1 of 6
Stadium rendering 2
2 of 6
Stadium rendering 4
3 of 6
Stadium rendering 5
4 of 6
Stadium rendering 1
5 of 6
Stadium rendering 3
6 of 6
West High rendering
Seeing a basketball game at Rupp Arena is one of the prime attractions that Lexington has to offer, but aside from those 20 home games a year, the stretch of land on High Street from South Broadway to Jefferson Street has little to offer in terms of aesthetics or foot traffic.
There is a parking lot on one side and Rupp’s bland facade on the other. But that’s set to change. Over the next few years, the area around the sport stadium is set for transformative growth, with new residential, retail and entertainment facilities in the works.
A Game of Proposals
The Lexington Center issued a request for proposals for the 17-acre plot across the street from Rupp, and several different development teams responded.
“It’s such an important piece of land in our downtown,” said Phil Holoubek, of Lexington’s Real Estate Co., who has put in a proposal with several national-level developers for the land under a new entity – Grand Slam Development.
At least three other real estate companies have put in proposals that will be heard by Lexington Center, though the details of those have been kept private.
Grand Slam’s proposal includes a baseball stadium that would act as the new home field for the Lexington Legends, whose current stadium, Whitaker Bank Ballpark, is about a mile up the road off North Broadway. The new stadium would take up six of the 17 acres and is planned to have 5,400 seats, about 600 less than Whitaker.
The remaining 11 acres would include parking garages, office spaces, retail and residential facilities, with the possibility of a hotel. Holoubek described it as more of a neighborhood that happens to have a baseball stadium. The developers also plan to make the area very pedestrian friendly.
“We want people to, once it’s done, not realize that this was a development, but rather it’s part of the fabric of our amazing downtown,” said Holoubek.
Another important aspect of the ballpark would be a grassy plaza beyond the center field wall that would act as a gateway from the intersection of East High Street and South Broadway. It would be about the size of Triangle Park. People would be able to watch the games without actually being in the confines of the stadium, perhaps for a minimal charge.
Though it hasn’t been fully confirmed, Holoubek speculated that it is likely the Lexington Center will continue to own the 17 acres and will do a long-term land lease with the winning team.
Holoubek emphasized the importance of having facilities that provide a mix of uses. For instance, the proposed parking garages would be “wrapped” with retail on the bottom floor, as will the residences. Holoubek stated that the garages would replace the amount of parking spots in the current lot.
Several of the residences would have windows and balconies that look directly into the the ballpark from beyond the outfield wall, which is something similar to what was done at Fluor Field in Greenville, South Carolina – home of a minor league affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.
The 17-acre project as a whole is estimated at close to $240 million, with the baseball stadium making up about $40 million of that.
Andy Shea, president and CEO of the Legends, said he’d love for the new stadium to be the home to a professional soccer team as well.
This was something he first explored in 2009, though Whitaker Bank Ballpark’s size made it difficult to accommodate a soccer field. He also stated that it could be used for high school football teams.
Alan Stein, the former president and CEO of the Lexington Legends, tried to put a ballpark in that same spot in the 1990s when he applied for minor league expansion but didn’t end up winning the support from the city.
Though he is no longer involved with the Legends, Stein is currently associated with Grand Slam Development’s push to develop that 17-acre lot.
Stein believes that if the ballpark had been placed near Rupp when he initially pushed for it, the area would have grown at a much faster rate.
“I think Lexington would have moved forward,” said Stein. “The downtown development project, Short Street, Jefferson Street, all of those would be way ahead of schedule, including the Distillery District. It’d probably be 10 years ahead in its development of where it is.
“In terms of economic development in Lexington, a downtown stadium would be a much better driver for the economy than where it is on North Broadway,” he added.
If this development gets struck down, Shea and the Legends have been looking into other Lexington locations for space to build a new ballpark.
In addition to developing the corner of High and Jefferson streets, construction will begin in late April on four new million-dollar townhouses. All four townhomes are currently “pre-reserved,” with several others on a waiting list.
The development will be called West High Park. Tom Cheek is the architect and contractor, as well as owner of the land, with his business partner David Slone.
“We wanted to do a residential project that would create a buffer between the Lexington Center and Woodward Heights historic neighborhood,” said Cheek.
Cheek and Slone are currently seeking out additional land from the city directly next to the current site where the four townhomes will go, and hope to put in two additional townhomes.
The land they need is part of Woodward Heights Park, and their plan, in exchange for the city giving them that land, is to take what ultimately remains from Woodward Heights Park and turn it into a smaller, nicer, safer and more manageable park.
Having paid $285,000 for the land where the townhomes will go, Cheek estimates the desired land in Woodward Heights Park is estimated to be worth $150,000, given it is about half the size.
If granted the land for the two additional units, Cheek will provide a cash equivalent for the price of the land and put it back into improving what’s left of the park, though the city will still own and maintain it.
Cheek lives a few hundred feet farther down High Street and will be able to see the new residences from his house.
“Even though we’re developers, our motive in kind of expanding this has more to do with me because I live here,” said Cheek. “I don’t want to look at the civic center. I want to look at houses, not commercial property.”
The Convention Center is scheduled for a $250 million renovation.
According to Cheek, the tentative plan the city has is to take out the Jefferson Street bridge, which opens up the possibility for whichever proposal gets picked for the High Street lot, as well as West High Park and the Town Branch Commons linear park, to ultimately act as its own bridge, figurative or otherwise, between the growing Distillery District and the rest of the downtown area.