The Knight Cities Challenge announced Monday that it has awarded $125,000 to create community vegetable gardens and an “adventure playscape” for children in Castlewood Park.
The grant raises to more than $912,000 the amount the Knight Cities Challenge has given to Lexington projects over the past three years.
The North Limestone Community Development Corp. applied for the grant for Plant & Play with the city’s Parks & Recreation department and three non-profit partners: Seadleaf, which develops community gardens; the Tweens Nutrition and Fitness Coalition; and Common Good, a faith-based community development group in North Lexington.
Heather Hyden, director of community and cultural initiatives at the NoLi CDC, said details of Plant & Play have yet to be worked out. “A big part of the planning process is finding out from neighbors what they want in the park,” she said.
One neighbor involved in the planning process is Anna Meeker, who has lived in the North Lexington area for 27 years.
“I love the people here,” Meeker said. “They want to help each other, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Creating community gardens in the 30-acre Castlewood Park and teaching people to grow their own food would be helpful, she said, because there are few groceries with fresh produce in parts of North Lexington.
“We definitely have a food desert, and food justice issues,” said Meeker, who has been active with Fresh Stop Markets, a project of the Tweens Coalition that organizes bi-weekly markets in the neighborhood to sell seasonal produce from local growers at affordable prices.
Although Castlewood Park has a traditional playground, more play areas are needed for children of various ages. “We have a big problem with older kids pushing little kids off the playground,” Meeker said.
Plant & Play was one of 33 projects in 18 cities to share in $5 million in grants from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The projects were chosen from among 4,500 ideas submitted from the 26 cities where the Knight brothers once owned newspapers, including the Lexington Herald-Leader. There were five other Lexington finalists.
Last year, the Knight Cities Challenge awarded two Lexington grants. The largest grant was $150,200 to a consortium of downtown groups led by the Lexington Public Library Foundation to create family-friendly activities in Phoenix Park beside Central Library.
Phoenix Forward began last Saturday with a kickoff party and will continue through June and July. Activities include Lexington Children’s Theatre performances, the Cincinnati Circus, lawn games and arts and crafts projects.
West Sixth Brewing will host a beer garden in Phoenix Park each Tuesday evening, and there will be a “family fun night” each Thursday evening with bounce houses, face painting and other kids activities. There also is a Discovery and Play Lab for children on the second floor of Central Library during regular hours.
The other grant last year was $87,200 to Lexington’s Downtown Development Authority to test concepts around the Transit Center that could be incorporated into the Town Branch Commons parks to be built there. That was done last fall.
The biggest grant Lexington has received from the Knight Cities Challenge was two years ago, and it is still waiting to be used.
NoLi CDC was awarded $550,000 to help buy a vacant 1920s bus terminal on Loudon Avenue at North Limestone Street for use as 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 its headquarters a few blocks down the street.
Because the old bus terminal was bought with federal funding, Lextran is required to sell it at fair market value. NoLi CDC and development partner Chad Needham submitted a bid in January, and it is still begin evaluated by Lextran. Needham has renovated many old homes and commercial buildings near downtown.
“In the meantime, we’ve continued to do community engagement around what the community’s needs are to inform what happens in the space,” said Griffin VanMeter, a NoLi CDC board member.