Several renovation projects along North Limestone are generating hope for the dilapidated corridor, but turning around an area of the city that has been down on its luck for decades will happen slowly, say residents, business owners and city planners.
LexTran's announcement last week of a $12.1 million project to overhaul and expand its headquarters at Loudon Avenue and North Limestone comes at a time when businesses are investing in several other nearby buildings.
Lexington restaurateur Lucie Meyers confirmed to the Herald-Leader last week that she has bought a plain-Jane, concrete block building on North Limestone at Loudon Avenue and will open a "burger joint."
Meyers' Flip-her-Burger will emphasize seafood in burger form, such as salmon burgers, tuna burgers and crab cake burgers. It will take about a year to renovate the structure, she said. The property also has to be rezoned from light industrial to allow a restaurant.
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Meanwhile, entrepreneur Chad Needham has acquired three buildings on North Limestone, including the old Spalding's Bakery, that he is converting into apartments and an artist's studio.
"I always thought there was a lot of potential on North Limestone," said Needham, who grew up on the north side, and graduated from Bryan Station High School and Transylvania University.
Needham said a city traffic study showed about 10,000 cars pass the former bakery building each day. "It makes business sense to be on North Limestone with that much traffic," he said.
"Right now real estate on the north side is still a good buy. You get good value for your money," he said.
Across from the old Spalding's building at Limestone and Sixth Street sits Al's Bar, which has become a popular gathering spot for a young, hip crowd.
Owner Les Miller also bought the building next door and opened Side Car, a craft beer bar catering to the bicycling community. He is working to get a bicycle shop into a portion of the Side Car building.
He and his family live on North Limestone, a few doors away from the two bars.
"Returning life to a community is a slow process. It takes a long, long time," Miller said.
Only one block behind Al's Bar on North Upper Street, resident Patricia August said she doesn't see much change. "It's still the 'hood," August said.
"Same things going on — the drugs, prostitutes, girls selling their bodies, stopping cars. Ain't nothing changed," said August, who has lived on North Upper for 17 years.
Houses on Upper Street closer to downtown are being fixed up, but where she lives "it's all slum landlords owns these houses. They ain't fixing up nothing. You can't walk the street at night. You're afraid you're going to be robbed."
The North Limestone corridor also took a publicity hit at the end of April when Lexington police officer Bryan J. Durman, a 27-year-old father and Air Force veteran, was struck and killed by a sport utility vehicle while he investigated a noise complaint.
Still, others say the area is becoming more stable. James Maxberry, for 20 years the owner of Lime House Liquor at North Limestone and Sixth Street, said there are "still some hustlers on the street, but nothing like it used to be. It used to be terrible, terrible around here."
The Rev. Martina Ockerman of The Rock United Methodist Church also sees encouraging signs. In October, the $12.5 million renovation of Arlington Elementary School on North Limestone will be complete, creating a "state-of-the-art school," she said.
Sixty-five percent of the school was razed and rebuilt. Following the wishes of area residents, Fayette County Public Schools retained Arlington's historic façade that faces Limestone.
Ockerman has seen an influx of young professionals moving into the Castlewood Park area, buying older houses and fixing them up. "They can get a lot more house there for their money than they can on the south side of town," she said.
Other positive developments include The Legacy Trail bike and hike path leading from downtown to the Kentucky Horse Park that goes along a section of Loudon Avenue.
Recently, extensive infrastructure work was completed on East Loudon Avenue, including upgrading and relocating utilities, new sanitary sewers and storm sewers, sidewalks, grass medians and bike lanes. But the improvements stopped at Shropshire Avenue.
"We welcome all that infrastructure development. We think it will create a lot of possibilities on the north side," said businessman Griffin VanMeter, vice president of the North Limestone Neighborhood Association. "But for this neighborhood to really turn around, we need to see infrastructure improvements all the way to Broadway."
Needham said he'd like to see the same kind of improvements that were made to South Limestone, where wide, brick-trimmed sidewalks and decorative lamp posts accompany a newly rebuilt road and sewers.
Susan Straub, a spokeswoman for Mayor Jim Newberry, said such improvements are planned for North Limestone to Fourth Street, but no money has been allocated to complete the project.
Given the LexTran investment, she said, the city will accelerate its efforts to find additional funding for street and sidewalk improvements on Loudon Avenue from Shropshire to Broadway.
Jim Duncan, the city's director of long-range planning, said he was encouraged by the positive environment on North Limestone. LexTran's commitment could be a "major boost" to the north side.
Lexington's planning staff last year completed a Central Sector Small Area Plan that includes the Limestone corridor. Duncan said the plan will bring attention to "needs and opportunities on the north side."
"It creates a long range vision for how the whole area can be revitalized and re integrated into the community," he said.