese privet, and, most vicious of all, Asian bush honeysuckle.
“I tell people that honeysuckle is why this tree-hugging environmentalist became a mass murderer,” said Clare Sipple, who manages the Lower Howard’s Creek Nature and Heritage Preserve in Clark County. “No telling how much of that stuff I’ve killed.”
Sipple said honeysuckle is a big problem in the 338-acre preserve.
“We have a dedicated group of volunteers who work nine months a year clearing honeysuckle, and they have made a huge difference,” she said. “Once you get the invasives out, the natives start coming back.”
Fayette County’s Raven Run and Floracliff nature preserves wage similar efforts.
“We work on it from August to February full-time at least two or three days a week,” said Beverly James, the manager of Floracliff. “It’s not something you can clear once and walk away from. It’s a continual battle.”
When some plants and animals are transplanted from one continent to another, they can go wild because they have no natural predators. Among the most famous is kudzu, the fast-growing Asian vine that is swallowing the South.
Asian bush honeysuckle was brought here from China as an ornamental plant in the late 1800s, but has been a growing threat in this region since the 1970s, said Julian Campbell, a botanist and authority on Kentucky native plants.
Ironically, bush honeysuckle is now an endangered species in Japan, where it was native. But it is taking over forests in Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana.
Honeysuckle is mainly spread by birds, who eat its red berries and then scatter the seeds across the landscape in their droppings. Invasives also have been brought into the Palisades region each time a new road was built or a building constructed there.
As we were hiking through underbrush along Cane Run Creek several years ago, looking for stands of native cane, Campbell pointed out how the ground beneath big stands of honeysuckle was bare.
“There must be some kind of underground chemical warfare going on,” he said. “Nothing grows around it.”
The most common way people attack honeysuckle is to chop or saw it off just above ground level and spray the exposed wood with a strong solution of a herbicide such as glyphosate, commonly known by the brand name Roundup.
That kills the plant, but it won’t stop another from sprouting up next to it. It’s a never-ending task.
Campbell has been pondering ways to effectively battle honeysuckle, especially in the Bluegrass region’s most sensitive environmental areas. “We know how to kill it,” he said. “What we don’t have is a method. It’s a human organization problem.”
He has been thinking about ways to organize small groups to fight it on a continual basis. He also thinks more research is needed on permitting cattle, sheep or goats to browse honeysuckle and wintercreeper in some wooded areas during fall and winter, as deer do.
“It’s less in the deepest woods, which is a glimmer of hope,” he said of honeysuckle. “Shade and browsing seem to reduce it.”
Campbell has begun his own small effort as part of hikes he leads at least monthly in Central Kentucky natural areas. Participants pay $10, which is donated to regional conservation organizations, or they can spend some time that day with him cutting and spraying honeysuckle. For more information, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Despite the invasion, there are plenty of beautiful wildflowers to see this time of year, including rare snow trillium, dutchman’s breeches, bloodroot and native phlox.
Floracliff and Lower Howard’s Creek have wildflower hikes this weekend, as well as later in the month. More information: Floracliff.org and Lowerhowardscreek.org. Also, the Kentucky Native Plant society has Wildflower Weekend events Friday through Sunday at Natural Bridge State Park. More information: Knps.org.
Kate Golden, 10, rode The Device, which sling-shots riders down a 125-foot-long track at Newton’s Attic. The non-profit company uses hands-on fun and games to teach kids engineering, technology and physics. Photo by Tom Eblen
When Bill Cloyd was growing up on a Lexington farm in the early 1980s, he enjoyed building go karts and mini bikes from spare parts and testing the laws of physics.
He erected an 80-foot-tall tripod from old TV antenna towers and practiced free-falling into a circus net. He made a human catapult to launch friends into a pond. And he created a centrifugal “vomit express” ride that quickly taught him the importance of putting an “off” switch within easy reach.
Making those toys inspired Cloyd to become a mechanical engineer.
“But I realized I was learning as much about engineering by building stuff as I was in the classroom,” he said. “And building stuff was a lot more fun.”
After teaching high school physics for two years, Cloyd started the non-profit company Newton’s Attic in 1998. He began by making resource materials for teachers, but soon developed facilities and programs where kids could learn engineering, physics and technology by creating their own toys.
