A proposed three-story building on East Third Street that would include a pizza place, a coffee shop, other retail space and apartments on the top floors would be the first in a multi-building redevelopment project along the Midland Avenue corridor in Lexington.
Developers plan to file a zone change application soon for a vacant parcel of land at East Third Street and Nelson Avenue. If that zoning change is approved this fall by the Urban County Planning Commission, construction could start in January. The building would be completed in fall 2017, developers said this week.
The Community Ventures building is part of a larger redevelopment of Midland Avenue and Lexington’s east side that will use tax-increment financing: new taxes generated from the development to pay for infrastructure costs. Another part of the redevelopment includes a new mixed-use building on a vacant lot at Main and Vine streets.
Kevin Smith, CEO and president of Community Ventures, a nonprofit, said the organization has worked with east end residents to determine what types of retail is needed. Smaller groups concentrating on key areas including history and heritage, food and arts and entertainment have met for more than a year.
That area of town has few food options. Affordable housing also is a need, Smith said.
Of the 16 planned apartments, five would have rents below market rates, Smith said. He said if the group receives money from the city’s affordable housing program or other grant money, rents for those five apartments would be between $400 and $600. The remaining market-rate apartments would be between $900 and $1,000 a month. The apartments would be one or two bedrooms.
“There will be no difference between the affordable and market-rate apartments,” said Phil Holoubek, a developer who is acting as a consultant for Community Ventures.
The first floor would have 5,500 to 6,500 feet of retail space. Plans call for three retail or restaurant spaces. Holoubek said a pizza place and a coffee shop have expressed interest in two of the three spaces. Both are locally owned, Holoubek said.
“And the coffee shop will be directly across Nelson Avenue from Isaac Murphy (Memorial Art Garden), which is a great place for people to congregate and relax before they go on the Legacy Trail or the soon-to-be built Town Branch Commons,” Holoubek said.
The Isaac Murphy art garden is on one end of the Legacy Trail. Eventually Town Branch Commons, a planned downtown trail more than 2 miles long with pocket parks, would connect Town Branch Trail to the Legacy Trail at Isaac Murphy.
Smith said there have been several community meetings with east end residents over the past several months to get input on the building, including a meeting Thursday at William Wells Brown Elementary School. The building would be the first of several multistory buildings along the Midland Avenue corridor in coming years.
The Community Ventures-owned brick building at Midland Avenue and Third Street will remain. Holoubek said there is interest in that building — including a restaurant that is looking at 4,000 square feet of space on the first floor.
Holoubek said two area plans for the Third Street area — in 1983 and 2009 — called for more retail on East Third Street.
“These uses have been called for on the east end for 30 years,” he said.
Thomas Tolliver, who has lived on East Third Street for more than 20 years, attended some of the Community Ventures meetings. Tolliver said he applauded Community Ventures for holding the public engagement meetings. In previous years, Community Ventures had sought input from the community, he said.
“They had created a lot of distrust because they were buying up properties for years and no one knew what they were doing,” Tolliver said. “I applaud them for engaging the community. I also applaud them for the economic development. For the east end to sustain itself, it needs more economic development.”
Tolliver said that side of town has few restaurants and needs more, but his chief concern is a lack of parking. The plans call for 16 parking spaces behind the building.
“I want those businesses to succeed,” Tolliver said. “If people have to drive around the block several times to find a parking space, they may not come back. I am also concerned that those people will take on-street parking on Nelson Avenue. What we have seen on Jefferson Street and West Sixth is residents can’t even park on their own streets any more.”
Smith said Community Ventures was silent for so long about its plans because it didn’t want to drive up property values. That had happened in other areas of town, where Community Ventures had tried to preserve property for lower-income residents. Officials didn’t want the same thing to happen again on the city’s east end, which has seen more and more outside investment in the traditionally black neighborhood.
“Gentrification happens when the neighborhood does not own its own property,” Smith said. “In the east end, more than 75 percent of the property owners don’t live there. We are trying to encourage people in the east end to buy properties through our home-ownership program.”
Smith said he shares Tolliver’s and other residents’ concerns about the lack of parking. Smith said Community Ventures is working to address the problem.
James Baker, who owns Mtani Catering, said he hopes that more businesses owned by east end residents will get space in the new development. Baker runs his catering business out of space on Squires Road.
“I have been in the restaurant business since I was 14 years old,” Baker said. “But I want to start a restaurant in the neighborhood I grew up in. I don’t want people who have capital to squeeze out east end businesses.”
Smith said east end residents and businesses are the priority. But to make the financing work for the $3.2 million building, some of the businesses must be able to pay market rents. As other buildings are developed, Community Ventures hopes to have a mix of businesses: some larger businesses and many neighborhood businesses. Community Ventures is using low-interest loans and is applying for tax credits to pay for the building.
Business owners with ties to the neighborhood stay, Smith said.
“I want this project to belong to the neighborhood, given our mission and what we are about,” Smith said. “You won’t find better people than you find in the east end.”