A Block Party!
The little neighborhood that could. That's how I would describe our little slice of Lexington where our studios have been located for more than a decade. Our neighborhood was born as "Morningside" in the middle of the Great Depression. Government was doing everything it could to offer hope to Americans, and building new infrastructure to spur business was one way. Morningside became a thriving warehouse district anchored by bottling, lumber, and distributing companies.
But eventually it became cheaper for these kinds of businesses to move to the outskirts of town than to maintain the aging, gargantuan buildings. Lexington, like most cities, was left with crumbling monuments to the New Deal.
Morningside not only lost thriving businesses, it lost its identity and dignity. It was no longer a neighborhood. It had became just another area full of ugly warehouses with broken windows, broken pavement, and broken hopes. It was just a shortcut from Main Street to Winchester Avenue - if you dared drive through it.
In the mid-1980's, Randy Walker bought a piece of property here for his electrical contracting business. The price was good, but the neighboring vacant building was an eyesore. He bought it, fixed it up, and rented spaces out. But that wasn't enough. The building next to that was an eyesore, so he bought that. And so on.
Thirteen acres later, he was joined by his two sons who shared his vision to renovate these scarred ruins back into the grand structures they once were. Randy, Greg, and Chad knew that bottling and distributing companies weren't the right fit anymore. They saw retail, food, arts, fitness, and creative services as the right fit. But the zoning excluded most of these types of businesses. It was time for a plan.
If this neighborhood was created from the Great Depression, you could say it was re-created from the "Great Recession." The economy needed a booster shot again. The mayor and council recognized that adaptive reuse would revitalize older districts that no longer attracted the businesses they were designed for. Infill redevelopment was becoming all the rage with cities, but the Walkers were already doing it. With their plan approved by the city, the rebirth began. Our little slice was becoming a neighborhood again. But what would it be called?
The Walkers decided early on to wait before putting a label on this area. In a Business Lexington article, Greg Walker said, â€œMany similar infill redevelopments branded their areas first and then began the redevelopment process. We made the decision a long time ago to wait until we were close to the end before we gave the area a name.â€ The Walkers did something else out of the ordinary - they let us, the neighborhood, choose the name.
After careful research and design, the Walkers were presented with names, logos, and marketing plans from an advertising agency. The Walkers assembled all of the neighborhood business owners and presented us with two very compelling logos and plans. One recalled the past while acknowledging the flavor of Kentucky. The other also recalled the past, but emphasized the future.
At the unveiling this past week, the Walkers, along with Mayor Jim Gray, unveiled the nearly unanimous winner.
Greg Walker, Mayor Jim Gray, and Chad Walker
The elements of the logo are detailed
Our neighbors, Lexington Ice Sculptures, fittingly sculpted the logo out of a block of ice.
The unveiling party took place in the courtyard behind us, where railroad tracks used to run up to the warehouses.
Daisy, the wonder studio dog, relaxes in the corner art garden.
This isn't the end of redevelopment. The Walkers have much more planned, including a new 40,000 square foot building on National Avenue that will include creative retailing. Said Greg Walker, â€œWe all recognize that we are doing much more than purchasing, renovating and leasing properties. We are building a community, one which we believe could be a model for other commercial infill projects to follow."
So what about that block party? Stay tuned, the Walkers are planning a block party in August that will feature entertainment, art, crafts, and open houses. But come on down now, because you don't have to wait until the block party to join in on the fun.