Great cities have great parks: Gray shares vision for Town Branch Park
Fundraising for the planned 10-acre Town Branch Park behind Rupp Arena has netted more than $5 million in pledges to date, city officials announced Monday.
The Blue Grass Community Foundation, which has spear-headed efforts to raise money for the downtown park, says its goal is to reach $22 million pledged in the next three years. About $30 million is needed to build the park, which supporters say will be a destination that connects with 22 miles of walking and biking trails. The new green space will also augment a proposed overhaul and expansion of the Lexington convention center.
The city also released modified and more detailed plans for the proposed park, which will sit on land that is now a parking lot for Rupp Arena.
The space includes trails, a great lawn of more than an acre that will double as an amphitheater, a water play area and a wooded play area. The design, by New York landscaping company SCAPE, also includes space for a restaurant and concession stand that could be used to generate revenue to pay for the park’s operations.
The Town Branch creek, which is underground in the area, will be visible but not accessible to the public because of concerns about water quality, said Kate Orff, founder of SCAPE, which won a 2013 design contest to build the park.
Plans call for boardwalks to go over Town Branch so people can see the creek but not get in the water. The water play area will use treated water, not water from the Town Branch, Orff said.
“Every great American city has a great park,” Orff said. “We are very excited for this park to put Lexington in a competitive environment … This kind of park space is going to be a big draw for families and businesses.”
The $5 million was raised by the Town Branch Park advisory board, which is chaired by Ann Bakhaus, president of alcoholic beverage distributor Kentucky Eagle. The group will now expand it’s fundraising city-wide, said Allison Lankford, special counsel for the Blue Grass Foundation. The Town Branch Park nonprofit is housed at the foundation but will eventually become a stand-alone nonprofit.
Bakhaus said the park will be built with private funds but will offer programming to the public for free. Plans also call for private security to patrol the park.
“We will have the cleanest public restrooms in the city,” Bakhaus joked.
The names of donors were released Tuesday but not the amounts of individual donations.
Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, who has pushed for years to build the park and overhaul the convention center and Rupp Arena, said the new public space will anchor the city’s popular Legacy Trail and Town Branch Trail, and help attract workers for area businesses and the University of Kentucky.
“I loved it before and I love it more now,” Gray said. “This is for our citizens today and for future generations. It really represents a connector between the downtown and the university in a really meaningful way.”
The city is in the process of finishing the last few miles of the Town Branch Trail, which will enter the park under the Oliver Lewis Way bridge. The trail will then proceed up Vine Street to the corner of Main Street and Midland Avenue, then connect with the Legacy Trail at Midland Avenue and Third Street.
Construction on parts of the Town Branch trail through downtown will begin sometime in 2018, said Jonathan Hollinger, a project manager for the city.
Lexington Center Corporation, which oversees the convention center and Rupp Arena, has not released final designs or a timetable for the overhaul and expansion of the convention center. Construction on Town Branch Park won’t begin until the convention center is completed, which will likely take at least 18 months to finish. The area where the park would sit will likely be used as a staging area for the convention center construction.
Construction on the park also can’t begin until 70 percent of the funds have been raised, Lankford said.
Plans for the park include removing the Jefferson Street viaduct that connects High and Main streets. Traffic from the Jefferson Street bridge could be re-routed to the Oliver Lewis Way bridge, which opened in 2010.
The state transportation cabinet, which controls the bridge, has hired a consultant to do a traffic study of the traffic impacts of taking down the bridge, said Environmental Quality and Public Works Commissioner Dowell Hoskins-Squier.
The study should be completed soon and a proposal to transfer ownership of the viaduct from the state to the city could come before the Urban County Council as early as August, Hoskins-Squier said.
There is not timetable for removing the bridge, she said.
2017 gifts to Town Branch Park
Bakhaus Family Foundation
Blue Grass Community Foundation
Eli and Mary Lynne Capilouto
Ford and Allison Lankford Charitable Fund
Ingram Charitable Fund
James Graham Brown Foundation
Mayor Jim Gray
Kip and Ellen Cornett
Pearse and Deidre Lyons
Stephen and Patricia Grossman
The Mt. Brilliant Foundation