Downtown group expands boundaries

The Downtown Development Authority voted to significantly expand its boundaries on Monday, increasing the area that's loosely considered downtown and where it can work with developers, individuals and neighborhoods to push their ideas and projects.

Although it has no formal authority, the DDA carries considerable clout when it puts its weight behind projects, said Harold Tate, president and CEO. "We help things happen faster and help projects get the attention they need to succeed."

"The whole function of the DDA is to promote downtown through marketing and development projects," he said.

The authority has developed marketing strategies for downtown such as sponsoring the Urban Style & Life Tour to presenting urban development seminars. The authority has tackled more complicated efforts, too, such as helping developers figure out how to use tax-increment financing and pushing for zone changes that encourage urban mixed-use development.

Areas that will now be in the DDA boundaries include:

■ Urban and historic neighborhoods on the northside of the city out to Loudon Avenue.

■ Out South Broadway to include Red Mile Road.

■ The Distillery District along Manchester Street.

■ Eastern State Hospital property.

■ The East End neighborhood out to Winchester Road.

■ The Woodland Park area going east over to pick up the west side of South Ashland Avenue.

These are areas where new development is either already occurring or there is the potential for development or redevelopment, said David Mohney, chairman of the DDA board.

The authority has been effective in bringing together city agencies such as building inspection, historic preservation, planning and engineering, Tate said.

"We get everybody to sit down at the table and hammer out solutions," Tate said.

Since it was established in 2000, the DDA has shepherded through $1 billion in downtown projects, assisted in getting 900 residential units built and more than 100 stores, bars and clubs opened. Most recently, a downtown streetscape plan was approved that will bring new sidewalks, rain gardens and water features along several downtown streets, plus a redesigned Cheapside Park with a site for Lexington Farmers Market.

Mohney said there has been a "huge" mind shift in the way downtown is viewed.

"The authority has identified downtown as a vital market that people have become very interested in, and that's due to the DDA efforts," he said. "It's been very effective in bringing attention and economic development to downtown."