In June, I had the pleasure of joining more than 180 community leaders for the Commerce Lexington Leadership Visit to San Antonio, Texas. Through the years, the annual visit has generated many great ideas for Lexington and Central Kentucky. Previous trips to cities like Madison, Wis., Greenville, N.C., Ann Arbor, Mich., Austin, Texas, and Boulder, Colo., have brought us Thursday Night Live, the new Limestone Street corridor connecting UK and downtown, and recently the bike and pedestrian path through the Harrodsburg Road double crossover diamond interchange.
Although San Antonio is larger than Lexington, we can learn much from their success in urban development. You just cannot believe San Antonio’s River Walk, a long network of walkways along the San Antonio River that is lined with fountains, landscaping and enormous trees, where hosts of pedestrians visit shops, restaurants, bars and hotels. Once nothing more than a drainage ditch, public and private investment in San Antonio’s River Walk has created one of the largest tourist attractions in Texas.
In recent years, San Antonio has expanded its River Walk by opening a new section to the north in 2009, with another to the south to open in 2013, attracting hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment. The extended River Walk connects museums, tourist attractions like the Alamo, and successful infill and redevelopment projects like high quality hotels and restaurants. The northern expansion of the River Walk cost $72 million, but private investment since its opening has topped $250 million.
First conceived in the 1920s, San Antonio’s River Walk is a testament to the long-term thinking and cooperation between the public and private sectors in San Antonio. Lexington has often lacked this expansive vision, and many of our long-term community plans have been left on the shelf to collect dust.