The Treeds Experiment

Back in May, I blogged about the abandoned properties next to our shop, and about what to do about blight in our city. 

In this week’s Urban County Council meetings, residents of several neighborhoods surrounding the University of Kentucky campus registered their concerns about the changes taking place in their communities. 

The biggest concerns surrounded how some property owners were effectively converting single-family homes into makeshift dormitories / frat houses / flop houses to take advantage of the burgeoning student population at UK.  The complaints centered not only on the creation of multi-unit apartments and the paving of lawns for parking, but also on the often-destructive behavior of the residents who move in.

Some on the council wished to impose a moratorium on these kinds of conversions while the city figures out how to accommodate growth at UK. 

Last night, the council rejected the proposed moratorium, to the disappointment of many of the residents.  At one point, Councilmember Lane suggested that neighbors should simply “file a complaint on property owners you feel are in violation of zoning ordinance, see if our government can apply the laws we have on the books,” to which citizen Janet Cowan responded “I know all of the numbers, Mr. Lane.  I have them on speed dial.” 

So, how well can the government apply the laws we have on the books?  It is time to see. 

The Treeds Experiment
What happened after openly blogging about the properties surrounding Lowell’s back in May? 

Nothing.

Well, not nothing, exactly..  The 8-foot tall tree-weeds (“treeds”) I talked about then have now grown to some 16- to 18-feet tall, dwarfing the hedges that they have grown through.

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The treeds now spill out over the sidewalks, making them impossible to navigate without a machete.  Some pedestrians step into the street rather than navigate the mess on the sidewalks.

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The grass growing next to our building has now grown to 7 1/2 feet tall (That’s me back there earlier this afternoon, risking chiggers and other man-eating varmints. I’m 6 1/2 feet tall…). 

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And, finally, the only drain on the lot is completely crusted over.  So, during heavy rains, the lot drains straight into Mechanic Street, contributing to an occasional “Lake Mechanic”.

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All of which sets the stage for what I’m calling “The Treeds Experiment”.  The Treeds Experiment is a test — wherein I plan to take up Councilmember Lane’s suggestion — and learn just how long and how well our government takes to apply the laws that we already have on the books.

Simultaneous with this blog post on the afternoon before a holiday weekend, I am sending an email to code_enforcement@lfucg.com requesting that they take remedial action upon this lot and its owners.

I will chronicle the communication (and, I anticipate, the non-communication) I get from the Code Enforcement folks and other city officials in updates to this post and on Twitter.  I will not tell them that I am doing so (so that they will not artificially accelerate their actions).

But I am telling you.

Should be interesting.  Look for updates here as the weeks and months progress.

::

Note: Many thanks to AceWeekly for chronicling the LFUCG meetings and civic discussions.  Ace captured the quotes I used above.

Pat Gerhard at Third Street Stuff has recently contacted the Downtown Development Authority about the lot.  We agreed a month or so ago that I would contact Code Enforcement.  (Sorry for the delay, Pat.)

9/4/2009, 3:46 PM: Sent initial email to LFUCG Code Enforcement, while publishing this post.

To whom it may concern:

I am the owner of Lowell’s, an auto
repair shop at 111 Mechanic Street.  There is a lot at the North corner
of North Limestone and Mechanic which appears to be abandoned, as no
maintenance has been done by the owners for over 2 years. 

There are now large tree-weeds growing through the hedges
surrounding the lot, making progress on sidewalks very difficult.  The
only drain on the lot is clogged, and the lot drains into Mechanic
Street, contributing to flooding during heavy rains.  There is a large
clump of grass which is now approaching 8 feet in height which is
growing next to our main building.  Many customers assume that the lot
is ours (since it borders our building), and a few have asked us to
clean it up.

Can you take remedial action on this property and update me on your progress in addressing these issues? 

Thank you,
Rob Morris

9/4/2009, 6:18 PM: Blog comment from the Lexington Streetweeper (written by an LFUCG employee) on how the Treeds Experiment is “destined to fail”.

9/4/2009, 9:28 PM: I reply that failure really isn’t possible.

9/7/2009, 10:50 AM: During torrential downpours, Lake Mechanic forms again as Mechanic Street is completely flooded, due in part to runoff from the Treeds lot with a clogged drain.

9/8/2009, 10:45 AM: I receive an email from David Jarvis, Director of Code Enforcement:

I will have Calvin Powell assign an Inspector.  Thank You.

