Lexington is close to creating a public-private partnership to build and maintain a park through downtown that links to the suburbs.
Cities from Louisville and Indianapolis to New York and Chicago have used this approach to revive neglected urban parks — Central Park in New York is a prime example — and to build iconic new parks such as Chicago's Millennium Park and the High Line in Manhattan.
In Louisville, 21stCentury Parks has been working for over a decade to realize the original Olmstead plan for a circle of parks around the city connected by a park drive.
The idea has arisen in Lexington as a way to help fund the proposed Town Branch Commons linear park, connecting smaller ones, through the city's urban core.
A public partnership — including $10 million from the city, a $13 million federal grant and $1 million from LexTran — would build the infrastructure while the foundation would raise money to build, equip and maintain the parks.
Mayor Jim Gray has proposed the city allocate $180,000 to hire the Bluegrass Community Foundation to spearhead fund-raising.
Members of the Urban County Council have questioned spending public money to launch a private fund-raising campaign. Those who represent districts outside downtown also say their constituents would like some help for parks in their neighborhoods, too.
The concerns, while responsible and appropriate, should not stop this project. Downtown is legitimately an asset for the entire community.
People from all over Fayette County go there for the Fourth of July, Wildcat basketball games and other entertainment at Rupp Arena, the Opera House and other venues, not to mention the Downtown Farmers Market, the Race for the Cure and dozens of other civic gatherings. Investing in downtown is investing in the entire community.
Ultimately, cyclists and pedestrians will be able to take Town Branch from the Masterson Station area through the city's core and connect to the Legacy Trail, which runs all the way to the Kentucky Horse Park. It would be a great recreational asset for the region as well as a real transportation alternative for people who don't want to drive, or can't afford to.
Hiring the foundation to handle private fund-raising only makes sense. The goal is to raise $50 million and that's a long-haul effort that demands ongoing professional focus.
The city commonly outsources many efforts to outside agencies, including economic development. Handing over fund-raising reduces the opportunity for, or appearance of, trading public favors for private contributions.
This approach is ambitious and complex, and while new to Lexington, it has produced remarkable, even transformative projects in other cities.
We can do it here.