Lexington, Kentucky joins trend of greening, pedestrianizing and revitalizing downtown

On July 19, 2018, almost six years of visualizing and planning came to fruition with the groundbreaking of the the Lexington Center, in Lexington, Kentucky.

The $241 million project will reinvent and expand the old Lexington Convention Center and Rupp Arena, but it’s also part of a larger downtown revitalization initiative that will redesign entire swaths of the city center.

Maybe the most exciting is Town Branch Commons, a greenway and trail that will span the entire width of the downtown area when complete.

One terminus of the trail will be a new 10-acre Town Branch Park; a public green space bordering the west side of the city center. Together with the redesign of the convention center space, Lexington is providing a great example of the 3Re Strategy (repurpose, renew, reconnect) in action.

The Town Branch Commons Corridor is a TIGER grant-funded 2.5 mile multi-modal path and park system that will wind through downtown Lexington, following the path of historic Town Branch Creek. It is being funded and built through a public-private partnership (P3). Through its unique design and stormwater management systems, this project will create an environmentally friendly livable, sustainable streetscape.

Town Branch Commons rendering
by SCAPE / Landscape Architecture .

Town Branch Commons Corridor is the final link in an innovative project to connect Lexington’s rural and urban communities.

It will connect to two established regional trails—the Legacy Trail and Town Branch Trail, establishing a connection between Lexington’s urban core and the magnificent Bluegrass countryside. Along the way, Town Branch Commons will connect the historic East End, the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden, three higher education campuses, the Downtown Transit Center, Lexington Civic Center, restaurants, entertainment venues, the emerging Distillery District, and the Kentucky Horse Park.

From the beginning, we wanted to fix the urban space that Rupp and the convention center occupy,” said Jim Gray, who has been Lexington’s mayor since 2010. “Make it more inviting, more approachable, more pedestrian-friendly.”

Lexington Center is the single largest capital public improvement project in the city’s history. It’s expected to dramatically improve Lexington’s convention facilities to the point of elevating the city as a destination in the eyes of the world, while bringing a new level of vitality to downtown.

The groundbreaking ceremony.
Photo courtesy of City of Lexington.

Today marks a milestone in what will be a transformative moment in the future of the Lexington community,” said Craig Turner, Chairman of the Board of Directors at the Lexington Center. “With the support of Governor Bevin, the General Assembly, and Lexington City leaders, we are taking another step in sustaining the vitality of our city’s downtown, creating a catalyst for great economic growth and new opportunities for business, entertainment and culture.

Joining members of the Lexington Center Board of Directors today at the groundbreaking celebration were Finance and Administration Secretary Col. William Landrum, Mayor Jim Gray, City Councilmembers, UK Finance and Administration Executive Vice President, Dr. Eric Monday and other state legislators, City representatives and University of Kentucky officials and dignitaries.

While the need to expand and update the convention center had been in discussion for many years, the project fulfills one of Mayor Jim Gray’s original initiatives to reinvigorate the city’s core, reinvent Rupp Arena, incorporate Town Branch Commons into the plan and upgrade the convention facility and the arena to “world class” standards.

The convention center is the largest economic development project in the state.“With vision, hard work, persistence and determination, dreams can come true,” Gray added. “Today is evidence of it. We’re delivering on our promises. This will create jobs now and into the future. Jobs that will help us grow our quality of life,” Gray explained.

Combined with construction of Town Branch Commons beginning next month on Midland, the work that is currently going on at the new multi-use City Centre project, the continuing reinvention of the Distillery District, and work underway on a downtown movie complex near Rupp, hundreds of millions of investment in downtown Lexington will be completed over the next 3 years.

According to Bill Owen, CEO and President of Lexington Center, “The current facility has served us well for the past 42 years, but the need for more exhibit space has been in discussion since 1994 and recommended by 3 different studies dating back to 1986. This project, when completed, really elevates Lexington as a convention destination to a whole new level.”

Rendering by SCAPE / Landscape Architecture.

The new facility is projected to increase the annual economic impact of the center by $58 million, and will help Lexington remain competitive and attract more convention business that represents a significant portion of the state’s tourism business.

We’re thrilled with this new facility,” said Mary Quinn Ramer, President of VisitLex. “The new convention center will allow us to pursue 90% of national meeting business, making us more competitive.” Expenditures on tourism in Lexington contribute about $2.1 billion each year to the local economy.

With its dramatic, light-filled, architectural statement, the new expanded Lexington Convention Center designed by NBBJ Architects of Los Angeles, CA and EOP Architects, will offer 100,841 sq ft of exhibition space, 25,080 sq ft of ballroom space, 26,756 sq ft of meeting spaces, 57,615 sq. ft of hospitality space and will comprise more than 200,000 square feet when completed.

The project is designed to better connect Rupp Arena and the Convention Center to downtown. The parks and plazas that weave through it will provide new public gathering spots. They include the “Cat Walk,” an exterior stair and gathering spot outside of Rupp Arena; a new outdoor space at the Convention Center called the “Gorge” that also provides outdoor exhibit space; interactive water features; an extension of the Town Branch Trail; and, in the future, the planned Town Branch Park.

The convention center and Rupp Arena will remain open throughout the 42-month construction period while the project is carried out in phases. The projected is scheduled for completion in November of 2021.

Featured image courtesy of NBBJ Architects.

See Lexington Center website.

See Town Branch Commons Corridor TIGER grant website.

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