Ace’s Sunday editorial referenced the organic, grassroots nature of two growing Lexington districts — the Distillery District and the East End legacy project. With more than 30 employees, Buster’s (in the Distillery District) is already contributing to Lexington’s most important source of revenue: payroll taxes. The Distillery District is struggling to maintain its funding; there was a Rally at Buster’s on Monday; and more supporters showed up at LFUCG’s Tuesday worksession. The Ace Sunday editorial
reminded organizers: do not overestimate LFUCG’s embrace of technology — whether it’s Facebook or iPetitions, or email campaigns. With a few exceptions, their style remains old school, and as such, they still respond to two things: real letters signed by real constituents, with return addresses in their districts; and constituents-in-theseats — in front of them.
Nowhere was this more evident than the Tates Creek Sidewalk Debate this past summer. Supporters wrote letters and showed up (as did the opposition) — and the end result is that Tates Creek is getting sidewalks. After stern admonishments from Council Member Jay McChord encouraging everyone assembled at LFUCG not to get too territorial with any “individual” projects in the face of the LFUCG budget shortfalls and crisis management, and to recognize the “timing factors” in upcoming “tough decisions,”
Distillery District supporters were granted the floor at a little before 6 pm at Tuesday’s LFUCG worksession to make the case for funding prior to the December 3 Council meeting.
“Today is All About the Money”
Jessica Case, proprietor of Buster’s (living in Council Member James’s district, with a business in Council Member Blues’s district):
“We are proof that the Lexington Distillery District can work. We have breathed new life into a building that has since construction been an integral part of our history and social fabric. And when the Distillery District realizes its full potential, it will be full of
businesses that have done the same thing. And we all know this is a good thing. But as Mr. McChord said, we aren’t here today because there’s some question about whether the Distillery District is a good thing. We are here because you all are faced with some tough choices about funding. As a business owner who’s dealing with challenges brought out by these tough economic I completely understand your position. Today is all about the money. I urge you, as you’re looking down that long list of projects, and trying to decide where to make cuts, that you think about which of these projects will bring this city money in return for the investment you are being asked to make. And the simple fact is that the Distillery District will bring Lexington money. It already is.
In renovating the Old Tarr building and outfitting it for Buster’s, my husband and I invested three quarters of a million dollars.
- A substantial amount of this went to local supply businesses and contractors and to licensing fees (a portion of which end up back in our local government);
- We spend money with local advertisers and local vendors
- We donate our space to local charities so they can raise money for their various causes
- We put money back into the community with jobs; we employ more than 30 people, which means that Buster’s and the Distillery District are not only providing much-needed jobs for Lexington, we are providing a revenue stream in the form of payroll taxes. This money is immediate…
Keep the $3.2 million in bonded funding for the Distillery District.”
Clark Case, Buster’s owner “Why the Distillery District should remain on the bonded project list:
1. The Lexington Distillery District is already a reality. Buster’s is proving that. Having been open less than three months, we have already sold more than 10,000 tickets to events (that doesn’t count the free shows and charity events hosted on the 7 days a
week Buster’s has been open since September 4. More than 20,000 people have already come for entertainment, charity events, fundraisers, and other civic functions to the Lexington Distillery District. And that’s only accounting for one enterprise that’s
been open for three months in a blighted area with little or no infrastructure.
2. Tremendous Potential. Buster’s stands at the future gateway between downtown and the Distillery District. But the infrastructure will extend that reality to dozens of other enterprises.
3. Originality. The Distillery District offers Lexington something different and compelling that can attract visitors and revenue from nearby cities like Louisville, Cincinnati and even Nashville.”
Nathan Cryder cited the community support, the Creative Class implications, the 3000+ facebook group members, and the Stimulus watchdog site that open-sourced listings of projects worthy of funding: for the first two months the site was up, Lexington
Distillery District was voted “number one most essential in the country. That wasn’t even reported in any of the papers to my knowledge.” (It was reported in Ace.)
Dan Rowland, representing Progress Lexington listed Progress Lexington’s six values the Distillery District lines up with:
1. “A unique and engaging downtown marked by design excellence” (Distillery District design is based on “real history, not an imagined history of some other place.”)
2. “A growing economy based on environmental sustainability” (“Distillery District attracts the kind of people who will create the economy we want.”)
3. “Social Justice”
4. “Accessible arts and entertainment community”
5. “Government transparency and accountability”
6. “Meaningful citizen participation.”
Allison Carter, lives and works in Gratz Park, representing Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation, and said: “This project is especially important not only because it revitalizes a special area of the city and brings new life, but because it embraces our
unique heritage, and promotes the preservation of our historic buildings and landscapes, specifically the McConnnell stone house. We feel this is a pivotal step in the right direction.” She added, “on a more personal note: People like me—young professionals— don’t stay in cities for our McMansion neighborhoods and shopping centers. We stay because of places like the Distillery District.”
Barbara Huber, who co-owns Central Equipment Company (a family business with 35 employees) is a Distillery District partner. She told the Council, “It’s a great economic development project for our city. We have lots of interest from different companies
that want to move to the Lexington Distillery District and they want to see that our city is behind us. And we do too.”
Barry McNees, Developer, Distillery District told Council Members, “To the point that Jay McChord made—I don’t think there’s anyone that doubts this is a community project, that this is publicly supported— the issue that was made tonight [timeframe]. The request we made for $3.2 million was whittled down from what we considered to be absolutely essential $18 million in infrastructure to make this go.” It’s a “real economic development opportunity. Not blue sky.”
How Bout Now?
Debra Hensley (former Council Member), board member of Kentucky Conference of Community and Justice KCCJ signed a letter of intent a year ago to locate in the Lexington Distillery District. Kentucky Center for Social Innovation will be a “multitenant center, filled with vibrant, socially innovative non-profit leaders, social entrepreneurs, environmental enterprises, small business incubators, and socially responsible for-profit enterprises.” “Opportunities do not wait for the best moment. When opportunities
knock, we must seize the moment. The Lexington Distillery District and the Town Branch Trail are vital to our community.”
Architect Graham Pohl referenced decades of experience in urban planning study, says, “The synergy between the Town Branch Trail and the Distillery District is unprecedented.”
Van Meter Pettit, Town Branch Trail “Council Member McChord discussed Time and Money. How long has IrishTown been waiting for some investment? How long has Manchester Street been waiting? How many decades have we had massive, beautiful, rare,
industrial properties unused? Not making money? Not generating revenue? Now we have a partnership that has waited patiently through TIF approval, and if this city doesn’t put some skin in the game, how do they expect private entities to risk their own dollars?... If we want to ever catch up with Boulder or Madison—all these nice places that we’ve all traveled to—it starts Now.”
Patrick Jeffreys, a co-founder at the Bourbon Chase, wrapped up the supporters’ comments, advises the remaining Council Members, “Bourbon tourism as a whole is big, and it’s getting bigger. I challenge you to help Lexington secure its place at the head of
the Bourbon Trail.”