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Council views Manchester Street plans

Incentives known as tax increment financing will be essential for the Distillery District project, developers told the Urban County Council on Tuesday.

”Without TIF, this project is not going to happen,“ said Brooke Asbell, a partner in the project to create an entertainment district.

The reason is that the streets west of Lexington Center must be improved, electric lines will have to be buried and drainage problems must be solved for redevelopment to happen.

”The cost to do that ... is where the economics end up not working for us,“ Asbell told the council.

Tax increment financing would allow developers to recover money spent for such public improvements from the new tax revenue generated over time by their project.

The size of the public commitment to the project isn't known because the data is incomplete, Asbell said. Once feasibility studies are finished, developers will return to the council with a TIF request.

For that reason, he wanted to prepare the council by presenting an overview of the project Tuesday.

TIF, which has never been used in Lexington, first came to public notice earlier this year when developers of the proposed $250 million CentrePointe project said they might need as much as $70 million in TIF incentives.

Later estimates put the TIF total closer to $35 million, but that total might not be final.

The Distillery District, first announced last year by majority partner Barry McNees, would be along Manchester Street roughly between Cox Street and Forbes Road.

Two former distilleries, bourbon warehouses and new buildings likely to be built in the area would contain restaurants, entertainment venues, loft apartments, businesses and offices.

The area might have a bourbon museum, a working distillery and other attractions that would qualify it to be added to Kentucky's Bourbon Trail, a network of seven distilleries that have become tourist attractions.

Asbell described the Manchester area today as ”blighted,“ ”scary“ and ”not very appealing or attractive, but the elements are there for a reclamation project.“

The former distilleries are just west of the planned Newtown Pike Extension and could become a new gateway to the city with the planned improvements, he said.

One goal would be to get the area closest to the Newtown Pike Extension redeveloped in time for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games at the Kentucky Horse Park in 2010.

Stan Harvey, a principal in the urban planning firm of Urban Collage Inc., said the effect of the Distillery District would be to extend downtown Lexington to the west.

The project would be anchored by the former Old Tarr Distillery on the east and the former James E. Pepper Distillery on the west. New development could occur around and between those bookends.

Harvey said the developers envision the district as ”a pretty unique and dynamic ... 24-hour place“ that would have ”one of the best restaurant sites in the city“ along the Town Branch, which flows near the former distilleries.

Asbell said the developers expect to hold a Distillery District community forum in late July or early August that would explain the project.

”If you can tell people what you are doing and take the mystery out of it,“ you are more likely to get their cooperation, he said.

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