Fayette County

East End development plan includes help center for non-profit groups

The Charles Young Center, right,  would be adjacent to  a new development called The Incubator at the corner of East Third and Midland Avenue. The Incubator is a planned mixed use development in the East End of downtown that is currently undergoing revitalization.
The Charles Young Center, right, would be adjacent to a new development called The Incubator at the corner of East Third and Midland Avenue. The Incubator is a planned mixed use development in the East End of downtown that is currently undergoing revitalization.

A center to help non-profit groups get started is expected to open in April as part of a larger revitalization project for the East End neighborhood in downtown Lexington, the Kentucky Conference for Community Justice announced Monday.

The KCCJ plans to open The Plantory, described as a social innovation center that would help non-profits collaborate on community improvement projects while lowering their administrative costs by sharing office space, on the first floor of the Community Ventures Corp. building at East Third Street and Midland Avenue.

The Plantory is part of a larger proposal unveiled last week by Lexington developer Phil Holoubek. The preliminary plan, called The Incubator, shows a public market and commercial kitchen, a community garden and retail, residential and office space in an area bounded generally by Midland, East Third, Ann Street and East Second Street.

"We're calling it The Incubator because, to my mind, this plan is about economic development and creating jobs in the East End," said Holoubek, a downtown developer who worked with EOP Architects on developing The Incubator.

Holoubek said he volunteered his time and experience to come up with a revitalization plan, but that he does not own any of the land involved. The designated area includes privately owned land as well as city-owned property.

"We are beginning talks with residents to make sure whatever we do is in step with what they want," said Kevin Smith, president of Community Ventures, a non-profit community development organization that works to revitalize low-income neighborhoods.

Community Ventures has invested more than $4 million in the East End neighborhood in the past three years, buying several parcels of land and completing two environmental clean-up projects.

"We're waiting now for the city to issue a request for proposals for the Charles Young Center. We would like to develop the land behind the center, with other property, to have a cohesive unit," Smith said.

The building, which is owned by the city but now sits empty, would be preserved and put to a new use that meets neighborhood approval, he said.

"The neighbors' desires have to be No. 1 in making the decision of what goes in that building," Smith said. "It's imperative, because it's really their building."

Once the building's future is determined, the public market can be designed and fund-raising can begin, Smith said.

A contingent of concerned East End residents attended last Thursday's Urban County Council meeting to talk about the importance of the Charles Young Center and urge stakeholders to seek public input before making any decisions.

First District Councilman Chris Ford had said he planned to push a resolution seeking federal funds to convert the Charles Young Center into a Head Start and day-care center.

Billie Mallory, president of the William Wells Brown Neighborhood Association, said neighbors agreed with Ford's decision to withdraw his resolution on Thursday.

Holoubek said neighborhood feedback also will be solicited for the entire Incubator revitalization plan.

"We want to know what the neighbors want," he said. "The plan will be revised after we get community feedback."

As for The Plantory, it will be a 5,000-square-foot center where non-profits and social-oriented entrepreneurs can rent office space, individual desks, telephones, printers, Internet connections and other modern necessities.

"Sharing space will encourage people to talk together, network and brainstorm ideas," said KCCJ chair Shannon Stuart-Smith.

If the Plantory grows as expected in the next 18 months, the KCCJ will either build a 15,000-square- foot addition to the back of the Community Ventures building or construct a new 20,000-square-foot building, she said.

"We're really trying to break down barriers between non-profits and bring them together so they think of themselves not as individual tenants, but as a community of social innovators who can network, brainstorm and do more by working together," said KCCJ board member Debra Hensley.

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