Public land downtown shouldn’t be squandered on unproven professional soccer

·3 min read

On Friday, USL Lexington released the renderings for their proposed soccer stadium downtown. This proposal was in response to the Lexington Convention Corporation’s RFP for developments to replace the massive 17-acre surface parking lot across the street from Rupp Arena. You should never expect renderings of a project to be more than a rough idea of what the final product will be, but these renderings, in addition to the entire concept of a downtown soccer stadium, should be enough to give anyone pause.

The initial RFP was hamstrung out the gate with a requirement that any proposal needed to include 2000 parking spaces designated solely for the convention center, to replace those lost with the redevelopment. Those 2,000 spaces cannot be counted as required parking for any new development so there will be significantly more spaces included in any proposal, increasing the total parking space count for the parcel. Yet, people will still complain about their perceived lack of parking downtown. Not only will there be more than enough parking, the renderings for this proposal show perhaps the worst way to lay out the parking. One image shows the massive parking garage right up next to Maxwell St, presenting anyone on the sidewalk with a massive concrete wall that runs the majority of the block. Additionally, you can see that both the apartments and hotel are on top of two to three stories of parking. Walking through these internal streets would be like walking through a canyon of concrete which does not feel safe nor welcoming. Our downtown already suffers from ground floors filled with either blank walls or mirrored windows, so let’s not make it any worse.

The urban design, or lack thereof, is not nearly as big of a problem as the concept itself. I’m not against the idea of a soccer stadium for Lexington, but I don’t think it’s something that the city should use public land for. The soccer club didn’t exist until late last year. They’ve played no games and won’t play any games for another year. While there very well may be the demand for a local soccer club, there isn’t much proof as of yet. Is this something that we want to bet 17 acres of public land on? The land for the parking lot and Rupp was acquired by the city using eminent domain, back when leveling an entire neighborhood for a sports arena was somehow considered ok, and because the LCC is a quasi-governmental entity, the land is very much public land. Is a soccer stadium really the best use we can come up with? Is that the best service to the community especially when we are facing rising housing costs and limited land availability?

If there is demand for a soccer club in Lexington, see about continuing the agreement to play at UK’s facilities for a few years until we can see the ticket sales to prove it. Then see about constructing a stadium, but even then, it should be a wholly private endeavor with no public land or money, because it’s been shown time and time again that sports arenas do not pay for themselves. We don’t need to expand the area of downtown that is dead and empty most of the year.

Redeveloping the High St. parking lot is a huge opportunity for downtown and Lexington as a whole. The proposed soccer stadium certainly is an improvement to the existing sea of asphalt, but that’s a very low bar and I believe we can do much better. It hasn’t been chosen yet, and we don’t know what the other three proposals look like, but we should be sure we don’t squander such an opportunity and so much public land, especially on something as unproven as a soccer stadium.

Blake Hall is an advocate for better policy on housing, transportation, and urban design. He also writes about these topics at Build a Better Lexington.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting