Backers Troubled By Slow Progress In Lexington's Distillery District

Sep 18, 2013

The development of Lexington’s distillery district isn’t proceeding as quickly as some promoters had hoped.  Both public and private interests are revising their strategy.

A vacant warehouse in Lexington's Distillery District.
Credit Stu Johnson / WEKU News

After five years of work, several businesses have set up shop inside the distillery district.  They include night spots, art galleries, retailers and a couple distilleries.  But the district, which is located near downtown, still has some vacant space.  With a bit more help from the city of Lexington, with sidewalks, benches and signage, Real estate broker Greg Leveridge think they could attract more tenants.

“We didn’t want to come in and ask for the world you know.  We could have asked for cleaning up Town Branch itself or to bury the utility lines, things that would have been very costly. But, I think the real intent was just to let everyone know that a little bit could go a long way,” said Leveridge.

The city borrowed just over $2-million for the project.    A half million was spent on a feasibility study, and there’s still a need to study the threat posed by floods.  The Town Branch Creek runs through the area. 

Plus, after five years, Lexington’s spending priorities may have shifted.  If they have, then council member George Meyers adds they might need to ‘reset’ the distillery district project.

“The question now is five or six years later with the advent of the Rupp Arena Project and some of the other things that are happening down there how do we still best spend this money to get the biggest bang for our buck I think is part of the conversation you heard,” said Meyers.

Perhaps, Meyers says some of the needed improvements could come with private money.   However, Barry McNeese, who’s one of a dozen developers interested in the distillery district, says a case can still be made for public funding.

“What you are asking us to do is spend money on something that impacts more than any one developer, more than any one project, but also could benefit from the funds that are allocated to Rupp Arena, the Town Branch Commons Project and the distillery district.  They’re all tied to together intrinsically,”  said McNeese.

Both McNeese and Meyers agree private investors and the city remain very interested in the distillery district.  As for public funding of further improvements, the full council will consider that matter another day.