Downtown, Dig?

My friend Jessica and her new husband came from Los Angeles to visit a few years ago (for her honeymoon - I had no idea prior to this that Central Kentucky was considered a romantic destination). They got turned around on their way to my house and drove down Main Street then back down Vine Street. When she finally arrived at my house she said, "What happened to Main Street?" She thought we had had a riot or some such violent happening because she saw so many unoccupied storefronts with broken windows and trash littering the display areas.

That's the problem and I hope I speak for us all when I say that it is embarrassing. Now we need to find a solution.

Why is it that the only thing anyone can ever think of to improve our downtown involves closing streets? It was not so long ago that we were debating closing Short Street. Now Mayor Pam Miller says the city is considering a plan created by University of Kentucky architecture students and two urban design experts which calls for closing Vine Street from the Civic Center to Upper Street.

I'm not necessarily opposed to the plan. In fact, much of the proposal sounds appealing. Certainly we could use more pedestrian friendly environments downtown and the Civic Center can use all the help it can get. But the traffic has to go somewhere. Yes, cars do speed through downtown but at least they come. If closing Vine Street and returning Main Street to a two-way thoroughfare results in a traffic slowdown, as is hoped, then people will just stop coming to or through downtown altogether in order to avoid the gridlock.

Maybe closing Vine Street will help make downtown more accessible but I am certain that it is not enough. The whole city must change its attitude toward developing new areas for downtown to change. We should make it more difficult for office parks to go up in the outlying areas. Developers should be required to retain a certain amount of greenspace and plant a certain number of trees and shrubs when they build MegaStores with SuperSized parking lots.

Perhaps the solutions to what ails downtown always involves streets because on the map, Lexington looks like a wheel with spokes going out from a dense center. The whole city radiates from that hub. Task forces and architecture students must assume that if we could just somehow get the flow of traffic right, people and ultimately businesses would come and stay downtown. But for our downtown to be vibrant, the entire city needs to realize that the roads go both ways; residents of the suburbs must have a reason to come downtown (be that work, shopping, restaurants, nightclubs, or theaters) and they must commit to responsible development for the entire urban area.

While it will require the support of the whole city to make downtown as lively as we all hope it can be, the fortunate of us who live downtown find ourselves within walking distance of the city's finest restaurants, its best movie theaters, the Opera House, the Civic Center, numerous bars and gift stores, coffee shops, clothing stores, the library, courthouse, post office, pharmacies, ice cream parlors, a bakery, furniture stores, art galleries, museums and parks.

The Pryor-Siebrecht House at 712 West Maxwell, in the heart of downtown and just steps from the Civic Center, presents the opportunity to embrace the downtown life. The elegantly proportioned one and a half story home provides an adequate yet manageable amount of space. The central tower with its rare ogival roof and pinnacle originally projected over the front of the house but now sits behind the one-story porch that runs across the front .

Most of the pine woodwork, which had been stripped by former owners, glows in a tawny brown that warms the house and the fireplaces wear original allegorical tiles also in warming pastels. If one never stepped outside, details like those found in this 111 year-old house are enough to recommend living downtown.


712 West Maxwell


3 bedrooms; 2 baths

Fishpond; the Koi stay

2600 square feet

Contact: Jim McKeighen, 268-4663

If you have a unique or interesting house for sale contact Lissa Sims at lsims@aceweekly.com.