A development group that includes former U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler is proposing a 16-story mixed-use building on Newtown Pike near the new Bluegrass Community and Technical College campus.
The development, called Thistle Station, would include 200 apartments, with retail and restaurant space on its ground floor. The proposed development will be on a 4-acre tract between Third and Fourth streets that is currently zoned industrial. The site holds several older industrial buildings and a defunct lumber yard.
The apartment and retail space is the latest development on Lexington's growing west side. Bluegrass Community and Technical College has made substantial investment in the area, as has Transylvania University.
Not far from the development is the Jefferson Street corridor, a popular restaurant and bar district. The city's largest employer, the University of Kentucky, is within easy commuting distance.
John Cirigliano, managing member of the group, said the development is targeted to attract a diverse group of tenants with apartments at various prices. Lexington is attracting more young professionals who want to live close to downtown but don't necessarily want to buy, Cirigliano said. Also, there are older people who prefer to live downtown for various reasons, he said.
"Our job growth has exceeded our population growth," Cirigliano said. "We don't see ourselves cannibalizing other properties or stealing tenants from other properties because the job growth is there."
The complex is designed to have 24 studio apartments, 142 one-bedroom apartments and 36 two-bedroom apartments. There will be 264 parking spaces behind the building away from public view. "The parking will largely be invisible," said Graham Pohl, a Lexington architect who designed the building.
In addition, there will be a one-story building for additional retail that will front Fourth Street, Pohl said.
Pohl said the designs include a bike or running path in front of the development on the Newtown Pike side to accommodate users of the Legacy Trail.
"There is a real effort to make it something that the community uses," Pohl said.
Other amenities include a saltwater pool and possibly a rooftop garden, according to Thistle Station brochures.
The group has had conversations with some retail shops that have expressed interest, Cirigliano said.
"The retail will largely depend on what the community wants," Cirigliano said.
Mixed-use developments — a combination of retail and apartment or condominiums — have become increasingly popular in Lexington. But many struggle to fill retail space on their first floor.
Cirigliano said the group thinks that won't be a problem at the Thistle Station development because of its location and its diverse residents.
"Many of those developments have had the density, but they have not had diversity," Cirigliano said of developments that have not been able to retain retail space.
Bruce Simpson, a lawyer who represents the developers, said the group hopes to have its zoning application to the city in January, with a possible hearing date on the zoning change in late February before the Urban County Planning Commission.
The group has met with leaders of several neighborhood associations in the area. "We have been completely transparent throughout the process," Simpson said of the plans for the development, which has been three years in the making.
Diane Marshall, president of the Georgetown Street Neighborhood Association, said she met with the developers and liked what she saw.
"We thought it was nice and are excited to see what is going to happen," Marshall said. "It will upgrade the neighborhood and bring in businesses — we have so few businesses on this side of town. We also need a grocery store."
Bill Johnston, president of the Historic Western Suburb Neighborhood Association, said he also met with developers and thought Thistle Station was going to use land that's largely been ignored. "It's a great example of land inside the city that was vastly underutilized," Johnston said.
During a community meeting Wednesday night at BCTC, many neighborhood residents questioned the impact on traffic on Fourth Street and wondered whether the building was too tall; they also wanted to know more about the retail that could go into the Fourth Street building and the first floor on Newtown Pike.
The group is still doing a traffic impact study, which will be included in its zone change application, members of the group said Wednesday night. But they say they are sensitive to changes in traffic, particularly at the Georgetown/Newtown and Fourth Street intersection, Cirigliano told the residents.
Cirigliano said they have not set rents for either the retail or residential units. As for the height, Pohl told the group during his presentation that the building acts as a buffer between the Newtown Pike corridor — a large commercial corridor — and the neighborhoods on Third and Fourth streets.
"It does not pretend to nestle into the environment," Pohl said. But the building does have a step-down of six stories on the side facing Third Street. The first floor also extends out to Third Street. "It's deliberately stepped down so it has more of a quiet presence," Pohl said.
The developers will not ask for tax breaks or incentives from the city or state for the estimated $30 million project, Cirigliano said.
Chandler, director of government relations for the Thistle Station team, said the Newtown Pike location is unique. Thistle Station is the type of development that will make Lexington more livable, he said.
"I think everyone is interested in a livable downtown," Chandler said. "We believe to get the amenities that you need — such as markets — you have to have density. We think this project very much complements and improves that move to making the downtown more livable."
If the Planning Commission and Urban County Council give a green light, the development could be complete by summer 2016.
Other members of the Thistle Station development team include Tim Terry, one of the developers of Griffin Gate; Todd Ball of the Bristol Group, a design-build firm; and Zach Davis, president of Kirkpatrick and Co., a real-estate firm.