Downtown Lexington Just Keeps Getting Better

Donna Ison | Photos courtesy of Visit Lex


With calculated growth and innovative improvements, downtown living is becoming even more desirable.

Millennials and baby boomers seldom have the same taste in music, movies, fashion or hobbies, but they do agree on one thing—downtown Lexington is the place to live. This confirms why 72% of young professionals and 22% of empty nesters comprise the majority of Lexington’s downtown population.

Phil Holoubek, the founder and CEO of Lexington’s Real Estate Company, explains, “The two largest generations in the history of the country are the boomers and the millennials. The boomers have just become empty nesters. And, the millennials have graduated college and are becoming young professionals. So, the two age groups that want to live downtown just happen to be the two largest age groups in the history of our country.”

Under Holoubek’s leadership, Lexington’s Real Estate Company has played a major role in downtown Lexington’s growth and transformation through developing nearly $50 million worth of real estate in the downtown area, with additional projects valued at another $50 million currently under development.

On opting for urban living, longtime downtown denizen and boomer Thomas Pettit states, “We wanted to get out of the suburbs, do something completely different, and live on one level. I think many people our age are saying, ‘Let’s get out of this house, and on one level, and be downtown where we can walk’.”

So, in 2011, Pettit moved into the Main and Rose building, a mixed-use facility with 96 condos. The condominiums range from 750 to 2000 in square footage and $175,000 to $500,000 in price, and sit atop 25,000 square feet of retail. After seven years, he says, “We love being downtown. It’s just buzzing with vibrant energy.”

Along with that energy, there are four major factors drawing droves downtown— convenience, community, cardiovascular benefits, and cost.

Of convenience, Terry Sweeney says, “It is a great place to live, work and play. And that is because there are so many great amenities at your doorstep. When you live downtown, you are paying for what is outside your doors as much as what is inside your doors.” Sweeney is the president and CEO of the Downtown Lexington Partnership, an umbrella organization formed in 2017 to coordinate and oversee the revitalization and management of downtown.

Holoubek agrees, “If you compared our downtown now to a decade ago, we probably have twice as many restaurants and businesses. A lot of the services you want when you live in a downtown or in a walkable community are coming to Lexington.”

A lot of the services you want when you live in a downtown or walkable community are coming to Lexington.” -Phil Holoubek

The area’s available amenities include 100 restaurants, bars or coffeeshops, many of which are non-chain, locally-owned; 40 shops and galleries; 30 places of worship encompassing a variety of denominations; and 20 fitness facilities; as well as banks, accounting offices and law firms.

In addition to amenities, there are numerous attractions, such as the Kentucky Theater, Lexington Opera House and Rupp Arena.

Taunya Phillips and her husband Bryan Mitchell reside in the heart of it all in a condo on Main Street. She states, “We both love living downtown, because we like the bustling city life, the diversity of people, the restaurants, Thursday Night Live, Triangle Park, the Kentucky Theater—love their popcorn, parades, and the closeness to the Legacy Trail. We also like that we can get to just about anywhere in the city pretty quickly.”

When choosing a downtown lifestyle, residents are also choosing a low-maintenance lifestyle. Helping ensure this is the Downtown Lexington Management District, a property tax improvement district managed by a board comprised of local property and business owners, residents and other stakeholders whose mission is to maintain and improve the downtown area.

Pettit points out, “I do want to stress about the Management District because it is a wonderful, wonderful vehicle for improving downtown, and I don’t know what we’d be doing without it. It keeps everything clean and does things the city cannot do.”

A second factor leading people to trade culde-sacs for the city is the desire for a greater sense of community.

“You just feel so much more connected to the city. Living downtown is almost like living on a college campus. Every day you see somebody you know just walking across the street—a community leader, the mayor, a council member, your friends, everybody at Thursday Night Live. You just don’t have that experience in the suburbs. It gives you the opportunity not just to be more connected, but to get more involved in the future of your city because you’re in it,” says Holoubek.

In addition to Thursday Night Live, downtown is brimming with events that serve to draw people together. Sweeney says, “During the event season, there is outdoor programming nearly every weekend that is either cultural or arts oriented and is very family-friendly.”