9/8/2009, 1:25 PM: I respond:

Thank you.  I look forward to your updates.

Rob

9/8/2009, 2:19 PM: David Jarvis sends me another email:

Property will be cited (14 day time limit) and the limbs will be cleared back off the sidewalk as soon as we can get our contractor there.

As I read that email (and post this update) the contractors arrive with weed-eaters and loppers in hand:

IMG_2531 

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Buh-bye treeds!  But where will the varmints live now?

9/8/2009, 2:45 PM: Taylor Shelton and 10th District Councilmember Doug Martin post responses on the blog.  Councilmember Martin mentions that Code Enforcement is particularly short-handed and suggests that citizens use LexCall 311 with details of their similar complaints.

9/8/2009, 6:31 PM: I came back to Lowell’s after being out since about 3:30 PM, and most of the debris was removed.  Still a couple of piles which couldn’t fit into the contractor’s truck.

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9/9/2009, 9:15 AM: Contractors cleaning up remaining debris from lot next to Lowell’s main building.

IMG_2537  

9/9/2009, 10:14 AM: The lot’s only drain is still clogged.  Not sure whether that is a Code Enforcement issue or not.  Sent a response to David Jarvis and Calvin Powell:

Thank you for your quick actions in getting this lot cleared. 


Is the clogged drain in the lot something under the purview of Code
Enforcement, or would there be another department which handles that
drainage issue?



Thanks,

Rob

IMG_2540 IMG_2541 IMG_2542

LowellsSquare

Health care reform: A small business perspective

This week, we’re finalizing our shop’s health insurance requirements for the next year.  Our policy will be 25% more this year for the same coverage.  Last year, it grew by 16%.  Compounded, that’s 45% in two short years.  No other cost increases on that scale for us.

As a small business, the spiraling costs of health care hit us particularly hard each year.  And the need for a new approach to health care is particularly acute, for us and for our employees.

I’ve been puzzling over health care for a long while – and I won’t claim to have the answers here.  But I thought it could be helpful to step away from the town hall and cable channel histrionics and fear-mongering to share some observations on health care from a small business perspective.

Insurance companies are like casinos: The house always wins.
Insurance companies have received a lot of criticism during the
health care reform debate.  But they are doing precisely what they are
designed to do.  They make money for investors by taking bets on the
health requirements of their customers. 

Insurance companies operate like casinos or racetracks: the table is
always tilted in favor of the house.  They may lose big on a single
‘jackpot’, but across the full array of customers they nearly always win.  And when they don’t win ‘enough’, they’ll raise the cost of making bets with them. 

When we enter into agreements with insurance companies, we’re always taking a sucker’s bet that we’re very likely to lose.  The only reason an insurance company takes our money is because they ‘bet’ that we won’t need that amount of medical care.

Ultimately, as with the casino, the house wins.

The oddity of employer-provided health insurance.
We don’t really question it much today, but it is just plain strange that something as personal and as private as health care is mediated by employers at all.  We don’t usually involve our employers in house payments or banking or appliance purchases or car insurance.  But, somehow, we’ve come to expect them to provide health care insurance.

Employer-provided insurance is an historical artifact from negotiations between General Motors and labor unions in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s.  Charles Wilson, GM’s CEO, saw it as a last-ditch concession to help prevent the ‘nationalized healthcare’ system that Harry Truman was championing – which Wilson saw as a threat to the integrity of the free enterprise system.  (Funny how many things just don’t change.)  Soon, other employers adopted health care coverage as a standard part of their benefits packages, and employer-provided insurance became the norm.

But, really, why are we employers involved at all?

Leverage
One reason that employers remain involved is that they often have more buying power than individuals.  Over the past 60 years, we’ve been able to provide leverage which lets us negotiate somewhat better plans with insurers and medical providers. 

But small businesses have scant more negotiating leverage than an individual.  Often, our employees choose to get independent coverage rather than participate in our group plan. 

When Lowell’s bid out to three other health insurance companies, the results were disheartening.  The other three companies offered rates that were 200% to 300% higher than our current rates with Anthem.  So we’re ‘trapped’ with Anthem.

Expanding waistlines, increasing costs.
As a nation, we’re getting a lot unhealthier.  We eat more.  We exercise less.  We sleep less.  We’re in worse health.  We’re living longer.  And we need more care.

