Owners have plans for Turfland Mall property

Owners of Turfland Mall are going forward with plans to redevelop the site of Lexington's oldest enclosed shopping center as a mixed-use project for office, retail and residential tenants.

Tentative plans also call for a 15,000-square-foot public art space to be used for exhibitions.

Rubloff Development Group has filed preliminary development plans with the city's planning staff and announced that they will seek tax increment financing to improve public infrastructure at the Harrodsburg Road property.

The public will get a chance to see architectural renderings at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Oleika Shrine Temple on Southland Drive. "People will have a chance to look at it, kick the tires and ask questions," said 10th District Councilman Doug Martin.

On hand will be Zach Knutson, chief operating officer of the Rubloff Development Group, based in Rockford, Ill., which bought the mall in the 1990s.

Preliminary plans filed Jan. 4 with the city's division of planning will be reviewed by the Planning Commission's technical committee on Jan. 27.

"That's where we have engineering, the sewer folks, traffic, solid waste, utilities, the fire department all look at the plans, see if they have any issues and get their questions answered," said Tom Martin, senior planner in the division of planning.

"Basically, we want to see how the development fits the space, how things like parking, drainage and internal circulation will work," he said.

Plans then go to the subdivision committee on Feb. 4 to be certified that the proposed redevelopment is in compliance with Lexington's comprehensive land-use plan, said Lexington attorney Chris Westover, representing Rubloff.

The two meetings will each be at 8:30 a.m. in the division of planning's conference room in the Phoenix Building.

Rubloff will seek tax increment funding to pay for the extensive amount of public infrastructure needed to make the plan work, both physically and financially, Knutson said in a phone interview.

Lexington is under a federally mandated Environmental Protection Agency consent decree to correct problems with storm and sanitary sewer systems. Adding to storm sewer problems is the amount of impervious surface in Fayette County.

An impervious surface prevents water from soaking into the ground. Examples include roofs, roads, sidewalks and parking lots.

The Turfland property is "one of the larger impervious areas in all of Lexington," Knutson said. The new design calls for replacing asphalt with pervious pavers and adding more landscaping to absorb storm water.

Slated to be named Turfland Town Center, plans call for razing the enclosed part of Turfland Mall, between the former Dillard's space and Home Depot.

New construction includes a three-story, mixed-use building with office space, retail areas and a parking garage, plus another building with retail and residential space.

Two additional office buildings will go at the rear of the mall property.

This will be the first major change for Turfland since Rubloff bought the property in the late 1990s. After the company purchased the mall, it began extensive renovations, but as the years went by, mall tenants pulled out, eventually leading to its current, almost empty state.

Knutson said in an interview last fall that the redevelopment plan is contingent on finding a major anchor tenant to take the 165,000 square feet of space formerly occupied by Dillard's, which closed in early 2008, sounding the death knell for the mall.

Jeff Stidham, president of Stidham Commercial Partners, which is heading up efforts to lease office space, said Tuesday that two prospective tenants have been identified for the former department store.

"We're not far enough down the road with either to make an announcement," he said. One would be the consolidation of a "large, well-known company with locations already here. The other is a well-known national firm that has locations all over the United States," he said.

Under the proposed plan, the Dillard's building will be renovated into "class A office space," Stidham said, and will look "substantially different than it does today."

C.J. May, president of May Commercial Group, is working on attracting a mix of retailers for the site. "Under the plan we have now, the driving force is the office-space component, then filling in retail around it."

Possible public space for art would be a major plus for the project, Stidham said. "Art exhibits are a huge draw for a community," he said, adding that the Smithsonian Institution has more than 25 exhibits traveling the country. Most are too large for existing facilities in Lexington.

Jim Clark, executive director of the Lexington Arts Council, said exhibition space in a suburban, commercial development "would put the arts out in the mainstream ... outside the urban core," attracting a new audience not inclined to come downtown.

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