Dear Friends of Town Branch Trail,
I had a great opportunity to visit a world-class trail city recently on a trip to Madison Wisconsin with 258 other folks from Lexington on a Commerce Lexington Leadership Trip. It was a great chance to take in a city that has invested heavily in trails and has a great quality of life to show for it. This is the fourth leadership trip that I have attended on behalf of Town Branch Trail, Inc. and it has been a fantastic opportunity to advocate for trails in places where they have been so successfully exploited. I want to share with you a letter written on behalf of Commerce Lexington by Woodford Webb, current board chair. In it he lists the priorities generated by the trip attendees and how Town Branch Trail is recognized as one of the most important initiatives underway in Lexington. What is equally exciting is that Town Branch Trail is an integral component of a number of other great projects like Legacy Trail, Lexington Distillery District, and Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden! Connectivity and cooperation to make Lexington all it can be! Many thanks to Commerce Lexington for its creative trips that have greatly raised public awareness for the importance of trails.
Van Meter Pettit, AIA
Forwarded letter from Woodford Webb, Commerce Lexington Chair below:
A MESSAGE FROM THE COMMERCE LEXINGTON INC. CHAIRMAN
I would like to personally thank those of you who participated in this year’s Leadership Visit. I hope you enjoyed the trip and learned a lot of great things from Madison. Some of you may have received this yesterday, but not everyone who went to Madison is on Commerce Lexington Inc.’s main e-mail distribution list. I wanted to make sure you were properly thanked.
As the 2009 Commerce Lexington Inc. Leadership Visit came to a close on May 20th at the Monona Terrace Convention Center, I couldn’t help but think about all that we had seen and done while in Madison, Wisconsin. We heard from many of Madison’s most influential leaders and entrepreneurs and saw first-hand what Madison offers its residents by participating in tours of its most recognizable features.
Still, I continued to come back to presenting sponsor Linda Rumpke’s “I” for “implementation” pledge, which she mentioned at the opening of our Madison visit. Yes, we recognize that Bluegrass Region is a great place to live and work, but how do we make it even better? How do we leverage what we’ve got so that more young people want to stay in Lexington, start a business in Lexington, or raise a family here? As generational consultant Rebecca Ryan said, “What do we want to be homesick for?”
While we hope to take a few ideas from the cities we visit, these trips enable us to take a hard look at ourselves as a community. We all agree that there is plenty that we can improve about the Bluegrass, but the annual Leadership Visit also opens our eyes to the things that we are doing well. Sometimes we overlook the positive steps we’ve taken as we become embroiled in the things we believe are wrong with our city.
According to Rebecca Ryan’s “Seven Indexes of a NEXT City,” Lexington’s scores met or exceeded the average scores of most of its benchmark cities, and in the categories of Cost of Lifestyle and Earnings, Lexington is ahead of Madison. However, we still have work to do within the other five indexes, including Vitality, Learning, Social Capital, After Hours, and Around Town, to become that “NEXT” city.
Many people don’t realize that many wonderful things that are related to those five indexes are already occurring. In the area of Vitality, Lexington has made a commitment to building more bike and walking trails, and the city is making major strides to improve its water quality for the future. In the area of Learning, FCPS Superintendent Stu Silberman’s efforts have been well documented, the University of Kentucky is well on its way to becoming a Top 20 research university, and Dr. Michael Karpf is guiding the new soon-to-be completed University of Kentucky Hospital.
With all the additions of new music and performing venues and other downtown nightlife establishments, we have made great strides in the After Hours index thanks to the ongoing efforts of the Downtown Entertainment Taskforce led by Tom Martin. With things like the Yellow Bikes program, the re-appearance of trolleys downtown, and the enhancement efforts of LexTran and Rocky Burke, we are making progress in the Around Town category. Improvements to our streetscape and signage will only bolster these efforts. Social Capital was identified as a strong point for Lexington when compared to other major cities, but we can certainly do more to involve and engage young people and produce more diversity throughout the decision-making process. The ongoing efforts of the Urban League and the city are helping us get to where we need to be.
While our Leadership Visit has resulted in many quality programs and initiatives over the years and influenced things like downtown development and streetscape design, we can do better at implementation. We currently have so many opportunities, ideas, and projects just waiting for that extra nudge to come to fruition. What exactly is our “low hanging fruit,” or what projects are realistically attainable and quickly?
Some of the priorities identified in a survey of participants during the Madison trip included:
MORE TRAILS AND PARKS:
Legacy Trail – Primary Champion: Steve Austin – Of the $10 million needed to implement this entire package, the Legacy Center already has $7 million committed. The resulting gap seems to be achievable if the right group of supporters can get behind it.
