Editorials

Theater redo, new multiplex would boost downtown, UK

Former vice mayor Isabel Yates discusses the fund-raising drive for improvements at the 90-year-old Kentucky Theatre Wednesday,
Former vice mayor Isabel Yates discusses the fund-raising drive for improvements at the 90-year-old Kentucky Theatre Wednesday, Herald-Leader

Downtown Lexington is awash in movie theater news this week. Let's hope the flood continues.

The Downtown Development Authority said Tuesday that it's begun conversations with two experienced theater operators about building a multiplex on city-owned property downtown.

Yesterday, the Kentucky Theatre announced plans to raise $1.5 million to upgrade and renovate the 90-year-old downtown landmark.

It's only common sense to locate a multi-screen theater within walking distance of the University of Kentucky's 20,000 students.

Jeff Fugate, executive director of the DDA, said his group is not thinking of a suburban mall plopped downtown but of a project with more appropriate architectural characteristis and more amenitiies, such as table service in some theaters, a restaurant, possibly an IMAX screen.

Downtown is unique, he said, and "we want an entertainment facility that's something you can't get elsewhere."

Such a facility can only benefit UK by offering much-needed entertainment options for students. The city can gain, too, by capturing some student dollars in the city's core, and attracting more people downtown for films.

The two locations — the surface parking lots that sit atop the Lexington Transit Center Parking Garage, and surface parking lot between Vine and Water Streets — share the advantage of the 700-plus parking places in the garage. That garage is virtually empty evenings and weekends when the demand would be greatest for theatergoers.

As for the Kentucky, Fugate said it's art-house offerings are not too likely to conflict with the blockbusters a multiplex would show.

However, he added that protecting the Kentucky's niche is something "we are very cognizant of." Before any deals are done, "we have to feel comfortable that this doesn't eat their (the Kentucky's) lunch," he added.

There's a long way to go on both these projects. The DDA is in the earliest stages of talking to and reviewing the qualifications and ideas of theater developers. The Friends of the Kentucky Theater has a lot of money to raise to meet its goal.

However, the two projects represent the great potential of a downtown that protects and revitalizes its historic assets while leveraging under-used property to create a livelier, more economically vital environment.

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