Lexington weighs spending $10 million in COVID money on youth sports complex

·5 min read
Ryan C. Hermens

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council tentatively agreed to allocate $12.4 million in federal coronavirus relief money to various homeless and housing initiatives and is considering giving $30 million for parks improvements, including $10 million for land for a youth sports complex to be run by a private group.

After more than two hours of debate during a Tuesday meeting, the council eventually agreed to give $6.7 million from up to $121 million in American Rescue Plan Act money for various homeless initiatives.

Projects to be funded through that $6.7 million include:

  • $2 million toward the expansion of the Hope Center.

  • $2 million toward the expansion of the Salvation Army.

  • $400,000 to Greenhouse 17, the local domestic abuse shelter.

Councilwoman Amanda Bledsoe said both the Salvation Army and Hope Center are currently housing people in hallways and other spaces at their emergency shelters. Both need to expand.

The $2 million for each would not pay for the entire project but could be matched with private fundraising, Bledsoe said.

Greenhouse 17 was recently told a grant that it had received would be cut by $400,000. The money was needed so they could continue to provide services, said Councilwoman Kathy Plomin.

“They will struggle to find housing for women,” said Plomin.

Vice Mayor Steve Kay proposed the city set aside $5.7 million for a solar energy and job training program that would allow up to 200 low-income homeowners to receive up to $25,000 to convert their homes to solar energy. Those homes would then be able to cut their energy costs. The program would also include job training in clean energy programs, he said.

“This will allow homeowners who are at risk of being displaced to stay in their homes,” Kay said. By saving money on energy costs, those homeowners may be to afford steeper property taxes. Many areas in Lexington, including on the East Side, are seeing skyrocketing property taxes due to gentrification, Kay said.

The program would be run and administered through a nonprofit, Kay said. The United Way of the Bluegrass has already expressed interest, he said.

Money for parks, youth sports complex

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, the council discussed setting aside $30 million from the American Rescue Plan Act money for various parks improvements.

Approximately $10 million would go to implementing the city’s parks master plan, which includes a variety of parks and community center building improvements. An additional $10 million would go toward the construction of Cardinal Run North off of Parkers Mill Road. The city has long planned to develop the area that it owns across from Cardinal Run Park but has never had the money to do so.

The new park would have trails and other amenities.

No council members voiced objections to funding the parks master plan and the construction of Cardinal Run North.

Much of the debate Tuesday centered on potentially putting aside $10 million to acquire land for a new youth sports complex. A private group would then run the complex, said Councilman David Kloiber, who has pushed the city in the past to invest in a youth sports complex.

Construction of a complex — that would have both baseball and soccer fields capable of hosting regional tournaments — has been debated by city officials for more than five years. In 2017, the city ultimately opted not to enter into a public-private partnership to build one for various reasons.

Youth sports complexes bring in a lot of visitors, benefiting Lexington restaurants, hotels and businesses, backers of the proposal have said. But a complex would not generate tax revenue for the city. All sales taxes go to the state. Hotel taxes go to the state, VisitLex, the city’s tourism bureau, or to pay off loans to expand the Central Bank Center.

Many council members said they needed to know more before they could support using federal funds for a sports complex.

“I have a lot of questions and concerns about this,” Plomin said.

Plomin said she had heard a possible location for the new park would be close to Fasig-Tipton. That much traffic close to a horse auction house is not a good location, she said.

Kloiber said a location had not been decided. The city would issue a request for proposals first. The city would then vet those proposals to ensure all of the questions council members had were answered.

Councilwoman Susan Lamb said she couldn’t support the idea until she learned more about the project, who it would serve, and the potential location.

“We need more information,” Lamb said.

Kloiber countered the city needed to act quickly and the sports complex could be a major economic draw.

The council ultimately decided to continue discussions on the youth sports complex and parks projects at 1 p.m. on Thursday.

Tuesday’s votes were tentative. A final vote on all projects will come at a later date.

The city has set aside a little more than $60 million in federal coronavirus funding. It has roughly $60 million left to allocate.

Some of the projects and initiatives the council has either tentatively approved or agreed to fund include:

  • $10 million for affordable housing projects.

  • $9 million for nonprofit capital projects.

  • $15 million for additional pay for city employees.

  • $1 million for VisitLex to fund tourism-related initiatives.

  • $990,000 for minority business expansion.

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