The Lexington Center board Friday approved renovations to Triangle Park that will include a central lawn, outdoor café, activities area for games, and ice skating rink in the winter.
The $1.3 million in improvements will be made by the Triangle Foundation, which built the downtown park with private funds more than 30 years ago and contributes annually to its maintenance. The park is owned by the city but is under the care and control of Lexington Center Corp.
Work will start Monday. It is expected to be completed in 90 days, but it will take longer to open the café, said Steve Grossman, president of the Triangle Foundation.
"We'll have to do a request for operation to provide food service for the space," he said. "I expect the café will open in the fall." A liquor license will be obtained so the café can serve wine.
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In addition to the construction fencing that now surrounds the park, a wrap will be put around the space while the work is being done. At the completion, the wrap will be removed, and there will be a reopening ceremony.
Grossman said he is hopeful the ice skating rink will be in operation by this winter. "We have been in discussion with people who do that kind of thing. They've already been to Lexington. How to structure it is something we have to work through," he said.
The foundation and the Lexington Public Library have been in discussion to provide free books for people to read while they are in the park. "They have suggested they would have a librarian come out on scheduled dates to do various readings," Grossman said.
Other activities such as showing movies in the park will be coordinated with Downtown Lexington Corp.
A goal is to change Triangle Park from a "look-at-me park to a programmable park" with lots of activities, Grossman said.
He told the board he had met with officials of Project for Public Spaces, a non-profit organization based in New York that has consulted on thousands of public spaces and is an authority on what makes public spaces work.
They told him two things are crucial for the success of a park: access to food and moveable chairs and tables so people feel they have control of the space where they sit. In the redesign of Triangle Park, stationary benches will be replaced with chairs and small round tables.
Phil Holoubek, a downtown businessman who sits on the Lexington Center board, said he would like the city to look at closing the small yoke of Vine Street that goes in front of the Lexington Center, separating it from Triangle Park. If it were closed, "It would increase the connectivity of the park to the civic center," Holoubek said.
Everett McCorvey, board member and director of the University of Kentucky opera program, agreed, saying he was "a big supporter of closing Vine Street." He pointed out that the Triangle Park fountain is designed to have water flow over the back of the fountain on the Vine Street side, making it visually attractive on the Lexington Center side.
The city tried to close the piece of Vine Street in 2001, when the Urban County Council voted to create a plaza between the Lexington Center and the park.
Several months later, a group of citizens protested, saying they feared the move would "kill downtown." The council reversed its vote, and Vine Street remained open to traffic. McCorvey said the Lexington Center should revisit the issue.
The board will lease the park to the foundation during the renovation phase. When completed, the park will return to the Lexington Center's control.
The board also agreed to 14 conditions regarding maintenance of the park, including keeping grass aerated and fertilized, planting flowers, removing graffiti, picking up trash and providing security. Board chairman Cecil Dunn said the foundation and the Lexington Center have worked together for more than 30 years to sustain the park, "each respecting the other's contribution."
Grossman said Lexington Center and the Triangle Foundation have never had any written document "that stipulates the expectations. This probably heightens the accountability, more than anything," he said.