Cloyd and his wife, Dawn, a businesswoman and former language teacher, have operated Newton’s Attic since 2012 from a five-acre former tractor dealership off Versailles Road just past Blue Grass Airport. They offer summer, spring break and after-school classes for kids ages 6 to 18.
Last week, when Fayette County Public Schools were on spring break, Newton’s Attic was a beehive of adolescent creative energy:
Kids and their instructors were hurling pumpkins with a giant ballista catapult. They were building and flying drones. They were using wood, metal, PVC pipe and power tools to create robots. And they were learning about gravitational force by riding the Sling Shot, a 125-foot, bungee-powered roller coaster.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Kate Golden, 10, as she built a robotic arm she designed to pick up tennis balls. “Nobody tells you exactly what you have to make. You can invent it yourself.”
This summer, Newton’s Attic plans 28 classes in such things as robotics, computer programming and building your own 3-D printer. There also is Camp Catapult and Camp Chemistry. During the past three years, summer camp enrollment has grown from 183 students to 730, and Dawn Cloyd expects more this year.
“The whole idea is fun with physics,” she said. “Play is the ultimate learning tool.”
Newton’s Attic has worked on programs with many Central Kentucky school districts, UK, Berea College and the Christian Appalachian Project. Cloyd said they hope to offer professional development training for science teachers in the future.
The facility also hosts school field trips, scouting events and birthday parties. Private tutoring is available, as is a “mobile engineering center” that can take programs to other locations. More information: Newtonsattic.com.
The business is supported by student tuition, donations and grants from companies such as Messer Construction, which recently gave several thousand dollars to improve the shop facilities.
“We have kids as young as 6 using power tools,” Dawn Cloyd said. “It’s amazing how responsible kids become when they get to do it.”
Everyone wears safety glasses when using power tools, and there is plenty of supervision and help from instructors, both adults and older teens. Some instructors started coming to Newton’s Attic as kids and are now studying engineering and related subjects at the University of Kentucky.
Blaise Davis, 13, has been coming to Newton’s Attic for several years from Cincinnati and staying with his grandparents. He has built a go kart and last week was making a PVC cannon to mount on it to shoot tennis balls in competitive engineering games.
Rikki Gard’s son Dexter, 10, started attending Newton’s Attic classes four years ago. She said he has learned to build and fly drones, studied several computer programming languages and is already considering a career in computer science.
Her daughter, Maura, 6, began classes last summer.
“I don’t know what we would have done if Newton’s Attic didn’t exist,” Gard said. “You can’t find electives like that anywhere else. I guess he would have had to get books and study on his own.”
The family recently moved to Cleveland, where both kids will be going to Menlo Park Academy, a public school for gifted kids. “I’m sure Newton’s Attic will be the thing they miss most about Lexington,” she said.
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The Gardenside bus shelter when it was new, circa 1960. Herald-Leader File Photo
The Gardenside Plaza bus shelter, with its 30-foot brick tower and sea-green neon letters, has been an Alexandria Drive landmark since 1959 — a bit of Miami Beach in Bluegrass suburbia.
In recent years, the mid-century modern shelter has looked pretty sad: burned-out letters, cracked concrete, dingy brick. But over the next few months, it will get a $41,700 makeover in one of Lexington’s most unusual historic preservation efforts.
The stainless steel letters spelling “Gardenside Plaza” were sent off for repair over the winter. They will soon be reinstalled with their neon lighting replaced by energy-efficient LEDs.
The white brick tower and its stainless steel crown will be cleaned and rewired. The concrete bench will be repaired and its angled roof patched and painted.
And there will be a new element: a period-appropriate ceramic mosaic mural on the back wall designed by Guy Kemper, a renowned local glass artist.
“I’m really excited about the partnerships that have come together for this,” said Yvette Hurt, founder of Art in Motion, a non-profit organization that since 2008 has worked with partners to build five Lextran bus shelters that are functional works of public art.
This is shaping up to be Art in Motion’s biggest year, with construction of three new shelters on Southland Drive, Leestown Road and Georgetown Street.
The Gardenside Neighborhood Association and Urban County Council member Peggy Henson approached Art in Motion about the Gardenside Plaza shelter in 2011.
Money for the restoration came from city “corridors” funding, Lextran, Gardenside Plaza owner Pierson-Trapp Co. and the philanthropic group Lexington Directions.
