TRANSPORTATION CENTER WILL ANCHOR THE DEPOT DISTRICT REDEVELOPMENT AREA
Passenger Rail Service What if Lexington had no access to Interstate 85? You can imagine how devastating that would be to the community in terms of accessibility and economic viability. In 1975, Lexington's passenger rail stop was removed, the station was demolished, and the City was essentially cut off from the passenger rail "interstate." The effects were not felt for many years because gasoline was cheap, and most everyone owned a car and preferred driving to other types of transportation. That is no longer the case. Passenger rail is making a comeback with ridership growing at a tremendous rate. More and more North Carolinians are riding buses and trains, not only for long range travel but as part of their daily commute. The Raleigh-Charlotte passenger rail line is a new 'economic corridor,' and communities connected together along this route are flourishing. Unfortunately, there is a 'gap' where the Lexington station used to stand. Re-establishing passenger rail service will connect Lexington citizens to education and job opportunities along this economic corridor, and attract new residents and businesses to locate here. Lexington was thrilled to have an onsite visit from Norfolk Southern representatives in August 2014! General Director of Passenger Policy John Edwards is pictured above with Mayor Newell Clark.
Local Bus Service / Regional Bus Service Fully connected regional transportation networks support business and industry, as well as individual opportunities for growth. This initiative aims to connect neighborhoods to a new transportation station in the Depot District by local buses provided by Davidson County. Once at the station, you can choose to take a PART regional bus to Winston-Salem, High Point, or Greensboro; or take the Amtrak passenger train to stops along the Raleigh-Charlotte corridor, or further for out-of-state travel. Coordinated stop times for transfers will make this an easy and logical commute for many in the Lexington community without access to a vehicle, or who choose to travel without the expense of a car.
Visioning and Planning for Redevelopment of the Depot District With volunteer and citizen support, the City began pursuing re-establishment of the passenger rail stop several years ago. In preparation, the City was able to secure a lease and renovate the Freight Depot for the Farmer’s Market with the aid of grant funding. Amtrak and North Carolina Department of Transportation evaluated the site and determined it to be appropriate for a passenger stop, but were interested in the City improving the area surrounding the proposed site.
Almost simultaneously, Lexington Furniture Industries (LFI) announced the closing of Plant 1, which was within a stone’s throw of the former passenger rail station. LFI offered to sell the Plant 1 property to the City of Lexington, which consisted of more than 1 million square feet and 18 acres of land. City leaders were fully convinced of two things: if the City did not buy the property, it would decay and be a tremendous negative impact on the Uptown indefinitely; and that although it would take time, redevelopment of this area coupled with a passenger rail stop could be a game-changer for this community. To be prudent, the City used environmental grants to study and test the site to ensure against contamination that would prevent redevelopment. After the results showed nothing of concern, the City closed on the property for just over $1 million. Immediately following the closing, City Management negotiated a deal with LFI to lease part of the warehouse space back to them, which has and will continue to reimburse the City for the original purchase cost.
Meanwhile, work continued on the passenger rail station, as well as the creation of master plans for the area. The City partnered with graduate students from North Carolina A&T State University to complete a redevelopment vision for the area through a public process, which resulted in conceptual plans for the area. The conceptual plans included demolishing all of the former Plant 1 buildings, and building a mixed-use district complete with an amphitheater, other entertainment venues, retail, restaurant, service, and residential buildings, along with a convention center. Regardless of its feasibility, having a plan in-hand to share with state and federal transportation agencies was necessary to move the passenger rail project ahead and also to begin informing City Council what the citizens would like to see happen with the property. However, in order to receive a federal permit to build the passenger loading platform, the station, and to be officially designated as a train stop, more sophisticated (and costly) engineering plans were needed. City staff utilized the A&T conceptual plans in a grant application to the United States Department of Transportation and requested funds to prepare the necessary planning documents required for all federal projects for a Multimodal Transportation Center that would serve as the anchor for the Depot District.
