Tom Eblen: Unique development project opens in Gardenside neighborhood

Parkside, a new development in Gardenside built on a 6-acre site that was formerly the Cross Keys YWCA, will have 36 affordable apartments and the offices of two social service agencies.
Parkside, a new development in Gardenside built on a 6-acre site that was formerly the Cross Keys YWCA, will have 36 affordable apartments and the offices of two social service agencies.

In the early 1960s, this place was the Cabana Club, and 5-year-old Holly Wiedemann came here to learn how to skate on Lexington's only ice rink.

In the early 1970s, it was The Aquatic Club, and Wiedemann came here to swim with the Greater Lexington Swim Association and play on the adjacent putt-putt miniature golf course.

Now, this 6.2-acre site in southwest Lexington's Gardenside neighborhood is called Parkside, a stylish new development whose first phase opened last week with 36 beautiful apartments for low-income people and offices for two social service agencies.

Parkside required creating a complicated network of public-private partnerships and financing, and it was organized and built by Holly Wiedemann.

Wiedemann, 56, is president of AU Associates, a Lexington development company that specializes in restoring old buildings and converting distressed properties into affordable housing. Over the past 21 years, the company has done $63 million worth of projects throughout Kentucky and in West Virginia with 350 housing units and more than 100,000 square feet of commercial space.

Many previous AU Associates projects have involved creating affordable housing by restoring old school buildings in small towns. She also developed the upscale Artek Lofts on Old Georgetown Street and is now working on The Bread Box, which involves converting an old Rainbo Bread bakery on Jefferson Street into a craft brewery, artist studios and the Broke Spoke Community Bicycle Shop.

Parkside was different than most AU Associates projects. Rather than "adaptive use" — that's what AU stands for — of an existing building, the old swim and skating facility had to be demolished. Parkside's three new, connected structures were built on the former putt-putt course.

Gardenside has changed a lot in the decades since it was a new, upscale development, then on the edge of Lexington. Back then, Wiedemann could ride her pony to the club from her family's farm at the end of Beacon Hill Road.

The YWCA acquired the private swim club in 1977 and operated the pool and a fitness center until early 2006, when it abruptly closed because of the organization's financial problems. After dropping affiliation with the national organization, the YWCA became the Brenda D. Cowan Coalition for Kentucky, named for a firefighter killed while responding to a domestic-violence situation.

The coalition's plans to turn the center into affordable housing stalled, and vandalism and neglect made the facility irreparable and a threat to neighbors in the 1960s-era apartment buildings around it. AU Associates acquired the property and put together the deal to build Parkside.

Parkside's one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments will rent from $500 to $700 per month to individuals and families earning 60 percent or less of the area median income. The apartments feature energy-saving construction and appliances, plus fancy design touches rarely seen in low-income housing.

Wiedemann said the project created 108 direct jobs, and she tried to use local suppliers when possible. For example, all of the kitchen cabinets were made by a small company near Hodgenville.

The buildings' first floors will house rent-free offices for two non-profit organizations: Bluegrass Domestic Violence and Sunflower Kids, which works to help children maintain safe relationships with non-custodial parents.

Parkside was financed by Citizens Union Bank of Shelbyville, affordable housing tax credits and trust funds from the Kentucky Housing Corp., the Community Affordable Housing Equity Corp. and the city's Division of Community Development. City Studios Architecture of Cincinnati designed the contemporary-style project. If Parkside is successful, an additional phase is planned on the adjacent swim-club site.

"What I think you have here is market-rate housing at an affordable price," said Mark Offerman of the Kentucky Housing Corp. "It's some of the nicest in the neighborhood."

At Parkside's dedication last Wednesday, Mayor Jim Gray also hailed it as a great example of urban infill redevelopment that revitalizes neighborhoods and preserves Lexington's unique farmland by avoiding suburban sprawl.

"Whatever Holly Wiedemann touches is going to have a transformative effect on our city," Gray said. "Holly has this extraordinary sense of great design. When we build a city around great design, it lasts a long time."

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