Town Branch Trail – Primary Champion: Van Meter Pettit – The plans are ready, and a portion of this project has been implemented. This likewise seems to be low hanging fruit.
Isaac Murphy Memorial Garden – Primary Champion: Councilwoman Andrea James, and some of the others involved are Committee Member Andy Barr and Steve Austin of the Legacy Center. The state is donating the land on 3rd Street, and the plan calls for a financial need of $2 million. The aggressive design and plan could be completed in stages, or maybe a combination of city and private donations (e.g. horse farms, thoroughbred industry, landscaping companies) could be brought together to implement a workable plan.
Phoenix Park – This could definitely be improved. The Courthouse Area TIF proceeds would be eligible to completely rework this park. It could be dramatically transformed with below grade parking and a completely new park above with fountains, stage areas and other improvements.
CONTINUED DOWNTOWN LEXINGTON ENHANCEMENTS: There’s a lot of great work going on here, especially by Harold Tate and the Downtown Development Authority, as well as the Downtown Lexington Corporation led by Renee Jackson. Great momentum is occurring in this area with so many wonderful events downtown, the implementation of trolleys to connect UK/Transylvania and Main and Vine, the Yellow Bikes initiative, many more venues popping up around town, and later bar closing times. Many people have indicated that what is necessary to further improve downtown includes the gradual return to two-way streets to make downtown more pedestrian friendly, below ground power lines, and the implementation of a BID (Business Improvement District) to enhance the current atmosphere and create a true marketing budget with which we can further spread the word and promote downtown as a key destination for all who live or work in the region.
“GREEN” INITIATIVES: As we heard from one speaker in Madison, being “green” is not a trend, but a mentality. Madison embraced this sustainable way of life some time ago, and has not looked back. Madison has 42 LEED certified downtown buildings, shared community car programs, mandatory recycling, green buses, bike riding, carpooling and more. In Lexington, we need to collectively encourage developers to utilize green techniques not just because it is good for the environment, but because it is “smart business.” Green initiatives sa_ve money in operating costs over time. Also, we need to encourage LFUCG to further study our current recycling center and determine if a new center could or would perhaps be a revenue enhancer. Could we make recycling mandatory on some level for our community?
DISTINCTIVE WATER FEATURE: Just about every city we have visited recently has one thing in common – an attractive water feature, whether it’s a natural body of water or man made one like Oklahoma City or San Antonio. We’ll have to accept that Lexington was not settled on a navigable body of water. One thing that continues to come up after each intercity visit is the possibility of Lake Lexington or some sort of “reflection pond” water feature downtown that would include a bike/walking path, outdoor amphitheater, ice skating rink in the winter, and maybe even a parking structure underneath. I believe this project would enhance the West side of downtown and the Town Branch area dramatically. And, it would put the Manchester Street/Distillery District on “waterfront property.”
PERFORMING & VISUAL ARTS ENHANCEMENTS: There are a ton of possibilities that can further enhance are arts community, and Jim Clark with LexArts is always bubbling with great ideas that are very possible with the right support.
Many of these ideas/priorities are posted at Rebecca Ryan’s blog site, which has been set up exclusively for us to share and track ideas. I would encourage anyone who wants to add ideas about Lexington’s future to do so at http://lex-next.blogspot.com. This site will remain active until July 3, 2009.
I mentioned at the close of the Madison visit that the implementation phase is the responsibility of the community as a whole. Myself, Commerce Lexington, and even the city cannot accomplish individually what we need to do collectively. As Linda Rumpke added during her welcome message, “let’s hold each other accountable” as we transform Lexington into the “next” city that we want it to be.
While we have all been impressed with Oklahoma City, Boulder, Austin, and Madison in recent years, we know that we absolutely don’t want to be an Oklahoma City or an Austin or even a Madison. We simply want to be the very best Lexington that we can be. To that end, I would ask two questions: What do “we” as a community, want to accomplish over the next year, and how can each of us contribute to this effort?
Finally, I would like to thank all of those who participated in or sponsored the 70th annual Commerce Lexington Inc. Leadership Visit, as well as recognize the efforts of our planning committee and the CLX staff, which put the trip together. I would also like to thank Tom Eblen of the Lexington-Herald Leader and Tom Martin of Business Lexington for their coverage of the Madison trip. We need our local media to both document these trips and help keep our community focused on the big picture.
It was a tremendous honor for me to lead the Madison trip, and I look forward to all that we will accomplish together in the future.
2009 Commerce Lexington Inc. Chairman
President, The Webb Companies
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