by Susan Baniak
January 26, 2017
For Kevin Smith, the president and CEO of Community Ventures Corp., it’s been a project more than 15 years in the making, but the aspirations and the opportunities for Lexington’s East End neighborhood are finally coming together.
This spring, CVC will break ground on a new mixed-use development in the East End, including the construction of a three-story, 90,000-square-foot building that will connect to the existing Community Ventures structure on the corner of Third Street and Midland Avenue. The building, designed by EOP Architects, will feature 25,000 square feet of street-level retail and 10,000 square feet of office space, along with 125 parking spaces and an open plaza facing Midland Avenue. The upper floors will include 43 one-bedroom residential apartments, as well as dedicated event space, including an expansive rooftop terrace extending over the existing CVC building, with capacity to seat up to 350 people.
In addition, a second building, designed by integrity/Architecture, will be built across Third Street between Withrow Way and Nelson Avenue and will include an additional 5,000 square feet of retail along with 16 residential units and parking spots.
The new development marks a major step in the CVC’s ambitious effort to reinvigorate a substantial amount of the Third Street commercial corridor and the west side of Lexington’s Midland Avenue, long seen as an underperforming gateway to the city’s downtown area.
But beyond the goal of creating a vibrant mixed-use development near downtown Lexington, CVC’s nonprofit mission in this pursuit is to inject Lexington’s East End community with renewed energy and investment in a way that benefits its residents, while celebrating its culture, its character and its historical contributions to Lexington.
“We are finally turning the corner,” Smith said.
Finding the right balance
In many ways, the new development has been made to order for the East End community, having been built around the objectives outlined in the East End’s established Small Area Plan, said Phil Holoubek, the developer for the CVC’s project.
“A lot of the time in development, you come up with a development and then you look to see if it meets the plan,” Holoubek said. “We did the opposite — we looked at the plan and created the development specifically to match those objectives.”
Among those objectives was a need for more retail — specifically as related to food, health care and finance. A 4,000-square-foot, sit-down restaurant is already planned for the first floor of the existing Community Ventures building on Midland and Third as part of the new development project, and a pizzeria and coffeehouse will be setting up shop in the smaller building on Third Street. In addition, CVC is in negotiations with a bakery, a grocery and a health facility.
“You need the right mix of businesses,” Smith said. “You need the larger businesses that create multiple jobs, but you also need neighborhood entrepreneurs and neighborhood businesses.”
For those smaller entrepreneurs from the neighborhood looking to start their own companies, Smith said the new development will be designed to offer them reasonably priced spaces as small as 600 square feet, with visibility from the street. CVC will also work to ensure their success by providing business trainers to offer guidance on their business plans and business loans to help in funding their new ventures, Smith said.
For the rental units, Smith said the CVC is also aiming for a balanced mix of 30 percent affordable housing and 70 percent to be rented at market rates, which will provide the permanent income needed to help offset the necessary housing subsidies. It will also ensure an overall tenant mix with sufficient income to support the businesses that will set up shop in the mixed-use development, Smith said.
An East End flavor
In addition to attracting new income and investment to the community, the design of the new development was created to both reflect the character and promote the heritage of the East End community, Holoubek said.
“In all of these community engagement meetings, the thing we heard over and over was ‘front porch’ — literally and figuratively,” Holoubek said. “If you go through the East End and look at all the existing single-family homes, there is a front porch on almost every single house. So we made sure that these buildings have front-porch spaces.”
That translates into a large open plaza for social congregation, along with wide sidewalk areas to accommodate sidewalk cafes as well as pedestrians and bikers. The residential units will include balconies that overlook public spaces, and the restaurants will feature outdoor patios that invite public interaction. The buildings are also designed with attractive fronts on multiple sides to invite neighborhood engagement from every angle, Smith said.
The event space to be included in the main building will also be designed to offer an appealing venue not only for neighborhood events but also larger gatherings of the Lexington business and civic community, Holoubek said.
“You get this great cross-pollination where everybody from all over the community can spend time there,” Holoubek said.
In addition, the project will be developed to embrace both the city’s first phase of Town Branch Commons, planned along Midland Avenue, and the Legacy Trail, which runs to the nearby Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden. A cut-through on the ground level of the new development’s main building will allow trail users to traverse from one path to the next more conveniently, through the soon-to-be-developed plaza.
“There’s a seamless transition between the public space and the private space,” Holoubek said.
CVC is also making a concerted effort to ensure that the new development honors the undervalued and often overlooked history of the East End community, Smith said.
“The East End has a very rich heritage that not only needs to be protected, but needs to be promoted,” Smith said. “Most of Lexington, they don’t even realize how much the East End has contributed to Lexington’s prosperity.”
CVC has assembled a committee comprising of residents who know that local history, and they are working to incorporate that knowledge into the new development, Smith said. That may include the placement of historic plaques and markers at the site, and the enlistment of the development’s retail tenants to help in recognizing the accomplishments and contributions of former residents. A restaurant, for example, might name a special sandwich after a prominent local historical figure or feature information on Lexington’s original racetrack, which was located in the East End, on the back of a menu.
“The East End is very special and has good people who not only want to see the neighborhood thrive, but they want to protect its past,” Smith said. “That’s very gratifying.”
More to come
Smith hopes to have tenants moving into the newly constructed buildings on Third Street and Midland Avenue near the end of 2017. Another building farther down Midland Avenue is planned for development some time in 2018, he said.
In addition, the CVC has more projects in the works on Third Street, including the development of an artists’ village, which will include live-work studios for local artists between Warnock and Race Street, and possibly a gallery space nearby. The organization is currently working with three artists on the project and hopes to begin construction by the end of 2017.
“Our goal is to start working our way up Third Street, creating more venues for food and entertainment, so we can create a place where people want to congregate and live, and improve the walkability of that corridor,” Smith said.
In the end, however, the CVC’s estimation of success for the new development, along with all its initiatives in the East End neighborhood, will be measured by more than its financial numbers, Smith said.
“Does it tell the story of the East End? Have the historical figures who have come from that neighborhood been lifted up and given the credit that is due to them for their past accomplishments? And then the main thing: Is the neighborhood proud to have this development? Do they claim it as their own?” Smith said. “If we can accomplish all that, then I’ll say we have been successful.”