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Council explores role of Commerce Lexington

Many of the members of the Urban County Council's economic development task force agreed Tuesday that Lexington needs a master plan for economic development.

But council members could not agree whether that should include more extensive urban planning, a comprehensive land use plan or a marketing campaign touting Lexington's advantages. And there is not yet consensus on what role Commerce Lexington — a private organization formed in 2004 that united the city's Chamber of Commerce and private economic development agencies — should play in the city's future economy.

Vice Mayor Jim Gray says the city and its economic developers should focus on making Lexington competitive with innovative cities nationwide, such as Madison, Wis., rather than continuing to emphasize the city's economically privileged status within Kentucky: "It is the Madisons we're competing with. It's not the Danville, Kentuckys."

Council member Diane Lawless said the city's economic and urban development plan "is not an integrated, well-formed plan because there's no one driving the bus."

The economic development task force includes all members of the council, although Tuesday's meeting included some discussion of the possibility of a smaller work group.

Council member Linda Gorton suggested the formation of an urban land management plan to control land use. Lawless suggested the possible establishment of a commissioner-level position for economic or urban development. Council member Ed Lane said the city's plan should include a marketing campaign promoting Lexington "as one of the great cities of America."

But few specifics were offered for what the task force wants Commerce Lexington to produce for the $522,170 it's expected to receive in fiscal 2010, which began July 1.

"We want to be your partner," Commerce Lexington president and chief executive officer Robert Quick told council members. He also acknowledged, though, that "we hear the frustration" of council members who wonder whether the city and its key economic development organization have a clear long-term plan for economic development.

Said council member Doug Martin, "Planning in economic development has been grossly underfunded in Lexington for decades."

Martin suggested that if Lexington wants "Cadillac economic development service," the city should be willing to pay for it.

Council member Kevin Stinnett said that at future meetings, council members will consider specifics about city money allotted to Commerce Lexington and what the city should ask in return for its investment.