We don’t spend much time, effort, or money on the preventative health care and self-care which would help eliminate the much more expensive catastrophic care.  We’re too busy to exercise.  We don’t want to pay for the mammogram.  We don’t like waiting in the doctor’s office. 

And we require more medical care as a result.  Often, we get that
care after a catastrophe built upon years of self-abuse: We have a heart
attack.  Our knees fail.  The cancer spreads.  (We see the same phenomenon with routine maintenance in the car business – put it off, put it off, put it off, then replace an engine.)

Health care is getting more expensive, in part, because we are getting unhealthier.

Rising expectations, increasing costs.
We’ve
come to expect more from our medical system.  We expect our doctors,
staff, drugs, equipment, and facilities all to improve.  And we should expect improvement as medical science advances.

But
those advances are costly.  The astronomical research and development
costs for the medical ‘miracles’ of MRIs and cholesterol-fighting drugs
and ‘little blue pills’ have to be paid for in some fashion.

And doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies won’t simply absorb those costs.  They will pass them on to patients.

Health care is getting more expensive, in part, because health care is getting better.

There are no painless solutions.
We’ve seen politicians, lobbyists, pundits, and fellow citizens all offer various versions of ‘painless’ solutions to the healthcare problem.

They promise that government should bear more of the burden. Or that government shouldn’t bear any of the burden.  Or that we just need full, universal insurance.  Or that insurance companies should pay.  Or drug companies.  Or hospitals.  Or doctors.  Or that we shouldn’t have to pay for the chronically uninsured.  Or that we should just collar all the lawyers and their malpractice suits.  Or we should just have more competition.

Nobody says that we must bear the responsibility.  But we must.

If we refuse to provide insurance or government coverage for the roughly 45 million uninsured Americans, what happens to those who can’t pay?  Hospitals and emergency rooms will still provide care.  Their costs will go up.  And they will pass those costs to other patients in the form of, say, an $8 dose of ibuprofen.  We pay.

If we provide government-paid health care to them (or to ourselves), what happens?  Our national deficit will rise.  This week’s projection of a $9 trillion deficit over 10 years amounts to about $30,000 per man, woman, and child.  Which will have to be funded through taxes.  We pay.

If we have full universal coverage in a government program, what happens?  Because they don’t bear the initial brunt of the costs, patients get more health care than they really need.  And doctors and medical institutions will happily provide (or suggest) that profitable care.  More deficit.   More taxes.  We pay.

If we squeeze insurance company profit (or put greater requirements on them), what happens?  They will likely refuse coverage for the riskiest, least profitable customers.  Unable to find private coverage, those customers will opt to go without coverage or to go with a public plan.  More $8 (or, now, $10) ibuprofen.  More taxes.  We pay.  

If we squeeze drug or equipment company profits, what happens?  They have less to invest in research and development.  They take fewer risks, and release fewer blockbuster drugs or fewer equipment breakthroughs.  Improvements in our medical care falter.  We pay.

If we collar lawyers and malpractice suits, what happens?  Doctors’ malpractice insurance costs will likely go down.  But a few careless doctors who commit malpractice may inflict injury or death without significant penalty.  And who ultimately bears the cost of that irresponsibility and that injury or death?  We do.  We pay.

If we allow more competition between insurance companies, what happens?  The insurance companies look at the same basic actuarial tables.  They evaluate risks in the same way.  They put a price on the ‘bets’ they are willing to take in the same way.  And their prices remain about the same as without as much competition.  We pay.

We want ever-better medical care.  We are getting unhealthier.  We want someone else to pay for it.  But they won’t.  We must bear the responsibility.  We must pay.

Can government, insurance companies, hospitals, and doctors get more efficient?  Sure.  Are there opportunities to eliminate waste?  You bet.  Can we patients get healthier and do more preventative care?  Absolutely.  But it will cost us in some way.

There are no painless solutions.  In the end, we all pay.

The moral obligation
“Is health care a right or a privilege?”

It is a question that we don’t talk about enough, and which underlies much of the national divide about health care today.  Is health care a right to which all people are entitled?  Or, is it a privilege bestowed only upon those who have earned it?  

It is an interesting question, and the health care debate has hinged upon how people answer it.

Except that I think that it is the wrong question.

The “right or privilege” question presupposes that rights and privileges are somehow separable. I don’t think that they are.

