Blue Grass Stockyards will rebuild in Lexington on Ironworks Pike adjacent to Interstate 75, city and stockyard officials announced Friday.
The announcement came just one day after $540,000 in state tax incentives were approved by the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority. Documents submitted to KEDFA listed Lexington as the stockyards’ location. Five of the 10 shareholders in the stockyards own more than 100 acres near the Kentucky Horse Park at the I-75 interchange with Ironworks Pike.
The stockyards sales pavilion and other buildings on Lisle Industrial Avenue were destroyed Jan. 30 in one of the largest fires in Lexington’s history. Other nearby businesses were also damaged or destroyed. Fire investigators ruled earlier this month the fire was accidental and caused by a construction worker operating a saw on the building’s metal roof.
The stockyards had been courted by other communities but ultimately the decades-old business opted to remain in Fayette County, Blue Grass officials said Friday.
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“We looked hard at where we needed to be; there was a strong pull to remain in Fayette County,” said Jim Akers, chief operating officer.
In addition to state incentives, the city has agreed to rebate property, net profits and payroll up to $1 million. The Lexington Urban County Council must approve the city’s incentive package.
Akers said the new building will be state of the art. “We want this to be a model,” Akers said.
The stockyards — which have been in Lexington for 70 years — are an important economic driver in Fayette County and in the state’s agricultural community, city and business leaders said Friday. At its Lexington location alone, the stockyards did $200 million in sales last year. At its seven locations in Kentucky and in online sales, the stockyards sell about $600 million in cattle each year.
“It is the biggest cattle market group east of the Mississippi River. Because of its sales value, it effectively sets the cattle price structure for the entire Eastern United States,” said Mayor Jim Gray at a news conference Friday morning announcing the new location.
Gray, Akers, Kentucky Agricultural Commissioner Ryan Quarles and owners of Blue Grass Stockyards said they met shortly after the Jan. 30 fire to begin discussions about a possible new location. Akers said they felt the site near I-75 and Interstate 64 was ideal for their customers.
Akers said in addition to the sales venue and offices, they hope to host other agricultural businesses at the new location. They expect to employ around 50 people, he said.
The stockyards hope to start construction on the new facility this summer but still must get appropriate sign-offs from city officials. Akers said the land is zoned for agriculture but the group must get a conditional-use permit to operate a stockyards. Akers said a total price tag for the relocation and rebuilding has not yet been determined. Since the fire, Blue Grass has held its Lexington sales at its other Kentucky locations.
Jim Duncan, Lexington’s director of planning, said the application for a conditional-use permit will be heard by the city’s Board of Adjustment at its March 25 meeting.
A similar effort to move the stockyards to the same location on Ironworks was eventually halted in 2006 because of opposition from the nearby Kentucky Horse Park, other neighborhoods and Scott County officials who voiced concern over the possible environmental impact. The 2010 Alltech World Equestrian Games at the horse park also factored into the stockyard’s decision to abandon its push to move to the location.
Barbara Sherrod was president of the Spindletop Community Association the first time the stockyard tried to move to Ironworks in 2003. Now she is secretary.
Sherrod has lived in the 83-home neighborhood — one of the closest neighborhoods to the proposed site —since 1988.
“We’re feeling pretty powerless out here,” she said Friday. “We fought them 16 years ago for three years. We didn’t really stop them, but we slowed them down for three years.”
Sherrod said her community association still opposes the stockyard’s relocation and has concerns about declining property values, odor and traffic.
But Akers said the stockyards will work with neighbors and will be transparent about its plans. In turn, the stockyard asks that people listen to the proposal and look at the stockyard’s past environmental performance before taking a stance.
Akers said the stockyards had a good track record at its Lisle Industrial Avenue location, which is adjacent to Town Branch Creek. Blue Grass officials did not comment Friday on what will happen to the current Lisle Industrial Avenue site.
“Our performance as documented by the city themselves (shows) we have been a good neighbor to that creek,” Akers said. “A lot of money was spent, a lot of time was invested and a lot of dedication to not only developing systems but maintaining those systems. We know how to do those things. I am comfortable — as long as people are willing to look at the facts — we will have no issues with environmental concerns.”
The Lexington stockyards sells on Mondays and Tuesdays and should not interfere with traffic coming into the Kentucky Horse Park, which typically has events on the weekends. “We are updating a traffic study that was done more than a decade ago,” Akers said Friday.
Officials with the Kentucky Horse Park did not immediately return calls seeking comment Friday.
Tom Prather, the mayor of Georgetown, attended the news conference Friday. Some Scott County officials opposed the stockyard’s move to Ironworks in 2003 because the proposed sales pavilion was in the Royal Spring aquifer.
The Royal Spring, an underground stream fed by rainwater, is the primary source of water for Scott County. According to a development plan filed Tuesday with city officials, the proposed sales pavilion has been moved to a site over a ridge and away from Royal Spring. The 2003 plan had the sales pavilion closer to the aquifer.
Prather said Friday that representatives of Georgetown, Scott County and Royal Spring aquifer committee have just begun “discussion of our due diligence that we would like to do — just to review the science, evaluate this economic opportunity that’s very important for Central Kentucky by looking at the science, the data, the engineering that will go into the project.”
Prather said Blue Grass Stockyards officials have been forthcoming about their plans. But Scott County has to ensure that its water supply is safe before it can endorse the stockyard’s move.
“We would like to be in a supportive stance of this very important project,” Prather said. “We have pledged that we will focus on the science, the engineering, to assure ourselves that our aquifer is safe.”