Six Lexington projects are finalists in $5 million Knight Cities Challenge

Six Lexington projects are among 144 finalists in this year’s $5 million Knight Cities Challenge.
Six Lexington projects are among 144 finalists in this year’s $5 million Knight Cities Challenge.

Six Lexington projects are among 144 finalists in this year’s Knight Cities Challenge, which gives a total of $5 million to urban improvement efforts around the country.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation said it received more than 4,500 proposals in the competition’s third year from Lexington and 25 other cities where the Knight brothers formerly operated newspapers, including the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The Knight Cities Challenge says it looks for ideas to “better connect local government with the public and increase voter engagement, to creating public spaces … that connect people from diverse backgrounds and contribute to economic growth.”

This year’s Lexington finalists are:

▪ Civiclex.org, a proposal by ProgressLex, a civic improvement group, and UnderMain, an arts and culture blog. This idea would involve creating a website designed to educate people about ongoing issues in Lexington and train people to contribute reporting and research to it.

Richard Young, a ProgressLex consultant who submitted the proposal, said this could include having “citizen journalists” cover city hall meetings, research how other cities are dealing with these issues and compiles links to relevant media reports and academic research.

▪ Build Up, a proposal by the NoLi CDC, which works on redevelopment of the North Limestone Street corridor. Entrepreneur Griffin VanMeter, who submitted the proposal, said the idea is to create a neighborhood-owned hardware store — perhaps a co-op or non-profit organization — to provide tools, supplies and job training for low-income residents.

▪ Plant & Play is another NoLi CDC project. It would involve building an “adventure playscape” and community garden in partnership with urban agriculture non-profit organizations in Castlewood Park. “It would continue to build on the great work city Parks and Rec is already doing at the park,” VanMeter said.

▪ Retrofitting the RETRO, a project submitted by LexArts. It wants to partner with the city’s planning department to install a temporary sculpture exhibit and permanent “artistic crosswalks” to make the Southland Drive business corridor more pedestrian friendly.

Nathan Zamarron of LexArts said the sculpture exhibit could help beautify the mid-century shopping area, which has always been popular but has seen a resurgence in recent years as young families have moved into the surrounding neighborhood.

“A festival with interactive sculptures and musical performances will invite residents and visitors to explore the neighborhood,” he said.

▪ Booths to Bricks is a project submitted by the National Main Street Center in Chicago to promote entrepreneurship by helping vendors at the popular monthly Night Market event along North Limestone open permanent stores.

▪ That High Lonesome Data, a project submitted by the Office for Creative Research of Brooklyn, N.Y., would “strengthen civic engagement by working with bluegrass musicians in Lexington to demystify civic data through song and performance rooted in Kentucky’s heritage,” the application said.

The next step for all six projects is to submit a budget with the amount of money they are seeking from the Knight Foundation.

The first year of the competition, a Lexington project received the second-largest award, $550,000, to turn an old bus depot on Loudon Avenue into a public market. Last year, two Lexington projects were Knight Cities Challenge winners. The Lexington Public Library Foundation received $150,200 for Phoenix Forward, a project to make Phoenix Park beside Central Library more family-friendly and to better integrate programming there with the library. The Lexington Downtown Development Authority got $87,200 for Parking Lot Diaries, a “civic engagement lab” in a parking lot near the Transit Center to test activities that could create vibrancy in the area as part of the planned Town Branch Commons linear park through downtown.

All three projects are in progress.

Tom Eblen: 859-231-1415, @tomeblen