Herald-Leader Editorial

New life for distillery, bakery, city

August 17, 2014 

Lexington's perennial debate on whether to expand development into our rural area will arise again this year as candidates contend for mayor, vice mayor and the Urban County Council.

We continue to make our perennial response that infill — making better use of what's already in our urban area -— is a better solution than paving over fields.

A city-sponsored study in 2009 found 12,750 acres in our urban area with redevelopment potential, including about 8,000 acres identified as vacant, blighted, or underutilized.

It is common sense that it costs less to provide city services — police, fire, sewer, storm water, etc. — over fewer square miles. Beyond that, dense development helps shrink our carbon footprint because people live closer to where they work, play and go to school.

Still, and despite ongoing efforts by the city to adapt zoning and other regulations to accommodate mixed-use urban infill, resistance persists to the idea that Lexington can and should grow in, rather than out.

What could change the debate this year is that great infill developments are taking off, with little outlay of public dollars. And they're exactly the kind of exciting places that cities crave to attract the young people who will drive an economy for years to come.

Examples abound, but the most recent is the investors who purchased the 55,000 square foot James E. Pepper distillery on Manchester Street in the Distillery District. It will soon house a local restaurant and a microbrewery sharing a patio overlooking Town Branch.

Next door, another restaurant will open shortly. Nearby Barrel House Distillery, a craft distiller of small batch liquors, draws over 10,000 visitors annually.

In the National Avenue area restaurants, retailers and other businesses occupy former industrial buildings. At Sixth and Jefferson, the 90,000 square feet of the old Rainbo Bread bakery is home to West Sixth Street Brewing Co. and several other businesses as well as non-profits; the other end of Jefferson has exploded as a dining destination.

David O'Neill, the Fayette County Property Valuation Administrator, says the assessed value of property along Jefferson has risen 38.5 percent since 2008, compared to 7.5 percent for the entire county.

So much of this energy arises from using old buildings in new ways. The distinct spaces, materials and details give rise to exciting new places that attract young and old.

Because of that, they are unique to Lexington, a creation of this place, it's history and the energy, investment and imagination of local entrepreneurs.

Although the cool eating and entertainment venues downtown often get most of the attention, infill projects have created considerable activity and value in other parts of the urban area, relieving pressure to develop outside it.

Southland Christian Church has redeveloped Lexington Mall; the rehab of the abandoned Pennington Place Apartments in Woodhill will provide 300 apartments, a pool, two playgrounds and a dog park; and the HealthFirst Clinic under construction on Southland Drive replaces vacant office buildings.

There are many good reasons, economic and environmental, to reuse land and buildings rather than chew up rural acreage.

The best reason of all is the simplest: It works.

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