Hotel in plan doesn’t justify damage to local entertainment

Many of Lexington’s future plans as a city revolve around the 2010 World Equestrian Games. It’s obvious why. The city will be placed on an international stage, and since this is the self-proclaimed horse capital of the world, it’ll be a stage that suits the area well.

Lexington has much to gain from the experience, but it also has much to lose. With all the preparation for the games, many Lexingtonians are validly wondering if the locals — the ones who will remain after the international visitors depart — and local culture are a priority.

One example of this is the potential plan to build a hotel on the Rosenberg Block downtown, which would most likely begin with the demolition of such nightclubs as The Dame, Mia’s and Buster’s, as reported in the Feb. 22 Kernel.

The destruction of The Dame, the city’s premiere music venue and one of the very few places focused on booking bands, would be a huge blow to the local music scene and dramatically reduce Lexington’s draw to touring bands. Destruction of the rest of the block would knock out what is one of downtown’s very few entertainment districts.

No formal plans for the block have been filed yet, but a city councilwoman and members of the Downtown Entertainment Task Force have said they either expect the block to be demolished or have heard about a hotel being developed on the site. Vice Mayor Jim Gray said in the Kernel article that an ambitious project was in the works for the block and that he hoped the city would make “every effort to retain energy that’s been created there.”

Gray is right to be worried.

The benefits of a downtown luxury hotel during the equestrian games are clear. But, back to the original question: What about afterward?

Does Lexington have the draw as a tourist city to benefit from such a project in the long-term? Only if more large events come to the city, said Tom Martin, chairman of the Downtown Entertainment Development Task Force, in the Kernel article. It’s certainly a significant gamble — is it worth alienating locals and hurting the city’s downtown culture?

Students and similar age groups will particularly be affected. And while it might be easy to paint this argument as little more than selfish people who have to find a new place to have a good time, it is unfortunately not so simple.

Nightlife is an essential component of a social community. And locally owned places like the ones on the Rosenberg Block not only provide entertainment after dark; they also go far in giving a city character. Music venues especially serve as social and artistic communities, which in turn add to the quality of life in any city.

A hotel might bring in some temporary money, but the block as it is attracts hundreds of people weekly. It’s a significant pulse of the city’s entertainment heart. Martin suggested that a hotel could add to Lexington’s entertainment options, but this optimism seems murky.

As he pointed out, all of downtown is zoned to allow bars and venues, but presently there are few in existence, and the ones that stand are scattered. It seems illogical, or at least backwards, to destroy a block of entertainment to further that growth with a hotel. Visitors will most likely want somewhere to go at night. Unfortunately, there might be few options in the future.

But they have the luxury of leaving the city. The real losers would be the locals, closely followed by the city itself.

Lexington is looking to impress the world in two years. Hopefully officials won’t forget that Lexingtonians are the ones who need to be accommodated before anyone. After all, they would be here with or without the horses.