Art in Motion also is working with historian Karen Hudson at the University of Kentucky to compile an oral history of the shopping center and shelter. If you have memories to share, email: email@example.com.
Something built in the 1950s may not seem “historic” to many people. But high-quality mid-century modern architecture has gained a big following in recent years.
Architects say that, in many ways, it was the first American architectural style that took its inspiration from the future rather than the past.
Inspired by vacations in Miami Beach, Lexington developer David Trapp spent $8,500 in 1959 to build the sign and shelter for his shopping center. Public transportation was a big deal then.
“When the suburbs were opening up, women were basically trapped out there because most families, if they had a car, had only one,” Hudson said. “Women were the ones campaigning to get bus service” to new suburbs such as Gardenside, Meadowthorpe and Southland.
Between 1956 and 1972, as automobile registration in Fayette County more than quadrupled, the private bus company lost 36 percent of its paying passengers and went out of business. It was replaced by Lextran, a public agency, in 1973.
Public transportation is getting renewed interest because it is more environmentally friendly, reduces traffic congestion and is essential to many low-wage workers.
Hurt, an environmental lawyer, started Art in Motion as a volunteer project in 2006 because Lextran needed more bus shelters, she liked public art, and studies showed that transit systems that used public art in their facilities had higher ridership.
AIM built its first shelter, Bottlestop, using Ale-8-One bottles, on Versailles Road in 2008. Then came East End Artstop on Elm Tree Lane, Bluegrass shelter on Newtown Pike and Gardenstop on Euclid Avenue. AIM also helped the Columbia Heights Neighborhood Association with BankStop on the other end of Euclid.
AIM will begin work this month on Industrial Oasis, a shelter on Southland Drive in front of Good Foods Co-op. Contributors include Good Foods and shopping center owner Sanford Levy. It was designed by architect Adam Wiseman of Pohl Rosa Pohl and features steel work by sculptor John Darko.
When it is finished, work will begin on Chimneystop on Leestown Road at Townley shopping center with help from developer Dennis Anderson. Chimneystop was designed at UK by Justin Menke, Chad Riddle, Martin Steffen and Ryan Hargrove.
Marrillia Design & Construction will build both shelters, which will cost a total of $198,600. Funding comes from federal transportation grants, Lextran and partner donations.
Also this year, AIM will build a music-theme shelter on Georgetown Street at Lima Drive. It was designed by Gary Murphy of Prajna Design & Construction. Its $37,000 cost will come from city funds.
These shelters are designed to be functional, beautiful and durable. But Hurt said she has received some criticism about their cost.
“What I would argue is that we are creating work for local designers, craftsmen and firms that supply the materials,” she said. “Plus, we are creating both public art and basic amenities for public transit. It’s a good investment.”
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Richard Young, left, and Kris Nonn of the North Limestone Community Development Corp. stand in front of the former bus station near the corner of North Limestone Street and West Loudon Avenue that the NoLiCDC hopes to acquire from LexTran and turn into a community market. Photo by Tom Eblen
The foundation split $5 million among 32 projects it thinks can attract talent, improve economic opportunity and increase civic engagement in 12 of the 26 cities where the Knight brothers once owned newspapers, including the Lexington Herald-Leader. Winners were chosen from 125 finalists culled from 7,000 proposals.
The goal of the NoLi CDC project is to make locally grown food more available in the low-income neighborhood, which has been experiencing a renaissance in recent years with an influx of young, entrepreneurial and community-minded residents.
The market also would provide stalls and shared infrastructure for “makers” and other entrepreneurs in the neighborhood who want to start businesses, said Richard Young and Kris Nonn, the NoLi CDC’s two staff members.
The NoLi CDC has shown the potential for a public market in the neighborhood by sponsoring a monthly Night Market on the lower block of Bryan Avenue, between West Loudon and North Limestone.
Several thousand people came out to each of the festival-like markets last year, and about half the merchants and vendors were from the neighborhood. The first Night Market of 2015 will be 7 to 10 p.m. Friday.
Bahia Ramos, a program director with the Miami-based Knight Foundation, said she “really had a blast” when she attended a Night Market last year.
“There was such a diverse cross-section of people, and a genuine outpouring of good energy and creativity,” she said. “We wanted to be a catalyst to help grow that out.”
The NoLi CDC’s focus has been creating entrepreneurial opportunities for people to live and work in the North Limestone corridor.
