New facility opens doors at corner of tech and creativity

A car passes by the new Cornerstone building on the corner of S Limestone and Winslow St on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, at The Cornerstone in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff.

Haley Simpkins


As students return to campus for the spring semester, they return to find UK’s newest facility up and running.


“Soft opened” just before the end of the fall semester, the Cornerstone building on S. Limestone adds 900 parking spaces to an existing parking garage. But that’s not all the new space has to offer.


One of the most anticipated aspects of the building is a new student food hall, the Cornerstone Exchange. Currently, five vendors are lined up to operate in the space: A Cup of Common Wealth cafe, Rolling Oven mobile pizzeria, Miyako Sushi and Steakhouse, Selma’s and Ethereal Brewing. Ethereal Brewing will become the first alcohol vendor on UK’s campus.  


“As a place meant to embrace community connections and layer a variety of programming spanning campus and community, we saw an opportunity to bring a new kind of experience to campus,” UK executive director for strategic analysis and policy Melody Flowers said in regards to UK’s first alcohol vendor.


Notably, all five of the vendors are local businesses.


“Cornerstone Exchange, operated by our private partner Signet, will focus exclusively on local and regional retailers,” Flowers said. “Not only does this support our community, but also offers a unique experience for our customers.”


A Cup of Common Wealth opened last November, while other vendors are expected to open throughout the rest of January and into February.  According to the Cornerstone Exchange website, Signet is still looking to add to their list of vendors. Students will not be able to use their meal plan at The Cornerstone food hall, but vendors will be accepting UK Plus. 


Much of the rest of the 23,000 foot building is the “Innovation Space”, the space between the food hall and esports area of the building, available for students and the community to use. 


It features lounge areas, collaborative workspaces, conference rooms and an outdoor patio wrapping around the building. 


The area is full of moveable, lego-like furniture that can be shaped to serve multiple purposes.


The Cornerstone will also be available as an event venue for those outside of the UK community, with events like live music expected to become a regular use of the space in the future. While there are no events currently scheduled at The Cornerstone, students can check back at throughout the semester to see what kind of events may come up. 


Perhaps the most promoted part of Cornerstone is the new esports facilities. The UK Federal Credit Union esports lounge houses 50 PC gaming stations equipped with high-end names in the gaming industry such as Alienware gaming technology and Secret Lab gaming chairs. Anyone, not just students, can walk in and use them. The facilities also have three communal console gaming areas, one each for XBOX, PlayStation and Nintendo Switch. 


An esports theater, also sponsored by UK Federal Credit Union, can seat 100 – enough to host a six vs. six esports tournament, as well as speakers and presenters. 


In recent years UK has expanded its involvement in esports, promoting clubs and adding classes focused on the industry. At over $34 million, Cornerstone is the realization of a corporate partnership with Gen. G, an esports organization worth billions.


Esports club president Thomas Bailey said that while this space is worth a lot in monetary value, it means more than anything to him and the members of his club. 


“The university’s support has been incredible, and the club couldn’t be more thankful for it,” Bailey said. “Not only have they provided us with opportunities to grow as gamers, but they have given us the chance to develop in esports professionally and academically.”


Bailey said he also looks forward to the opportunities that the space holds for people who may not already be involved with esports. 


“While the new gaming space offers much in terms of competition facilitation, what I’m most looking forward to is its ability to bring together gamers from all corners of UK. Many gaming students on campus lack a space to be able to meet others with this same interest, and I’m really excited to see how this space alleviates that,” Bailey said. 



Aside from esports, the theater will also be used for classes of different size and subject.  


“There will be a variety of courses that cover a range of topics and are offered by multiple colleges that meet in the innovation and esports spaces,” Flowers said. “The size of the course will vary, but we can host everything from small studio courses to larger formats.”


UK’s investment into Cornerstone and esports is a key part of UK’s Smart Campus Initiative, which aims to incorporate innovative technology into all aspects of a university, such as giving iPads to all incoming freshmen.

Part of the Smart Campus application to Cornerstone is the digital media wall, a 55 feet tall sign that UK says will showcase topical art from the community.


UK is currently accepting art submissions based on these two themes: “Black Lives in the Bluegrass” and “Kentucky Confronting Covid-19.” 


For the Black lives category, UK suggesst “photographs of protests, scans of posters, images of murals, portraits of black leaders, and works that point to a more just future.”


And for the COVID-19 tribute UK suggests work that might include “portraits of essential workers, scenes of daily life under quarantine, and illustrations that capture moments of togetherness despite the necessity of social distance, among other possibilities.”


Ten $1,000 awards, 5 per category, will be awarded to those artists who are chosen for one of the following awards: UK Student Award, UK Faculty & Staff Award, Kentucky Community Award for people who are not a part of the UK community or staff, Equity & Inclusion Award limited to artists of color who entered and a People’s Choice Award chosen by an online vote. 


Artists who are interested in having their art appear on the 55’ by 28’ wall can find details on the competition online. The submission deadline is Feb.28. 


The university is also using Cornerstone as a meeting place for those who wish to make changes in the community through the Campus Community Connection. This program will allow local non-profits to use the Cornerstone to facilitate innovative programming for their causes as well as interact with students and others on campus to create engagement with their work. 


UK has selected Believing In Forever, Inc., a local non-profit that focuses on encouraging young people to explore leadership positions through their talents, as the first Community Innovation Partner to take part in the program. 


Believing In Forever will work in conjunction with two other local non-profits, Black Soil and Operation Making a Change, to form the first ever Campus Community Connection group. Black Soil is an organization focused on reconnecting Black Kentuckians to their agricultural roots, and Operation Making a Change focuses on helping at-risk youth in the court system.


The Campus Community Connection “will focus on inequality, injustices and communities of color in Lexington,” Amanda Royer with UK Service-Learning and Civic Engagement said in a UKNow press release. 


Royer said the group of organizations plans to combat these issues by focusing on three key areas: creating spaces for youth to express themselves, food insecurity, and youth mentorship. 


“Believing in Forever plans to continue their work of allowing youth to express themselves using art as a platform to enhance leadership and raise awareness of social and racial injustices in Kentucky. Black Soil will address food insecurities for community members, particularly those in the East and West ends of Lexington. Operation Making a Change plans to continue mentoring and providing trauma-informed care for youth grades six-12,” Royer said.