Lexington attorney Jim Frazier chairs the governing board of the new Downtown Lexington Management District. He also chairs the Lexington Parking Authority. So, Frazier has his eyes on much of what’s happening to improve Downtown Lexington’s attractiveness not only as an interesting destination, but also as a place to live and work.
Click here to hear the audio version of the interview: http://www.kentucky.com/news/business/article45076461.html
Q: What is the Downtown Lexington Management District and why was it created?
A: It’s a newly formed 15-member board created to basically oversee the geographical district of the Downtown Management District. The boundaries run roughly from Rupp Arena to Midland up to High Street all the way past Gratz Park.
Q: And how is the district funded?
A: It’s funded through property tax dollars of those within that district. We estimate the first year revenues are around $415,000.
Q: A portion of downtown property is owned by government, nonprofits and churches. It’s not taxed. Does that present a problem?
A: It’s definitely an opportunity for us. They are not bound obviously. They don’t receive a tax bill. Therefore, they do not participate monetarily in that particular aspect of our endeavor. However, it’s our intent to call on these folks, including the Lexington Parking Authority that happens to own a number of garages within this district, to see if we get some voluntary contributions from these different entities because they will in fact benefit.
Q: What’s in it for them?
A: Oh, all kinds of things. Besides public safety, beautification and cleanliness there are a lot of aesthetic enhancements that we’re going to try to bring to this district, over and above the basic services that the government is currently doing for this district.
Q: In approving the creation of the district, the Urban County Council stipulated that the district’s authorization has to be renewed every five years to make sure that the property owners still think its services are worth the additional tax assessment. How will you ensure that in five years from now these property owners are going to be on board with renewing?
A: We definitely have a five-year sunset. So, if we don’t perform well, we will not be back. We are adamant this is not going to be another governmental bureaucratic entity, that we’re going to do what the taxpayers want. It’s their money. We want to spend it wisely. So, we’re soliciting input constantly. And it’s our hope that if we do those things and they see the results, they’ll want to renew our contracts.
Q: The council’s final vote was heavily in favor of creating the district. Still, there was some opposition along the argument that Lexington’s downtown receives preferential treatment at the expense of suburbs. What are your thoughts on those concerns?
A: I went before the council to submit a proposed budget and I felt the wrath of those who did not want the tax to be passed. But I truly get where they’re coming from and I respect their opinions. It’s our belief that downtown is the heart of our city. When you think about Lexington, we want you to think about the downtown core; taking nothing away from suburbs or malls, but we want that core to be something people want to come to, not just for Thursday Night Live, we want the center city to be the hub of the activity for our town.
Q: Do these management districts offer services beyond those provided by city government?
A: That’s correct. By ordinance, the government is not allowed to cut back or curtail on the current services they deliver to this district. These tax dollars that we’re receiving are an enhancement over and above, whether it’s beautification, cleanliness. Talking about security, our belief has always been that Lexington is a fairly secure place, though quite frankly the homeless population is definitely a significant issue.
Q: That’s a tough issue.
A: Very complex. Our 15-person board is comprised of two council people. Councilperson Kay and Gibbs, as well as Geoff Reid from the mayor’s office. So, we have a lot of governmental administrative input. But the Block by Block vendor we’ve hired to be our boots on the ground, the people in the purple shirts, are very adept at panhandling and homeless situations in a manner that’s not only humane, but also effective for businesses.
Q: Is this crew trained specifically in how to handle these situations?
A: Absolutely. They go through a rigorous course before Block by Block hires them. In fact, it took us a while to get a full complement of folks because we are very particular on who we want on the street. These in fact are ambassadors for this management district. In addition to that, we also provide hospitality, way-finding directions for people out of town. I, as chairman, get a weekly report of all the things they do. So, it’s more than just picking up so many pounds of trash. It’s interactions with citizens and folks downtown on a daily basis.
Q: Let’s talk about those “purple shirt” folks. How many of them are there and where do they come from?
A: Well, they’re local people. The company itself is located in Louisville, but the manager who runs our operation, David Warren, has relocated to Lexington. David has eight people at all times doing various things, whether they be power washing the sidewalks in front of Dudley’s restaurant, scrapping off gum on Main Street, or taking graffiti signs down off the mailboxes, off the telephone poles. You name it, we’re doing it right now.
Q: Do the purple shirt folks see themselves as ambassadors for tourists, as well as locals?
A: Oh, absolutely. In fact, the interaction numbers I receive break down whether they’re locals or not locals. We truly want to make people want to come back to downtown, have a good experience, and tell their friends and family members so they know, when they see the purple shirt people, they’re there to help you.
Q: Looking at these Downtown Management Districts all around the country, is there a “gold standard” that you hope to emulate?
A: Cincinnati and Louisville both have had these districts for some time and very successfully. Now, they’re much larger markets and their budgets were much greater than $400,000 plus, but the problems and the issues are the same: homelessness, panhandling, cleanliness, safety. Those kinds of things are universal. It’s just a difference in size. But they’ve done very well and we’ve had great interaction with both those organizations prior to and after our formation. They’ve been very helpful to our board.
Q: Is there evidence that the presence of a district like this attracts investors and developers?
A: It is our belief that we can help spur that growth. One example is that we have some vacant storefronts on Main Street, Short Street, other areas within our core. We could use some popup shops in those areas to fill those dark places. So, at night, we have lights on whether they’re temporary art galleries or other types of temporary vendors, anything that brings some life to Downtown to make people feel like there’s something to do here, something to see, and it’s safe.
Q: You’ve just gotten started. So, it could be understood that it takes a little while to make things happen. But how long do you think it will be before positive changes are noticed by people who are working, living, or just visiting downtown?
A: If you walk the streets of Short Street and Main Street you already see the differences. The cleanliness, the power washing is phenomenal. The tons of garbage that we have removed. Right now we’re going to focus on cleanliness.
Q: A number entities are responsible for downtown. How does the management district fit into the mix?
A: It’s an enhancement. We’re trying to complement what the Downtown Lexington Corporation and the Downtown Development Authority have done. We all want to work together.
Tom Martin’s Q&A appears every two weeks in the Herald-Leader’s Business Monday section. This is an edited version of the interview. To listen to the interview, find the podcast on Kentucky.com. The interview also will air on WEKU-88.9 FM on Mondays at 7:35 a.m. during Morning Edition and at 5:45 p.m. during All Things Considered.