Another of its projects is the York Street “makers spaces” — renovated 1920s shotgun houses where makers can live and work. That project, which is applying for a new type of city zoning, received a major grant last year from ArtPlace America, which focuses on encouraging “creative placemaking” in communities.
NoLi CDC hopes to put its public market and food hub in a huge Art Deco building on West Loudon Avenue, a block from the Night Market site. The only problem is that it doesn’t own the vacant building, which has nearly 104,000 square feet on 2.4 acres.
Built in 1928, it was the headquarters of Southeast Greyhound Lines until 1960. The building is now owned by the Lexington Transit Authority, which wanted to demolish it for a new headquarters. Lextran later decided to build a facility nearby, and the old building has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Lextran officials wrote a letter supporting the NoLi CDC’s grant application. Lextran plans to solicit sealed bids for the building within six months, spokeswoman Jill Barnett said
Acquiring and then renovating the building, which will cost several million dollars, are some of the challenges to be overcome, Young and Nonn said. But the Knight grant will give them working capital to get the project started.
Multi-tenant public markets have been very successful in many cities, Young said, noting such examples as Findlay Market in Cincinnati and Mercado La Paloma in Los Angeles.
“A lot of times you hear people talk about starting a business as ‘taking the plunge,'” Nonn said. “This would mitigate the risk associated with that” by providing shared facilities, a shopper base and other support services.
Theoretically, these projects would allow a neighborhood resident to start a business in his or her home, graduate to a market stall and eventually grow enough to have a shop in the neighborhood.
Young and Nonn worked closely with Ashton Potter, the city’s new local food coordinator, to make plans for the public market to also serve as an aggregation, processing and sales point for Central Kentucky farmers. It would include a commercial kitchen that entrepreneurs could rent to test or produce food products.
“This building that is going to be coming up for sale can go to a use that is incredibly beneficial for the neighborhood,” Young said. “Lifting the access barrier to entrepreneurial activity is something that’s really important.”
Legislation to rein in payday lenders, who trap some of Kentucky’s most vulnerable people in cycles of debt, died last week in the state Senate, but federal regulators are now stepping up to the plate.
Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, a Lexington Republican, sponsored a bill that would limit payday loan interest rates, which can approach 400 percent, to 36 percent, the limit the U.S. Department of Defense sets for loans to military personnel.
The bill was supported by consumer advocates, as well as by both liberal and conservative church groups on moral grounds. But it died in the State and Local Government Committee. Wonder if that had anything to do with the payday lending industry’s campaign contributions to some legislators?
Last Thursday, President Barack Obama and the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced plans for a federal crackdown on payday lenders.
U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, a Lexington Republican who has received several hundred thousand dollars in contributions from financial services companies, issued a press release March 19 about proposed legislation to curb the CFPB’s “reckless regulatory overreaches.”
Looks more like an attempt to muzzle a watchdog that protects citizens from Barr’s corporate benefactors.
The minimum wage has a big impact on low-wage workers, many of whom must rely on public assistance to make ends meet, as well as the overall economy, which is driven largely by consumer spending.
The $7.25 federal minimum wage hasn’t been raised since 2009. Its value adjusted for inflation has lost more than 25 percent since its peak in 1968.
Congressional Republicans have refused to raise the federal minimum wage. But many states and cities have raised theirs, realizing its importance to both low-wage workers and local economies.
The Democrat-led Kentucky House recently approved a state minimum-wage increase that was rejected by the Republican-led Senate. Louisville’s Metro Council in December approved a gradual minimum-wage increase to $9 over three years, which is being challenged in court.
Urban County Council member Jennifer Mossotti has proposed gradually raising Lexington’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by July 2017 and tying future increases to the consumer price index. The proposal also would gradually raise the $2.13 minimum wage for tipped workers, who haven’t seen an increase since 1991, to $3.09 over three years.
Council members are unlikely to consider the issue before June. But when they do, Jason Bailey, director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, has put together a good report about the low-wage Lexington workers who would be affected.
Among the highlights: An increase would directly lift wages for about 20 percent of Lexington workers, 90 percent of whom are older than 20 and 30 percent of whom are 35 and older. Fifty-seven percent are women, 54 percent work full-time and 26 percent have children at home. Read the full report at: Kypolicy.org.
