With Lexington Mall redone, what else is left to redevelop?

January 7, 2013

Developer Phil Holoubek hopes to announce construction plans soon for the Main and Vine property that has been vacant for two years. Photos by Tom Eblen 


Southland Christian Church opened its new Richmond Road campus this weekend on the former site of Lexington Mall, a 31-acre parcel that had been a civic embarrassment for years.

The church bought the long-vacant shopping mall in 2010 from Maryland-based Saul Centers, which had let it languish for more than a decade. Dillard’s, the last store in the mall, closed in 2005.

Once the church develops commercial space at the property’s edge along Richmond Road — a former pond that now looks like a strip mine — one of Lexington’s biggest eyesores should be gone.

If we are lucky, and the economy continues improving, other prominent sites that are ripe for redevelopment might finally get some attention.

The next one that comes to mind is Turfland Mall, which opened in 1967 as Lexington’s first suburban shopping mall. After years of decline, the central mall shut down after Dillard’s closed in 2008. As with Lexington Mall, Turfland was owned by an out-of-state company that seemed to have forgotten about it.

Last month, amid a Hopkinsville bank’s attempts to foreclose on the 367,000-square-foot mall, Lexington developer Ron Switzer bought it for $6 million. He said he plans to demolish all but the Staples store. Staples and Home Depot, which owns its end of the mall, have remained open, along with several businesses in the parking lot.

“What we want to do is take an eyesore and come up with an attractive plan for a development,” Switzer said last month, adding that specific plans are not set.

Turfland Mall was purchased last month for redevelopment.

I wish Switzer the best of luck in revitalizing Turfland. The same goes for the owners of two adjacent properties at Harrodsburg and Lane Allen roads — the former Verizon building, which is for lease, and land long occupied by The Springs Inn. The once-popular motel closed in 2008 and was demolished the next year. A CVS drug store was built on 1.56 acres; the remaining 5.1 acres are for sale.

Another prime redevelopment site that could see action soon is the point where Main and Vine streets come together at the eastern edge of downtown. A former bank, antiques store and alteration shop were demolished in April 2010, and developer Phil Holoubek hoped to replace them with an urban-style mixed-use development.

But Holoubek’s efforts were frustrated by the economic slump, tight credit markets and the city’s inability to build a parking deck on the block.

Holoubek and a Louisville developer then tried to build a CVS drug store on the site, but its suburban-style design faced widespread opposition. The deal died when it was discovered that the site plan hadn’t taken into account an underground utility vault that was too costly to move.

Last week, I was giving Holoubek a hard time about how scruffy his vacant lot has looked for the past two years. I noted the CentrePointe block down the street has been sown in grass and well-maintained while it has awaited development.

Holoubek said he expects by the end of this month to announce a tenant for Main and Vine and a development plan that looks like it belongs downtown. Should that deal fall through, he promised to call in landscapers.

Among other prominent Lexington parcels ready for redevelopment:

■ The 11-acre Continental Inn site at New Circle and Winchester roads. The property was bought by a group of investors, including former state Democratic Party chairman Jerry Lundergan, and most of the dilapidated motel was demolished in 2007. Since then, property owners and the Eastland Parkway Neighborhood Association have sparred over semi-trailers being parked there.

The Continental Inn site is advertised for sale. At the right price, it could make a good location for a car dealership or even a mid-priced hotel, said Ken Silvestri, a commercial real estate broker who keeps a close eye on the Lexington market.

■ The former site of Thoroughbred Chevrolet on Richmond Road between New Circle Road and Man o’ War Boulevard also is a good candidate for redevelopment, Silvestri said. It has been vacant since the dealership closed in July 2010 after General Motors did not renew its franchise.

Making luxury homes more marketable, with a twist

April 30, 2012

The Miller House is a masterpiece of modern architecture that people either love or hate. When it was vacant and empty, some prospective buyers didn’t know what to make of it.

The house off Chilesburg Road provided the perfect challenge for Tom Caywood’s new company, Showcase Realty Services, which brings a different economic model to the business of staging vacant luxury homes for sale.

Working for the bank that has been trying to sell the Miller House for 16 months, Caywood and Melody Farris Jackson, an artist and designer, furnished and decorated the house. Then Caywood found three people to live there and keep it in tip-top shape to show prospective buyers.

Perry Dunn, an executive with First Federal Bank, said the house’s transformation has been impressive. “Tom has really taken the bull by the horns to the point that we’re considering raising the price,” he said.

Susan Sloane of Prudential A.S. de Movellan Realty has the 5,771-square-foot house listed now for $999,000. That is down from an initial $1.5 million, Dunn said.

The Miller House, completed in 1992 for Robert and Penny Miller, was designed by José Oubrerie, a French architect and protégé of Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, better known as Le Corbusier, one of the pioneers of modern architecture. After Robert Miller’s death, the house and 20.6 surrounding acres were sold for redevelopment in 2006.

Left empty, the Miller House was vandalized. An architect who admired the house created a non-profit foundation to buy it and two acres, and repaired the vandals’ damage. He hoped to make the house the centerpiece for a development of other modernist homes, but the project failed amid the home-building slump.

First Federal took back the house in January 2011 and has been trying to sell it, Dunn said. That has been tough, in part because of uncertainly about the surrounding property, which once provided tree-covered vistas beyond the house’s glass walls.

Caywood recruited Jackson to help him furnish and decorate the house. She was already very familiar with it: As a part-time teacher in the University of Kentucky’s College of Design in 2008, she had her architecture students measure the Miller House to create precise drawings.

Built mostly of concrete, glass, steel and wood, the house felt emotionally cold without furniture and art, Jackson said. The brilliance of the house’s design is in how it uses space and volume. But, when empty, it was hard for many people to visualize how it could be a comfortable place to live.

Jackson furnished the house with art, including some of her own, and a borrowed Horsemania horse that now stands in the dining room. Jackson and Caywood have filled the house with mid-century modern furniture borrowed from their own homes and those of friends.

“What I tried to do was make it so a prospective buyer could come in and say, ‘Wow, I see how this house is put together,'” she said. “And having people inhabit the house allows us to fill cabinets and give it a homey feel.”

Caywood, a former online advertising executive with the Herald-Leader and other newspaper companies, said he got the idea for Showcase Realty Services when he moved back to his hometown after living in San Jose, Calif., and Dallas.

Lexington had a number of unique luxury homes that had been on the market for a while. Owners were stuck with high carrying costs, such as utilities and lawn upkeep. They also sometimes had higher insurance premiums because vacant properties are more subject to accidental damage or vandalism.

Lexington also had a number of people with good incomes who wanted high-quality, short-term housing and flexibility for various reasons — a relocation, divorce or temporary job assignment.

The company works like this: Caywood furnishes and decorates the home at no cost to the owner or Realtor, except for any mutually agreed renovations. (The company works only with homes listed with Realtors.) He then finds “resident managers” to live in the home for below-market rent. They also pay utilities and routine maintenance in return for keeping the home neat and clean.

The result, Caywood said, is a win for everyone: The owner gets lower carrying costs and a more presentable and secure house to sell; the Realtor might get a quicker sale; the renter gets a high-quality house at a discount price; and Caywood makes money from the rental payments.

Since starting the company in November, Caywood said, he has worked with one house that sold. Now, in addition to the Miller House, he said he has a luxury condo and a horse farm on the market.