In 2011, the City of Lexington was awarded a TIGER II (Transportation Infrastructure Investment Grants) Planning Grant focused upon two interlocking ideas: 1) the re-introduction of rail service, in concert with activities to improve and expand passenger rail service between Raleigh and Charlotte; and 2) the redevelopment of the area that encompasses the site of the former Lexington Furniture Industries Plant #1 furniture manufacturing facility, now owned by the City, and within the area now known as the Depot District. The grant was to specifically accomplish the following tasks: conduct a public engagement planning process; develop engineered plans for the passenger rail loading platform and any track improvements that would be necessary; conduct a full environmental assessment; develop architectural schematic plans for the train station; and develop streetscape plans for the surrounding area.
A consultant team was chosen by the Lexington Redevelopment Commission to lead and assist the City with the planning, design and other aspects of the grant. One of the most important aspects of the grant was to assist the City in determining the course it wishes to take that best reflects the needs, goals, aspirations and capabilities of the community at large. This effort was titled “A Way Forward.” Every citizen in the Lexington community was invited to partake in community workshops and the input became a critical facet to this process.
So when will the train stop and redevelopment occur in the Depot District? Obtaining a federal permit for a train stop is a long and complicated process involving many different agencies at the local, state and federal levels. It typically takes about 20 or more years of work to become a passenger rail stop. Owners and operators of the rail corridor must ensure the new stops are precisely engineered for safety, and that the overall performance of the railway system will not be degraded by new stations added along the corridor.
After several years of diligent effort, the Lexington Redevelopment Commission presented the Multimodal Transportation Center engineered infrastructure and architectural schematic plans to City Council on July 22, 2014. The City was honored to have NCDOT Secretary Tata present to join City Council in receiving the plans. Having been received by City Council, the plans were then submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration, the North Carolina Department of Transportation, North Carolina Railroad Company and Norfolk Southern for their approval, which is required before construction can begin. During the review process, Norfolk Southern requested that the plans be redesigned from a loading platform located between the tracks, to double platforms located on the outside of the tracks. The engineering work to redesign the platforms was completed during the summer of 2015. The revised plans have now been submitted to the agencies for final review, along with the required final Environmental Analysis document.
The Environmental Analysis includes a review of any impacts to historic structures. The State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) indicates that this area is eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and as a result, any adverse effects to historic resources must receive a separate approval. The City actively negotiated with the SHPO over a two year period in order to be able to move forward. Plans have been revised so that the only two adverse effects will occur: 1) change/improve the streetscapes, and 2) to close-in part of the tunnel as a new tunnel will need to be constructed adjacent to it. In exchange for being allowed to adversely impact these resources, the City has proposed mitigation strategies such as photo documentation of the features. An agreement with SHPO has now been executed and the Federal Railroad Administration can finalize their approval and issue a "Finding of No Significant Impact" by December 2016.
Once adequate grants are secured for funding, the engineering plans will be tested through a computer program that models how the entire railroad system will operate with the addition of this new station. Different scenarios will be tested until the virtual station to be introduced to the system, without slowing the operation of any trains. Once the funding is in place and this modeling is complete, the station will be ready for construction.
Demolition clears the way for a new vision. Selective demolition enabled the City to construct the new amphitheater (see below), which is increasing development interest in the area. Opinions vary when it comes to what should be done with the former LFI Plant 1 buildings. Some encouraged the City to demolish all and start from scratch. Others felt that the buildings should be preserved and repurposed. However, the City has chosen selective demolition and selective preservation. Once again, the State Historic Preservation Office has declared this area as eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places because of furniture's important role in how the City developed over time. In order to carefully determine which buildings are coming down, the City evaluates each one for historic significance, structural integrity, location, and how easily it can be repurposed into something else. For instance, if a building is historic, has enough character to make an attractive restaurant and is in good shape, then it will be targeted for reuse. If a building is not historic, has no character and is in the way of something better that could utilize the space, then it will be removed. Demolition can be very expensive. Fortunately, the City has been able to trade the cost of demolition for the value of scrap materials in the buildings. Therefore, the buildings that will remain will be recycled into new uses; while the buildings that will be removed will be deconstructed and the materials will be recycled off-site. Preparing this area to be 'development-ready' shows developers that Lexington is serious about making this vision a reality.