Businesses usually oppose minimum-wage increases — if not the very idea of a minimum wage — saying that increasing labor costs forces them to put people out of work and raise prices. Studies have generally shown those effects to be negligible, and the economic impact to be positive.
A minimum-wage increase is long overdue. If federal and state officials won’t do it, Lexington should join other cities and states that are.
Burgess Carey rides a zip line at his controversial canopy tour, which city officials shut down. The dispute prompted a three-year examination of ways to add more public recreation and tourism opportunities in rural Fayette County which is ongoing. Photo by Tom Eblen
A tightly managed, three-year effort to expand public recreation and tourism opportunities in rural Fayette County started coming unwound Thursday as the Planning Commission prepared to vote on it.
Several commission members expressed concern that the proposed zoning ordinance text amendment, or ZOTA, which they and the Urban County Council must approve, would be too restrictive.
They started offering amendments, then put off the matter for more discussion until May 21 and a possible vote May 28. The delay was wise, because these complex zoning decisions have implications far beyond recreation.
The challenge with the ZOTA is striking the right balance of private property rights, public access and the long-term preservation of horse farms, other agriculture and an environmentally sensitive landscape that the World Monuments Fund has recognized as one of the most special and endangered places on earth.
It is important to note that the ZOTA wouldn’t change rules about what property owners can do on their land for their own enjoyment. It affects only new public recreation and tourism-related land uses, both commercial and non-profit.
Part of the problem with the ZOTA process has been that it grew out of a nasty dispute between Burgess Carey and some of his neighbors in the Boone Creek area off old Richmond Road.
Carey has a permit to operate a private fishing club on his property in Boone Creek Gorge. But he expanded it into a public canopy tour business, in which people toured the gorge from treetop platforms using zip lines and suspension bridges.
Neighbors opposed the business, and city officials shut it down.
Carey’s aggressiveness antagonized officials and made it easy for opponents to brand him an outlaw rather than debate the merits of having a canopy tour on Boone Creek. That’s a shame, because it is a well-designed, well-located facility that the public should be able to enjoy.
The Boone Creek dispute prompted the ZOTA process and made it contentious from the beginning. One result was that the city task force created to study the issue wasn’t as open as it should have been to public participation and diverse viewpoints. Hence, last week’s Planning Commission fireworks.
Suburban sprawl is incompatible with animal agriculture, especially high-strung racehorses. Development takes the Inner Bluegrass region’s valuable agricultural soils out of production.
That is why Lexington in 1958 became the first U.S. city to create an urban growth boundary. Without it and other rural land-use restrictions, horses and farms could have been crowded out of Fayette County years ago.
Farmers are understandably concerned about any nearby commercial development. But some other people think it is unfair for traditional agriculture to have a monopoly on rural land use.
The balancing act gets even more complicated in the environmentally sensitive and ruggedly beautiful land along the Kentucky River Palisades. It is an ideal place for low-impact outdoor recreation and environmental education. But most public access is restricted to the city’s Raven Run Nature Sanctuary.
Preserving these natural areas is complicated, because they need constant care to stop the spread of invasive plant species, especially bush honeysuckle and wintercreeper euonymus, which choke out native vegetation. It is a huge problem.
Much of the land along the river is owned by people dedicated to its care and preservation. Many spend a lot of money and effort fighting invasive species.
But, as a matter of public policy, it is risky for Lexington to count on landowners’ wealth and good intentions forever. It makes sense to give them some business opportunities to help pay for conservation, especially since much of this land is not suitable for traditional agriculture.
Most Fayette County rural land is zoned “agriculture rural.” The ZOTA proposal would create a new “agriculture natural” zoning option along the river with some different permitted uses.
Much of the debate about the ZOTA’s treatment of both zones is about what land uses should be “primary” by right and which should be “conditional,” requiring approval by the city Board of Adjustment. The conditional use process allows for more site-specific regulation, but it can be cumbersome for landowners.
Carey’s lawyer, John Park, who lives on adjacent property along Boone Creek, points out that poor farming practices in that area can be more environmentally destructive than some commercial and recreational uses. But state law gives farmers a lot of freedom from local zoning regulations.
One criticism of the ZOTA proposal — and other parts of Lexington’s zoning code, as well — is that in trying to regulate every conceivable land use to keep “bad” things from happening, the rules aren’t flexible enough to allow “good” things to happen.
These are complicated issues with a lot of good people and good points of view on all sides. More frank and open discussion is needed to reach something close to a community consensus.
