Fayette County

Community gardens suggested for East End

Last summer, residents of Lexington's East End were encouraged to dream big dreams for their neighborhood.

The people said they wanted more economic opportunities in their area, to improve quality of life in a variety of ways, such as eliminating drug dealers and creating more genuinely affordable housing.

Now, a blueprint for revitalizing the East End is ready to be unveiled at a community meeting.

Urban planner Edward Holmes, whose consulting firm EHI was hired to come up with the The East End Small Area Plan, said it sets social and economic goals for redevelopment of the neighborhood.

"This is where residents have to take control. We are giving them a blueprint," he said. "Nothing is going to change overnight, but once the Planning Commission adopts the plan, the drivers of the plan will be the residents."

Residents will get to see the plan at a meeting Monday night. Then they can work with their Urban County Council representative, Andrea James, and council members-at-large to tackle infrastructure issues such as getting sidewalks, curbs, gutters and storm sewers in areas where they are lacking, Holmes said.

James said she saw "so much opportunity" for the Third Street corridor, where a more inviting marketplace is envisioned. She said retail is an important part of the plan.

She said some of the things they heard from neighborhood residents were "we need a place to have birthday parties" and "we need a place to have fresh food."

She said it is ironic that an area of town with the highest percent of people who don't have access to a car also has one of the highest obesity rates. But she said what is available within walking distance is lot of pre-packaged food that is not as healthy as fresh produce.

She said she also wants to make a "big push for community gardens" to improve people's diets.

The East End grew up after the Civil War as a mostly black neighborhood. It was there that Lexington's first racetrack was built, hence the name Race Street.

By the early 1900s, the center of the East End was DeWeese Street, where for several years the Lyric Theatre presented black entertainers.

During this period, East Third Street became a popular commercial area with many small businesses, including a drugstore and a bakery. But, since the 1960s, population has declined and businesses have closed.

The top 10 neighborhood priorities identified in the plan are:

■ Create a community development corporation to guide redevelopment.

■ Retain the Charles Young Center and come up with plans for using it.

■ Restore the Lyric Theatre.

■ Initiate a beautification and tree-planting program.

■ Ask the Division of Historic Preservation to do a historic survey of the area and identify significant sites with historic markers.

■ Construct signs and hang banners identifying boundaries and major East End thoroughfares such as Elm Tree Lane and East Third Street.

■ Create an infrastructure plan covering sidewalks, streets and storm-water sewers.

■ Provide more streetlights.

■ Find ways to build more affordable housing.

■ Complete the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden and connect it to the Legacy Trail bike path that will connect Lexington with the Kentucky Horse Park.

Also involved in creating the plan were Urban Collage, an urban design firm, and Wilbur Smith & Associates, traffic engineers.

"Some of these are pretty easy, like have a cleanup campaign, start a beautification program and plant trees," Holmes said.

Others take more work, he said.

Critical to making major changes is forming a community development corporation that tackles large projects, including bringing new commercial establishments to East Third and revitalizing that corridor, Holmes said.

The corporation functions like a small development company to buy and sell land and team up with private developers to build affordable housing.

"It can look for funding like tax credits, tax increment financing, city and state money and private funds," Holmes said.

Creating a development corporation is one of the hardest goals because it takes funding and staff. However, Holmes said cities such as Cincinnati have several of these community corporations. "It's certainly doable," he said.

A similar recommendation was made by Jackie Turner, the lead consultant for the Central Sector Small Area Plan, unveiled recently. She preached the need for "a central sector czar," a full-time person dedicated to helping improve inner city neighborhoods.

"It has to be more than a person in the planning department spending 10 hours of a 40-hour work week working on the central sector," she said.

Holmes reiterated, "When the residents get behind the plan, their support empowers their district council person and council members-at-large to support their requests. Residents can make these recommendations happen."