Amphitheater Complete - Lexington celebrated its opening with Depot District Music Fest on April 8, 2017! Thanks to a generous donation from Breeden Insurance Services, the City has completed construction of the outdoor entertainment venue located in the historic depot district of Uptown Lexington
The Vision - During the community visioning process for the District, citizens expressed a need for an amphitheater to accommodate performances in a permanent setting, which will support and encourage more cultural community events. The proximity to South Main Street and the natural slope exposed by demolishing buildings along East Third Avenue, revealed the perfect spot for an amphitheater. The Breedens hired local contractor LMI Builders Inc. to design and build the stage, paying respect to both the industrial (metal) and furniture (wooden) elements of historic furniture manufacturing on this site. The City was able to coordinate with Hedrick Grading, who was removing dirt from the nearby Lexington Utilities Complex construction project, to build-up and grade the lawn seating area with no additional hauling costs. Additional finishing touches such as permanent seating, sound equipment and lighting will occur over time.
Bull City Ciderworks Expands Production
Bull City Ciderworks, makers of hard apple cider, celebrated its one year anniversary on March 18, 2017, in the Depot District! Bull City Ciderworks moved production and distribution from the City of Durham to the Depot District in 2015. The company began with 33,000 square feet, and has already expanded in both size and operations. Recently, Bull City began their bottling operation and continue to increase their market and solidified their presence in the Depot District by purchasing the facility and adjacent property early March 2017.
The facility includes both the production facility, as well as the in-house taproom. Visitors can enjoy their favorite cider in the bar area, and also see the production process in action. Bull City makes use of the outside area as well, holding regular community events such as food truck rodeos and an array of fund raisers, celebrations and special events; quickly emerging as one of Lexington's hot spots for fun.
Bull City Ciderworks is a perfect fit for Lexington:
It brings outside dollars into the local economy through sales and distribution to other communities. Those dollars then circulate through local businesses. Exporting to other communities also means the business does not rely solely on the local market for success.
Development causes development. Ciderworks is well established with strong business leadership, which is vital for the first developer in. Other developers will find assurance in clustering near Ciderworks, knowing that the activity in the area will support their investment.
At least 10 new jobs are located here, which means those people will support nearby businesses throughout the day.
It creates a destination for visitors and tourists, who will bring additional dollars into the economy.
The owners are from this area, with deep roots and ties, and have a desire to give back to this community not to mention a passion for passenger rail service between Lexington
It gives additional exposure to Lexington through media and social networking.
It make use of an existing building, for a new use. Creative repurposing of existing buildings and resources is a key indicator of a resilient community, and is a smart way to develop the city.
An Invitation to Redevelop. During the public visioning process, opinions were collected from citizens, affinity groups, boards and commissions, elected officials, and development professionals from across the country. All agreed that a microbrewery and amphitheater would be ideal complimentary uses to the passenger rail station and would serve as the anchor to attract activity to the district. In addition, these common visions call for quality restaurants, community gathering space, entertainment, housing, and eventually education and shopping. With these two anchors in place, the community is anxious for additional buildings to redevelop.
The City is preparing to accept bids with proposals reflecting the community’s stated desires for the block of buildings adjacent to the new amphitheater. This will be a great location for investment, with the amphitheater on one side, and the future passenger rail station across the street. Opening the bid process will require Council action and will be considered by Council in the upcoming months. For more information, please contact Tammy Absher, Director of Business and Community Development.
In order to ensure that prospective developers were well-informed relative to the conditions and potential of the buildings, the City began reconnaissance work on these buildings. Some of that information and reference material includes: Candy Factory Asbestos and Lead Paint Survey; Candy Factory Environmental Review Letter; Pop-up Park, Phasing, and Layout Plans; Building Complex Development Concepts; Pop-up Park, Existing Site Map and Photos; Historic Survey of former NC Candy Factory; Project Identification and Location Map; and City-owned Building Reference Map.
City to resubmit Federal Grant Application The City of Lexington, in partnership with Davidson County and the Piedmont Triad Authority for Regional Transportation (PART), will resubmit a federal grant application to the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2018 to build the Depot District Multimodal Transportation Center. The City is relentless in its pursuit of this critical infrastructure for the future of Lexington.