Increasing public access to rural recreation and tourism is important, both for Lexington’s economy and quality of life. But it also is necessary for preservation.
People protect what they love. Finding more ways for people to connect with this irreplaceable landscape and agrarian-equine culture will nurture that love.
The old Fayette County Courthouse. Photo by Tom Eblen
Remember the old TV commercials for Fram oil filters? An actor dressed as an auto mechanic would explain how a costly repair could have been prevented with regular oil changes.
His punch line: “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.”
Those ads came to mind as I read the report about all that is wrong with the old Fayette County Courthouse and what must be done to fix it. The building is well into “pay me later” status, and any further procrastination will make things worse.
Lexington’s EOP Architects and Preservation Design Partnership of Philadelphia spent six months cataloging decades of serious abuse and neglect of an iconic building that has defined the center of Lexington for more than a century.
This Richardsonian Romanesque temple of limestone, completed in 1900, symbolized the idea that public buildings should be beautiful as well as functional. It had a 105-foot-tall rotunda with a bronze-plated staircase paved in white marble. The dome was illuminated by then-new electric lights, and the cupola was crowned with a large racehorse weathervane.
But by 1930, growing Fayette County government needed more office space. Rather than branch out to annexes, more and more was crammed into the courthouse. The ultimate architectural insult came in 1960-61, when the rotunda was filled in and most of the elegant interior gutted to add elevators and more office space.
Building updates were ill-conceived. Little was spent on maintenance. The weathervane, damaged by a storm, was taken down in 1981.
The courts moved out in 2000 to new buildings two blocks away. The old courthouse was handed off to the Lexington History Museum and left to leak and crumble. Concerns about lead paint contamination prompted its closure in 2012.
The old courthouse is just one example of how Lexington squandered a rich architectural inheritance. For decades, “out with the old, in with the new” was city leaders’ motto. Much of the new was poorly designed and cheaply built.
There were many short-sighted demolitions, such as Union Station and the Post Office on Main Street, plus “modernizations” that now look ridiculous. New schools and office buildings were often cheap imitations of contemporary architecture. The city allowed many handsome buildings to be razed for parking lots.
There also was a lot of “demolition by neglect”, a trend that sadly continues at such places as the 1870 Odd Fellow’s Temple that most recently housed Bellini’s restaurant. It’s no wonder, since the old courthouse such a visible example.
Mayor Jim Gray deserves credit for trying to change things. The Downtown Development Authority and its consultants have put together an excellent, no-nonsense plan for a public-private partnership to renovate the old courthouse as a visitors’ center, public events venue and commercial space.
The cost of fixing and upgrading the building for new uses won’t be cheap: about $38 million, although about $11 million could come from historic preservation tax credits.
But what other choice do we have? The old courthouse is a black hole in an increasingly vibrant downtown that will soon include a 21C Museum Hotel in the restored First National building.
The consultants’ report says the old courthouse is basically sound structurally, but the damage so severe that a purely commercial restoration isn’t feasible.
That means city leaders must finally face up to their responsibility, just as they had to do when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency forced the city to fix long-inadequate sewer systems that were polluting neighborhoods and streams.
Fortunately, many Urban County Council members have expressed support for restoring the old courthouse. They recognize it as an investment in Lexington’s future. But you can bet some will vote “no” to try to score political points, just as three members did on the necessary sewer rate increase recently.
After all, what’s the alternative? Tear down the old courthouse? Imagine the bad publicity that would bring Lexington, especially after city officials in 2008 allowed the Webb Companies to destroy an entire block nearby to create a storage pit for idle construction cranes.
Demolition of the old courthouse would tell tourists that the “city of horses and history” doesn’t really care about its history. And it would tell potential residents and economic development prospects that Lexington is too cheap and short-sighted to care for its assets or invest in its future.
I think most Lexington leaders are smart enough to bite the bullet and do the right thing here. And if they are really smart, they also will make other investments to avoid big taxpayer liabilities in the future. As the old courthouse and EPA consent degree have painfully demonstrated, “pay me later” is rarely a wise choice.
When the University of Kentucky’s Gatton College of Business publishes its annual Kentucky Economic Report, most people just pay attention to the front of the book, which predicts whether the state’s economy will rise or fall, and by how much.
