Lexington commits millions in COVID relief money to affordable housing, tourism

·4 min read

The Lexington council agreed Tuesday to set aside more than $12 million from federal coronavirus relief money for affordable housing, tourism, broadband and homeless initiatives.

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council voted Tuesday to give $1 million to VisitLex, the city’s tourism bureau, to help offset losses during the coronavirus pandemic and to develop a comprehensive tourism plan to help that portion of the area’s economy rebound.

Council members also agreed to use $30,000 in federal funds to help with high-speed internet build-out in northern Fayette County, which is part of a larger broadband initiative in Scott County. That $30,000 will help bring high-speed internet to approximately 250 homes.

In a separate meeting on Tuesday, the council also used $1.4 million of American Rescue Plan Act money to provide shelter to the homeless this winter.

Before Tuesday, the city had previously allocated $23 million of the $121 million in expected American Rescue Plan Act money, including $15 million for supplemental pay for essential personnel who worked during the pandemic. That one-time bonus will likely be $5,000.

The council continues to narrow down possible projects for the coronavirus relief money. It received more than 550 unique project proposals from the public earlier this summer and fall. Individual council members ranked the projects, Approximately 230 projects that received multiple votes from council members were then vetted by council subcommittees.

During Tuesday’s meeting, the council heard recommendations from those subgroups on possible projects or initiatives that could be funded. Public comment on the proposals will be 5 p.m. Tuesday in the council chambers at the Lexington Government Center. A council meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Nov. 4 to further discuss projects that qualify for federal coronavirus funding.

Some of the proposals the council is considering include:

  • $17.5 million to build out infrastructure on 200 acres of a new industrial park on Georgetown Road near Interstate 75 and Interstate 64.

  • $12 million for a permanent home for the Lexington Farmers’ Market in Davis Bottom.

  • $5 million for a Lexington Economic Development Center to be located with the Lexington Farmers’ Market in Davis Bottom.

  • $5 million for Distillery District parking.

  • $10.3 million on a host of park improvement projects, including $2.6 million for sport court improvements at various parks; $1 million for playgrounds, $1.1 million for trail improvements in Jacobson, Masterson Station, Raven Run, Gainesway, Wildwood, and Stonewall parks.

  • $10 million to develop Cardinal Run North.

  • $6.1 million for fire fleet replacements.

  • $9 million for one-time infrastructure costs for social service agencies and nonprofits.

  • $7.5 million for Town Branch Park.

  • $3.1 million for self-contained breathing apparatuses for the fire department.

  • $5 million for police vehicle replacements.

  • $920,000 for summer youth employment.

  • $990,000 for Commerce Lexington’s Minority Business Accelerator program.

  • $350,000 for Safety Net/One Lexington for violence prevention programs.

  • $2.5 million for Tree canopy improvements.

  • $1.2 million for trail projects, including a Brighton Trail connection to Liberty Park, two connectors to the Harrodsburg Road trail off of Man O’ War and a Manchester Street pedestrian facility.

Click here to see the full list of projects.

Councilwoman Amanda Bledsoe, who chairs the Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee, said the $1 million for VisitLex was needed immediately. The expense also qualified for the federal funding because it was tourism-related.

VisitLex, which is funded through a hotel tax, was hit hard by the pandemic. It also needs to ramp up because Central Bank Center’s expanded convention center is expected to open early next year, Bledsoe said.

The council ultimately voted unanimously to set aside $1 million for VisitLex.

Councilman James Brown also proposed giving $10 million to the city’s affordable housing fund. The city received multiple proposals from various groups proposing affordable housing projects. The city’s affordable housing board, which oversees and awards money to affordable housing projects, will be able to vet all of those proposals, he said.

Councilman Richard Moloney agreed.

“The quicker we can get this funding out the door, the better,” Moloney said. “Housing is the biggest need in Fayette County.”

Some council members wanted to wait and vote on the affordable housing proposal until the Nov. 4 meeting, after the council hears public comment on Tuesday. The council ultimately voted to allocate the $10 million Tuesday.

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