The nonprofit North Limestone Community Development Corp. will get a $550,000 grant to help turn a former Greyhound bus station into a public market and local food hub focused on the surrounding neighborhood.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is announcing the grant Tuesday as part of its first Knight Cities Challenge.
The foundation split $5 million among 32 projects it thinks can attract talent, improve economic opportunity and increase civic engagement in 12 of the 26 cities where the Knight brothers once owned newspapers, including the Lexington Herald-Leader. Winners were chosen from 125 finalists culled from 7,000 proposals.
The goal of the NoLi CDC project is to make locally grown food more available in the low-income neighborhood, which has been experiencing a renaissance in recent years with an influx of young, entrepreneurial and community-minded residents.
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The market also would provide stalls and shared infrastructure for "makers" and other entrepreneurs in the neighborhood who want to start businesses, said Richard Young and Kris Nonn, the NoLi CDC's two staff members.
The NoLi CDC has shown the potential for a public market in the neighborhood by sponsoring a monthly Night Market on the lower block of Bryan Avenue, between West Loudon and North Limestone.
Several thousand people came out to each of the festivallike markets last year, and about half the merchants and vendors were from the neighborhood. The first Night Market of 2015 will be 7 to 10 p.m. Friday.
Bahia Ramos, a program director with the Miami-based Knight Foundation, said she "really had a blast" when she attended a Night Market last year.
"There was such a diverse cross-section of people, and a genuine outpouring of good energy and creativity," she said. "We wanted to be a catalyst to help grow that out."
The NoLi CDC's focus has been creating entrepreneurial opportunities for people to live and work in the North Limestone corridor.
Another of its projects is the York Street "makers spaces" — renovated 1920s shotgun houses where makers can live and work. That project, which is applying for a new type of city zoning, received a major grant last year from ArtPlace America, which focuses on encouraging "creative placemaking" in communities.
NoLi CDC hopes to put its public market and food hub in a huge Art Deco building on West Loudon Avenue, a block from the Night Market site. The only problem is that it doesn't own the vacant building, which has nearly 104,000 square feet on 2.4 acres.
Built in 1928, it was the headquarters of Southeast Greyhound Lines until 1960. The building is now owned by the Lexington Transit Authority, which wanted to demolish it for a new headquarters. Lextran later decided to build a facility nearby, and the old building has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Lextran officials wrote a letter supporting the NoLi CDC's grant application. Lextran plans to solicit sealed bids for the building within six months, spokeswoman Jill Barnett said
Acquiring and then renovating the building, which will cost several million dollars, are some of the challenges to be overcome, Young and Nonn said. But the Knight grant will give them working capital to get the project started.
Multitenant public markets have been very successful in many cities, Young said, noting such examples as Findlay Market in Cincinnati and Mercado La Paloma in Los Angeles.
"A lot of times you hear people talk about starting a business as 'taking the plunge,'" Nonn said. "This would mitigate the risk associated with that" by providing shared facilities, a shopper base and other support services.
Theoretically, these projects would allow a neighborhood resident to start a business in his or her home, graduate to a market stall and eventually grow enough to have a shop in the neighborhood.
Young and Nonn worked closely with Ashton Potter, the city's new local food coordinator, to make plans for the public market to also serve as an aggregation, processing and sales point for Central Kentucky farmers. It would include a commercial kitchen that entrepreneurs could rent to test or produce food products.
"This building that is going to be coming up for sale can go to a use that is incredibly beneficial for the neighborhood," Young said. "Lifting the access barrier to entrepreneurial activity is something that's really important."