But I think the rest of the book is more interesting. It is filled with great bits of information that not only tell us about the economy, but offer some clues about the state of Kentucky society, too.
Here are a few gleanings from the 2015 report, published last month by Christopher Bollinger, director of the college’s Center for Business and Economic Research:
■ Kentucky’s landscape may be mostly rural, but its economy is all about cities. The “golden triangle” bounded by Lexington, Louisville and Cincinnati contains half the state’s population, 59 percent of the jobs and 54 percent of the businesses.
■ Wages in metro counties in 2012, the most recent figures available, were 29 percent higher than in “mostly rural” counties and 20 percent higher than in “somewhat rural” counties.
■ How can rural counties improve wage rates? The report offers advice from Mark Drabenstott, director of the Center for the Study of Rural America: encourage home-grown entrepreneurs, “think and act regionally” and find a new economic niche in high-value, knowledge-based industries that leverage the region’s strengths.
■ If you feel like you haven’t had a raise in years, you are probably right. Kentucky’s average weekly wage, when adjusted for inflation, is about the same as it was in the first quarter of 2007.
■ Kentucky’s poor and lower middle-classes have gotten 4.4 percent poorer since the late 1970s, while the state’s middle class has lost 7.5 percent in inflation-adjusted household income. Upper middle-class Kentuckians have seen household income rise 7.7 percent, while the richest 10 percent have seen a rise 16.7 percent. All segments of Kentuckians did much worse than their peers nationally.
■ Kentucky’s earned income per-capita relative to the national average increased steadily from 1960 to 1977 and peaked at 80 percent. But it has fallen since 1977 and is now at 75.4 percent, ranking Kentucky 46th among the states.
■ Lexington and Louisville have seen steady employment gains since 2010 or early 2011 and have returned to or exceeded their pre-recession highs.
■ The disappearance of family farms isn’t news, but the report has some interesting statistics. Kentucky has roughly one-third the number of farms it had in 1950 and the average farm size has doubled. Kentucky lost 8,196 farms during the 2007-2012 recession, the largest decrease of any state. Most of that decline was likely farms going “idle” rather than being developed, the report said.
■ There has been a marked increase in value-added farm products such as jams, salsa, wine and jerky. The production of value-added foods, adjusted for inflation, has risen from $3.34 billion in 1993 to $5.1 billion in 2011.
■ While tobacco has declined sharply, the value of the state’s other major crops — corn, soybeans, hay and wheat — has improved considerably. The most dramatic growth has been in poultry. Broilers (chickens raised for food) are now Kentucky’s most-valuable farm commodity; chicken eggs are 10th and farm chickens are 12th.
■ What Kentucky industry sector has lost the most jobs in the past 25 years? If you guessed coal, you’re wrong. Kentucky in 2013 had 45,000 fewer manufacturing jobs than it did in 1990, a 16 percent decline. The sector that gained the most jobs was educational and health services: 103,700 more people work in those areas, a 67 percent increase.
■ There were 364,000 more Kentuckians employed in 2013 than in 1990, a 25 percent increase, beating the population increase of 19 percent. About 95,400 Kentuckians work for companies that are majority foreign owned.
■ In various measures of “community strength,” Kentucky is on par or better than the national average. Crime rates are lower. Kentuckians tend to trust their neighbors more. They report higher levels of “emotional support and life satisfaction.” But they give less to charity and volunteer less than the national average.
There’s more good stuff in the 2015 Kentucky Annual Economic Report. To download a full copy, click this link.
Curtis Penix, left, and Givan Fox, hiked last Thursday in Laurel County along the historic route of Boone Trace, the 200-mile path Daniel Boone and his crew blazed through the Cumberland Gap to Central Kentucky in March 1775. Penix’s 5th-great-grandfather, Joshua Penix, took the path to Fort Boonesborough in 1779. Photos by Tom Eblen
RACCOON SPRINGS — As dawn broke, backpackers Curtis Penix and Givan Fox emerged from their shelter, rubbed their eyes and filled their water bottles from natural springs that trickled out of a hillside.
Daniel Boone camped here many times and drank from the same springs, which he supposedly named after being startled by a thirsty raccoon.
This became a busy way station along Boone Trace, the 200-mile trail that Boone and his crew blazed for the Transylvania Company from Cumberland Gap to Central Kentucky in March 1775. Raccoon Springs is now in Laurel County, a few miles southeast of London.
