Every August, we bring you the latest on what’s going on in Lexington’s bustling downtown. From updates on long-awaited projects to the scoop on the latest up-and-coming developments, there’s always something new and exciting to share with our readers. While the scope of these projects may change, it’s clear that the future of downtown Lexington is looking bright!
The Town Branch Park project has been in the works since around 2006. In that time, it has raised over $34.7 million in funds and progress has been made toward its completion. Overseen by a committed group of civic leaders, philanthropists and professionals, the board and staff have worked to transform this area into a community-friendly greenspace that reflects the spirit of Lexington.
The 9+ acre former parking lot will be a part of the larger Town Branch Commons project, which includes pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and trails that help bridge a connection between previously unlinked downtown areas. Town Branch Park will serve as the connection point for the Legacy Trail and the Town Branch Trail, linking 22 miles of bike and pedestrian paths. When completed, visitors and locals alike will enjoy a walkable downtown experience full of character and fun.
The planning committee has intentionally prioritized community access, function, beauty and inclusiveness. Final plans include an amphitheater, splash park, dog park, playground and more. Free city programming will welcome people from all walks of life.
One of the benefits of the park is the restoration of Town Branch Creek. Stormwater systems will help improve the health of the city’s main waterway. This includes bioretention area rain gardens with native plants, making the park more sustainable. The projected date of completion for Town Branch Park is sometime in 2025. That said, the park’s initial construction is already underway on Manchester.
What can a developer do with a parking lot? An 18-acre site in the heart of downtown is slated to become something exciting within the next few years...so what do you need to know?
The parking lot across from Rupp Arena on High Street will be a mixed-use development featuring housing, retail and entertainment venues. Lincoln Property Company and The Webb Companies are behind this development, which they hope to have completed within three years. Construction isn’t slated to begin until after the end of the next UK basketball season.
Announcements regarding specific retailers are forthcoming. But currently, the plans include restaurants, a grocery store and 800 apartments. Webb reportedly envisions a 400-room hotel for the entertainment venue, which will seat 4,000+ people. All told, the development is expected to be a $350 million project.
“We look forward to further improving our city’s urban core, building upon the tremendous momentum that the renovated Rupp Area, the Convention Center, and the highly anticipated Town Branch Park have given this part of town. This project will be a game-changer for our great city,” said Dudley Webb, Chairman of the Board and Co-Founder of the Webb Companies.
One of the biggest concerns regarding this project was parking. The Webb Companies estimates that the project will actually add about 1,600 parking spaces in that prime location. Construction will also occur in stages, allowing the parking lot to stay open while the parking garage is built.
The $310 million Central Bank Center expansion helped make one of Lexington’s most storied landmarks even greater. With 100,000 square feet of exhibit space and more, Central Bank Center offers tons of amenities alongside a sleek, contemporary feel.
The pedestrian-friendly walkways surrounding the venue make it even more accessible while helping connect it to nearby businesses and the future Town Branch Park. The expansion also helped shape guest experiences at Rupp Arena. New upper arena seats, the Catwalk and added hospitality clubs, including the Rupp Club Experience, make attending games and concerts even more enjoyable.
“This project is critical to the future of tourism in our community and an important economic development project. Lexington would have lost more than $13 million in economic impact as fewer and fewer conventions would have been able to use our old convention space, which was too small compared to competitor cities,” explained Mary Quinn Ramer, VisitLEX president. “In addition, private investment will follow the public’s investment in the convention center — spurring new hotel developments and other business investment in Lexington.”
Over 10 years of planning and construction was concluded at the Central Bank Center’s grand reopening in April 2022. This June, the facility played host to its first citywide festival, the 2023 Lexington Pride Festival, with thousands in attendance. From top-billed concerts to conventions and beyond, the Central Bank Center is a cornerstone of the downtown Lexington experience.
Back in June, the Lexington city council voted to move forward with a plan to expand the city’s urban service boundary in hopes of lowering housing prices – while still protecting farmland. That said, a group of concerned community members (including the Fayette Alliance) has challenged this decision “in an effort to ensure that the elected officials of Lexington-Fayette County base future growth decisions on research and data, and adhere to the legal process when finalizing the city’s Goals & Objectives of all future Comprehensive Plans.”
The urban service boundary is a line that attempts to contain land development, encouraging developers to make better use of the space within our city. This helps protect central Kentucky’s beautiful farmland while keeping the cost of city infrastructure in check.
This expansion – the city’s first since 1996 – would add between 2,000 and 5,000 acres to the urban service area. There are areas that were included in that 1996 expansion that haven’t been developed, and it may be years before developers can make use of the new boundary.
According to the Fayette Alliance, the majority of US cities facing the worst housing shortages have no growth boundaries. The city of Lexington has aimed to lessen the shortage by funding the new construction and preservation of over 3,000 affordable housing units.
This comes in the midst of the early implementation stages of the Imagine Lexington 2045 visionary plan. One of the core tenets of the plan was urban and rural balance; the plan calls for accountability and stewardship alongside any future growth. Many feel that this is best achieved through infill development and redevelopment, often utilizing mixed-use plans like the ones slated for downtown’s future. The status of this plan remains in flux at the time of press. •