Landscape architect lays out plan for Town Branch Commons in downtown Lexington

bfortune@herald-leader.comMay 1, 2013 

Jane Shropshire lives on a farm in eastern Fayette County, but she came to a public presentation of plans for Town Branch Commons in downtown Lexington on Wednesday and afterward said she was delighted with what she heard.

"If they could do something like this for downtown, it would be transformative. It would make downtown feel alive, instead of like a sterile canyon cars travel through," Shropshire said.

Kate Orff, a partner in SCAPE/Landscape Architecture, laid out the plans for about 75 people at the Downtown Arts Center. The New York firm won an international competition sponsored by the Downtown Development Authority in 2012 to design the downtown park.

Town Branch flows through karst geology — full of holes — that underlies the inner Bluegrass. "In karst hydrology, water doesn't move in one long, straight stream," Orff said. "It can drop through a sinkhole and emerge in boils like at McConnell Springs. It moves through karst windows, falls and sinks."

Her firm studied how these karst hydrologic features could be interpreted in a new downtown landscape.

The conceptual plan shows a slender greenway stretching from Winchester Road, down Midland Avenue, along Vine Street and around Rupp Arena to join with where Town Branch now comes to the surface in its natural state.

Town Branch now flows along that route but is buried in one and sometimes two underground culverts, Orff said.

Vine Street would be changed to a two-way boulevard. Along a portion of Vine would be fountains, a series of pools, and a public plaza and playground call the Karst Commons. On the west side of Rupp Arena, the SCAPE plan visualizes a waterfall dropping from High Street where the land changes grade. That section would be called The Hollow, with a large lawn and a grassy amphitheater.

Orff said developing Town Branch Commons would bring green to a beige downtown made up of tall concrete buildings.

After a 45-minute presentation, Orff invited the audience to see the plans in more detail, talk to members of the SCAPE firm and leave suggestions on sticky notes. Among several dozen comments were: "How long would this take to create?"; "What is the connection with UK?"; "Bury utility lines along Midland portion"; and "Love the whole plan. Just start, please."

Orff said it was too early to attach a price tag to the project. Stan Harvey, a principal in the Urban Collage planning and design firm, said it made sense to talk with Lexington Center and Rupp District Project director Frank Butler to see whether The Hollow portion could be integrated into plans for a new convention center and renovation of Rupp Arena.

Financing sources for the Town Branch Commons, which can be built in phases, are being explored, said Jeff Fugate, president of the Downtown Development Authority.

Beverly Fortune: (859) 231-3251. Twitter: @BFortune2010.

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