Thursday, March 05, 2009

DOWNTOWN BOONDOGGLE

It’s been interesting to observe yet again attempts to reconfigure Lexington’s downtown area to somehow make it into a park-like place to which people will flock in droves. Not long ago, the push was on to close Vine Street at Broadway, thus shutting off perhaps the most heavily traveled downtown street. The word was that folks could find their way into the business section by discovering wonderful routes through the narrow side-streets, where, if cars are parked thereon, two cars can barely pass each other. Just imagine rush-hour! The Urban-County Council actually voted once for this change, then had an attack of reality.

Then, there was the push to build a mini-park in the middle of Vine Street – trees, shrubs, walks – EGAD! That, too, died a natural death, as it should have. Now, the push is on to change the one-way streets into two-ways, notwithstanding the tremendous ease of fairly rapid movement to be lost. The thinking behind this is that people will then take the time to see all the good things, like office-buildings, since they will be slowed down with the two-way traffic...oh yes, also take advantage of sidewalk cafes, etc.

The city is already into rebuilding Cheapside, perhaps the main feature being the Farmers Market, which will be located where parking is at a premium, especially since folks hate to use parking garages and get in the exit lines. Two-way streets, narrow by the standards of many cities, will exacerbate that problem. The city would do much better to see if it can rent part of the Lexington Mall on Richmond Road, or something similar, where parking space would be plentiful for both vendors and buyers.

In the mix is a $6 million outlay to overhaul the old Lyric Theater, along with another $300,000 per year to operate it. Why should taxpayers have to either rebuild something that’s unneeded and then pay through the nose to operate it? The Opera House is already available and about to be improved. Singletary Center is available, as well as Rupp Arena, both venues capable of holding huge crowds. In a small city of 280,000, these seem to be enough, without even counting the plethora of school theaters and private ones, not to mention scores of gymnasiums throughout the city. This is an unconscionable expense at a time when the economy is in the tank and the council solons constantly scream about the shortage of cash.

The downtown area is made for offices, financial institutions, government, apartment buildings and specialty shops. People go there essentially when they must during the day and for entertainment during the evening/night hours. Even the banks have offices all over the city because the cramming endemic to having all customers invade downtown is bad for business. The notion, as the local paper would have it, that the “young” geniuses want to live downtown and therefore should be accommodated by the city is too silly for even thinking. They’re no better than anyone else...just a class issue and not a pretty one.

It’s passing strange that taxpayers are expected to subsidize downtown, but little if any mention is made of entrepreneurs who have built their businesses elsewhere in the city and paid through the nose to establish parking areas and all the rest. What would the city officials do for them? Things are tight fiscally, and it ill behooves the council to spend money on entirely unnecessary enterprises.

Taxpayers are watching what has devolved into a financial circus/crisis in Washington, about which it’s too late now to do much except watch it deteriorate further every day. Having the local government USE them the same way the Washington gang does is just a bit much, and it’s time for slacking away from all these schemes, and getting the house in order. There’s enough infrastructure need in this city to use all available cash, so the time has come to set REASONABLE priorities and stick to them.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

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