by Rob Morris
When we initiated LexMobs to help businesses on South Limestone on Wednesday, we noted that the closure of the street seemed hasty and poorly-planned. Well, now we’ve obtained the Fayette Circuit Court filing from a lawsuit intended to stop the work on South Limestone (first reported by Jake at Page One Kentucky).
And that filing reveals just how chaotic the closure process actually was.
Filed by the owners of several businesses and properties lining the route, the lawsuit seeks an immediate injunction to halt the roadwork and to reopen South Limestone to traffic. It also seeks damages for the interruptions to business operations along the street. The suit names the Mayor, LFUCG Urban County Council, and ATS Construction (the firm contracted to renovate SoLime) as defendants.
And the filing tells a story of a poorly-communicated, hastily-assembled, highly-inconsistent project with an escalating price tag:
- Communication. Initial letters from the LFUCG Public Works Commissioner to the affected businesses invited them to a open house to discuss “a streetscape design” and “utility needs”, but didn’t indicate a complete road closure was immanent. The actual details of the project (and of the changes to the project) were usually disclosed to owners through rumors or media accounts.
- Timing. Owners had six days’ notice before the first open house (May 18th), and there was no mention of a road closure. A second “utility needs” meeting was held on June 3rd, and the full closure of South Limestone was disclosed. But some owners didn’t learn of the possibility of closing SoLime until the day before; The letter announcing that meeting didn’t mention closing the street.
- Consistency. In June 3rd discussions, South Limestone was to be closed from Euclid to High. After voicing opposition, property owners were told on July 10th that SoLime would initially be closed from Euclid to Maxwell, opening up a full block between Maxwell and High Streets. On July 21st – the day before the project began – owners learned from media accounts that SoLime was now to be closed all the way to High Street again. That day, owners met with the Mayor and others from LFUCG to learn that ATS and LFUCG won’t know what they’re dealing with until they dig up the street.
- Price. The “Downtown Streetscape Master Plan” proposed improvements to South Limestone costing more than $5.2 million. The LFUCG council approved the streetscape plan in August 2008. On July 7th, 2009, the council approved the $13.1 million contract with ATS. Two weeks later, media accounts put the total at $17 million.
The patterns emerging from this (admittedly one-sided) account of the closure of South Limestone parallels with what we’ve seen recently from LFUCG on urban development projects:
- Projects languish for years, then are suddenly initiated.
- Decisionmakers seem to have little sense of the full scope or true impacts of their decisions.
- The true impacts of the project are only understood, if ever, after it is long underway.
- Communication with citizens is unclear, intermittent, and/or non-existent.
- The project changes direction suddenly.
- It is unclear who is accountable for the success or failure of such projects
- Because they are so committed to the (frequently noble) idea of the project, decisionmakers accept a series of concessions which cause the project’s price to balloon to multiples of original estimates.
We’ve seen some or all of these elements in numerous recent urban development projects: CentrePointe, Tax Increment Financing (TIF), the Lyric Theatre, the Newtown Pike extension and, now, the South Limestone Streetscape.
What results is chaos.
Business owners on South Limestone had 2 months to prepare to lose customers for 12 months. Many owners had one day to figure out how to get customers and suppliers to their door. The cost of the project is 3 times what was initially approved.
And the results of the chaos are easy to predict. Confused commuters and shoppers stay away from “the mess” downtown. Downtown businesses die. And, after fits and starts, Lexington ends up with a beautiful street. To nowhere.
Chaos is no way to run a business. And chaos is no way to run the business of our city.