A pub and 20 townhouses will be built on a prominent vacant block on South Broadway directly across from The Lex apartments.
Developer Jeff Morgan will build the project — to be called The Village at South Broadway — on the block where the old Popeye Sign Co. building was.
Groundbreaking is planned for Saturday afternoon.
The parcel makes up an entire city block between Cedar and Pine streets.
Morgan says the development will more closely link the University of Kentucky to Rupp Arena and downtown. "I've walked that stretch of South Broadway. When the Newtown Pike extension comes in, I think it will fundamentally change the South Broadway corridor," he said.
The Newtown Pike extension is planned to cross South Broadway near Scott Street, just a few blocks south of Morgan's planned development.
"The city wants a stronger connection between the university and downtown," with more restaurants, retail and residential, Morgan said. "We see that happening on Lexington Avenue. We see it happening on Limestone. ... I think it's starting to come together on South Broadway. Our project will be a step in that direction."
Tom Martin, a senior planner in the city's planning division, said the city encourages in-fill development and density because that "takes the pressure off the urban service boundary." He also said that strengthening the link between UK and downtown acts as an economic booster.
The building that housed Popeye Sign Co. — it now is on Danforth Drive — was razed for a proposed boutique hotel that received approval from the Planning Commission about five years ago, but the project never got off the ground. The land was sold at a master commissioner's sale to Traditional Bank, which held the mortgage.
Morgan paid $2.1 million for 1 acre, and he said the high cost required a mixed-use development. "It's too expensive just for all residential," he said. PBI Bank in Louisville will provide financing for the pub, Morgan said. Community Bank and Bank of the Bluegrass will finance the residences.
The three-story townhouses will be slightly more than 2,100 square feet, with upscale kitchens, hardwood floors and garages. They will start at $299,000. The target market will be young professionals and university staff and faculty.
The pub will be called Jefferson Davis Inn after one of Lexington's most beloved music clubs. Fondly called the JDI, the club at West High Street and South Limestone closed in 1984, was revived in the 1990s and closed again in 1997. "People who drank there ... and have heard about what we are doing are so excited" that JDI will be brought back to life, he said.
Morgan wants the pub "to feel like Lexington."
"I'm not building an Irish pub, because I'm not Irish. I'm not building an English pub, because I'm not English," he said. "I want people to go in and know they are in Lexington."
Morgan graduated from Transylvania University in 1996 and immediately went into construction. He has built single-family houses, townhouses and apartments in several locations, including Red Mile Road.
He is a mason by trade and said the townhouses and pub will have brick detail similar to that found in the Wellington Arms building at East Main Street and Woodland Avenue, plus brickwork that he has seen in Amsterdam, "a mecca for eye-candy masonry."
Morgan's twin brother, Jason, and their mother, Karen Morgan, who owned pubs in Louisville, will own and run the pub.
Morgan said he has worked since spring 2009 to put his project together, including getting financing, securing approval from the Planning Commission and working with a deed restriction put on the land by the adjoining Historic South Hill Neighborhood Association. His parcel is not included in the historic overlay district.
Hayward Wilkirson, president of the neighborhood association, said his group put a deed restriction on the land when it was owned by the former developer "to ensure that the plans the developer presented to us — as far as height and scale and setback — conformed very closely to the development plans they showed us."
Wilkirson said South Hill residents are supportive of Morgan's plan.