Downtown business and property owners and residents met with Lexington's arena consultant on Thursday to ask questions about creation of an arts and entertainment district, including renovating or replacing the aging Rupp Arena and the too-small Lexington Center.
"The city wants to make the transition to another tier in terms of how we, and others, see the city," said architect and urban planner Gary Bates, who was hired by the city's Arena, Arts & Entertainment Task Force.
"We are approaching downtown from a wholistic standpoint," looking at how to increase the vitality of downtown and weave the 46-acre arts and entertainment district together more closely with other parts of downtown and the University of Kentucky, Transylvania University and neighborhoods surrounding downtown, Bates told Thursday's group at Buster's on Manchester Street.
The meeting came a day after Bates had presented several ideas to the task force Wednesday night, including a continuous central park running through public spaces from Cox Street to the East End; a Cat Walk between the UK campus and Rupp Arena; a "reinvention" of the arena; and a new convention center either to the west of Rupp on what is now the Cox Street parking lot or in place of the High Street parking lot.
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Stan Harvey, a principal in Urban Collage that is providing staff support to the arena task force, asked the audience the importance of festivals and special attractions in drawing people downtown.
Mike Stutland, owner of Artique in the Lexington Center, said: "I think they're critical. Look at the impact of the Cheapside pavilion and the ice skating rink. They have brought huge numbers of people downtown."
Stutland said on the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving, when the skating rink opened, he had a 65 percent increase in his gross sales.
The skating rink and the Cheapside pavilion were not big investments, but their payoff in attracting people has been huge, he said.
Debbie Long, owner of Dudley's restaurant on West Short Street, said anything done to Rupp Arena should make it inviting and accessible so people can enter from all sides. "It's important that Rupp not have a back side, but all sides be attractive," she said.
Long also suggested that the city push to increase the density of businesses on the east end of Main Street, "fill them up first before pushing west into a new arts district," she said.