During this season, you can catch a movie at Fountain Films on Friday, pick up produce at the Farmers’ Market, or attend one of the festivals taking place on Courthouse Plaza, such as Lexington Pride and the Festival Latino. Of course, holidays such as Christmas, the Fourth of July and St. Paddy’s are accompanied by parades, street fairs and foot races, as well. And, if you just want to gather with friends and enjoy the scenery, Thoroughbred Park, Triangle Park, and Gratz Park afford the perfect backdrops.

For both the cardiovascular and environmental benefits, walkability is another major component. A 2017 study by the National Association of Realtor’s showed that 70% of people want to live in a walkable community.

"As far as market pricing, downtown Lexington is undervalued. It is very reasonable in comparison to other downtowns. And very reasonable in comparison to the suburbs”

A quick stroll down tree-lined streets makes for a much more pleasant commute to work than sitting in tense traffic, as Sean Ebbit, a millennial downtown dweller has discovered. Ebbit is the owner of Bluegrass Tavern, a popular bourbon bar located on Cheapside. He says, “The best part of living downtown is not having to drive. I can walk to several bars, restaurants, the movie theatre, the bank and the gym. Downtown has a lot more going on than I originally thought. It’s not just a place to go for dinner and drinks on the weekends.

At present, there are 20 picturesque parks and 85 acres of green and public spaces. And soon, this will be greatly expanded with the addition of Town Branch Commons, which will be made up of Town Branch Park, Town Branch Trail and all adjacent parks and pedestrian areas.

According to, “Town Branch Commons will be a strip of Bluegrass running through downtown Lexington.” The park and trail, which will link Town Branch Trail and the Legacy Trail, will include “continuous bike and walking paths and a lush green band through downtown.” Construction is set to start in 2019 and be completed by October 2021.

“The Town Branch Commons Trail will increase our bike and walking scores, which is very attractive, especially to young millennials who don’t want to get in their car. And, it will attract new developments along its pathway,” says Sweeney.

Holoubek adds, “Everything continues to skew favorably for downtown housing. It will become not just incrementally, but exponentially more desirable when Town Branch Commons gets put in. I’ve seen in city after city how retail and new housing sprouts along new bike paths.”

Cost is yet another positive point when choosing downtown Lexington.

As stated by Holoubek, “As far as market pricing, downtown Lexington is undervalued. It is very reasonable in comparison to other downtowns. And very reasonable in comparison to the suburbs.” He goes in to explain that in most cities, the price per square foot for downtown versus suburban living is double. However, in Lexington, that 2:1 ratio is much lower with there being only a nominal difference in some neighborhoods.

Among current downtown housing options are the Nunn Lofts, 505 W Main Street, Park Plaza, Centre City and Center Court Condos, to name a few.

With all of these advantages it is no wonder that, in Sweeney’s words, “There is a very strong demand for downtown living.”

Luckily, developers are stepping up to meet the demand. According to Sweeney, “There are 80 million dollars of new residential projects in the pipeline that include affordable housing renovations, new student housing developments, new market rate apartment developments, and new townhomes, midrise and high-rise condominiums, all totaling 850 new residential units.”

Lexington’s Real Estate Company has several exciting projects in the works, including a mixed-use project with 15,000 square feet of retail and 50 residential apartments on Main & Vine. Similar buildings located on Midland Avenue and Third Street, and owned by Community Ventures, will provide hundreds of residential apartments, plus much needed East End retail, dining and office space.

Of course, the completion of City Center Complex, housing a Marriott Hotel, Residence Inn and a Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse, along with renovation of the Lexington Civic Center will garner a wealth of new business, tourism and opportunities.

“We are really looking forward to the opening of City Center, the new theater at Broadway and High and the Town Branch Trail and Park. We think they will be big attractions, and they will add to the city life,” states Phillips.

In closing, Sweeney says, “We have a great downtown that is only getting better. In the next four to five years, there are several projects in the works that will be transform it and take it to the next level. So, it is a great time to be thinking about moving downtown.”