So far, there’s not much to show for that investment. But project organizers say wait a few months, because things are taking shape behind the scenes.
The largest Knight grant was awarded in 2015: $550,000 to the North Limestone Community Development Corp. to help buy a vacant 1920s bus terminal on Loudon Avenue at North Limestone for use as a common market, a local food processing and distribution hub, and a business space for neighborhood entrepreneurs.
The Lexington Transit Authority owns the building, which it first planned to demolish and replace with a new headquarters. Preservationists persuaded Lextran to build itsheadquarters a few blocks down the street.
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Because the old bus terminal was bought with federal funding, Lextran is required to sell it at fair market value. The appraisal process and construction of the new headquarters has delayed the sale, but bids were due Wednesday. NoLi CDC and development partner Chad Needham submitted a bid, NoLisaid president Grant Phelps said. Needham has renovated a number of homes and commercial buildings in North Lexington.
Neither Phelps nor Lextran spokeswoman Jill Barnett said they knew whether other bids were made for the building. Lextran’s board meets Feb. 15. Barnett said she didn’t know what if any action would be taken on the sale then.
Phelps said he hopes NoLi CDC will be the successful bidder. “Our goal would be to enhance employment opportunities as well as economic development opportunities in the North End by creating businesses and jobs and increasing access to fresh food,” he said.
Last year, the Knight Foundation awarded two grants for Lexington projects. The largest was $150,200 to the Lexington Public Library Foundation for Phoenix Forward, a demonstration project this summer to integrate Central Library programming into adjacent Phoenix Park.
The library is working with the city’s parks and recreation department to organize programs in the park each Saturday during June and July, and during other family events this summer, said Rob Parmley, the Central Library manager. Details are to be announced in May.
The library also is working with designers on improvements for Phoenix Park, including seating, lighting and music elements for use during programs, said Anne Donworth, the library foundation’s director. Designs will be completed by March.
The library tested some of its ideas last March, when a temporary children’s play area was installed on Central Library’s first floor, and lawn chairs and straw bales were put in the park for socializing.
One of the library’s biggest challenges in expanding family programs into the park is that for years it has been a gathering place for transients, who use Central Library’s restrooms and public-access computers, or just want to get out of the weather.
Donworth said the library has been working with several other organizations to try to minimize those issues, including Lexington police, the city’s new Office of Homelessness Prevention and Intervention, and Anderson Communities, which owns the Park Plaza apartments next door. But many challenges remain; it is a public park and a public library, and transients are part of the public, too.
The grant includes money for extra security during library events, as well as event staff, some of which is likely to come from the city’s summer youth jobs program.
That project’s goal is to gather ideas and test concepts for engaging people at a city parking lot along Vine Street that will become part of Town Branch Commons, a 2.5-mile long series of small parks downtown along the historic path of long-buried Town Branch Creek. The future park is across Vine Street from the Transit Center, which 5,000 pedestrians pass through each day.
Last October, the authority set up booths at the Transit Center, the parking lot and three other locations around town and gathered 996 ideas from more than 600 people, said Hannah O’Leary, the authority’s project analyst.
Among the most popular things people wanted to see around the park and Transit Center were more greenery; furniture and resting places; safer pedestrian crosswalks and bike lanes; places to get coffee and food; and public art. The authority plans to install a temporary “pop-up” park in the parking lot in May to test some ideas gathered from the public.
The Knight Cities Challenge is a project of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which supports community improvement projects in 26 cities where the Knight brothers once operated newspapers, including the Lexington Herald-Leader.