Penix, a steel mill worker from Michigan, was here because his fifth-great grandfather, Joshua Penix, walked Boone Trace in 1779 on his way to Fort Boonesborough, where he was listed among the settlers.
Fox was here because his father, retired Lexington physician John Fox, is president of Friends of Boone Trace, a non-profit group that hopes to preserve the historic route as a hiking trail, walking paths and a memorial to the pioneers.
Penix, 46, and Fox, 42, think they may be the first people in two centuries to walk all of Boone Trace.
“There’s so much history here,” Penix said. “Millions of Americans today, just like me, have ancestors who came through Cumberland Gap into Kentucky. ”
While many of the well-worn buffalo and Native American paths Boone incorporated into his trail are now country roads, railroad tracks and even major highways, other sections of Boone Trace have all but disappeared.
Penix started his journey March 10 near Kingsport, Tenn. He hiked through Virginia to Martin’s Station near Cumberland Gap, where on March 15 he was joined by Fox, a medic in the Colorado National Guard.
The men carry a satellite communicator that transmits their position every 20 minutes to Penix’s website, Lostinthewander.com, where they blog daily about their experiences.
“The first four days were rough, nothing but rain and highway,” Penix said when I met them at Raccoon Springs Thursday. “No Indians, but a lot of semi-trucks, a lot of spray in the face.”
After several days of walking 20 miles or more, the two planned a slightly easier schedule. They were to stop at the sites of other Boone Trace landmarks, such as Twetty’s Fort and Woods Blockhouse, before completing their journey Thursday at Fort Boonesborough State Park on the Madison-Clark county line. After a ceremony there, they plan a big steak dinner and a lot of rest.
Boone Trace is often confused with the Wilderness Road, which was built later and became more popular, especially after Kentucky achieved statehood in 1792 and state government funded improvements.
The two roads ran together through Cumberland Gap, but split below London. Boone Trace went to the Kentucky River at Fort Boonesborough, while the Wilderness Road went to Harrodsburg and on to what is now Louisville.
“Everybody talks about the Wilderness Road and forgets about Boone Trace,” John Fox said. “Once Daniel Boone opened the trail, people just flooded in. About 100,000 people may have traveled it before Kentucky became a state.”
The Daughters of the American Revolution placed stone markers at several key points along the route in 1915. Other groups added markers in 1942, the 150th anniversary of Kentucky statehood.
But, over the years, the markers became overgrown and were forgotten as highways were improved. Many sections of Boone Trace were lost until Louisville architect Neal Hammon began researching it in the 1960s. He and others remapped the trail by using computer technology to piece together old records.
Penix familiarized himself with the route by studying maps and satellite images. He worked with John Fox to get permission to cross private land. Fox is providing occasional support from his pickup truck, but his son and Penix are carrying all of their camping gear and food.
“It was suggested by some people that we do it in buckskins and linen shirts,” Penix said. “There’s just no way we would have survived.”
Penix got into trouble early in his walk, when he was forced to spend a night in a motel after days of cold rain left him soaked and in danger of hypothermia. “I had the idea of doing this kind of independent,” he said. “I was going to carry my own food, sleep under the stars the way Joshua did, cross rivers the way Joshua did.”
Penix said he learned a lesson in Rose Hill, Va., when he couldn’t find his planned campsite and a store owner offered him shelter in a storage unit. As he was about to go to sleep on its concrete floor, Pam Eddy, a ranger from nearby Cumberland Gap National Park, came by.
Eddy persuaded him to stay the night at her cabin. And she explained that pioneer culture was as much about helping one another as being self-reliant.
“This was a community,” Penix said. “There were people all along the way with forts and blockhouses and stations where people could stop and rest and get a meal, get resupplied.”
Throughout their journey, Penix said, they have been met by town mayors, local historians and a lot of friendly, helpful people.
“We’ve been fed along the way, offered roofs along the way, just like the pioneers,” he said. “So when I wanted to do it just like Grandpa Joshua, I had it all wrong. I learned how to do it right.”
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About this blog
Tom Eblen is a columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader who writes about life, people and issues in Lexington and Kentucky. A Lexington native, Eblen was the Herald-Leader's managing editor from 1998 to 2008. He previously was a reporter and editor for the Atlanta Journal- Constitution and The Associated Press. Some columns contain his opinions and observations.