I think of health care in many of the same ways as I think of citizenship or, even, to being a human being.  As citizens and as humans, we have certain ‘inalienable’ rights.  Heck, our country was built upon them – “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.  

But those citizen’s (and human) rights come with deep responsibilities.  We must participate.  We must act in certain ways.  We must work together to improve our nation and our well-being.  We can’t abuse the fundamental rights we have been given.

For me, health care comes down to a moral issue.  I can’t tolerate 45 million fellow citizens living without a safety net.  I can’t tolerate wasteful spending on needless tests and procedures on the public dime.  I can’t tolerate 45% increases in insurance costs over 2 years.  I can’t tolerate ‘competition’ which triples my existing rates.  I can’t tolerate people (including me, unfortunately) who don’t take good enough care of themselves.

I can’t tolerate the status quo.  Can you?

For me, health care is a citizen’s right.  And an earned privilege.  We must strive to provide health care for fundamental human needs whenever possible, while simultaneously striving to ensure we grapple with the responsibilities that come along with that privilege.

So to the politicians, lobbyists, pundits, and citizens engaged in the public debate, I say: Grow up.  Step up to the plate.  Quit attacking.  Get realistic.  Have adult discussions.  Lose the scare tactics.  Work together.  Compromise.  Take responsibility.  Live up to your moral obligations.

Then, maybe, just maybe, we can build a better health care system.  For our nation.  And for one another.

LowellsSquare

What you told us: How Zappos would fix cars

This week we asked for your help in defining an astoundingly great car repair experience.  We summed it up this way: How would Zappos fix cars?

In Wednesday’s post, we talked a little about what Zappos does and why customers love them, including the famous I Heart Zappos post.  And in the past two days, we’ve gotten some really great responses on Twitter, Facebook, and here on the blog – including one response from a Zappos employee!

Zappos

Over on Facebook, Joan commented that she thought that Zappos was actually the “Lowell’s of selling shoes“.  (We heart Joan.)  We love that sentiment and will try to live up to it, but still think we have a lot to potential to improve our own customer service.

On Twitter, Jim suggested that Zappos “would come to your house and fix it at night while you slept“.  Allan and Mari joked about needing to buy parts online from Amazon (an allusion to Zappos’ recent purchase by Amazon.com).

But the strongest theme running through the comments: The need for greater transparency in auto repair.  I’ll run through some of the comments, and then talk a little about what Lowell’s does (and what we could do based on your comments).  On Twitter, Jupiter said he’d like to prevent that “being had” feeling, perhaps by getting greater detail on what was being repaired and why it was needed.  Ace Weekly chimed in “They would spoon you before giving you the bill?”  Here on the blog, Letha (a Zappos employee) shared a friend’s experience with a body shop which sent her daily text messages about the status of her car after a wreck, including a countdown to when it would be ready.  Jim added this comment:

“The thing the frustrates me about car repair is the unexpected nature
and size of the expense. It would be nice to provide as part of the
service an educational piece that says here are the expected life
cycles for key systems for your car and what you might expect to pay.
And here are indicators of failure so we can start to diagnose these
issues BEFORE they happen. At some point, owners need to start
BUDGETING for system replacement and failure and that takes planning
and information.”

What’s clear from this last batch of comments is that automotive service is all-too-frequently a kind of mysterious ‘black box’ where a car goes in one side and nasty, unpleasant surprises emerge from the other. 

At Lowell’s we try to prevent such surprises in the following ways:

  • On each invoice, we print a list of factory-recommended maintenance given vehicle mileage, including a rating of the severity or urgency of each one, and pricing.  We try to review that list with our customers when they pick up or drop off their vehicle.  We sometimes fail to discuss maintenance needs during busy pick-up and drop-off times.
  • We always get customer approval before doing work on a vehicle, providing customers with estimates of the costs before we do the work.  If they are available, we’ll also offer less-expensive alternatives, like fixing or cleaning a part instead of replacing it.  (Ace, we try to reduce the need for ‘spooning’ whenever possible.)
  • When we call a customer to get approval, we tell them what a technician found and explain why action might be needed.

Based on your comments to us, here are some ideas of what we could do:

  • Explainers.  For frequently-done maintenance and repair service items, we could provide detailed “explainer” sheets, including text and pictures regarding what the service is, why it is needed, and what a part might look like when it needs replacement. 
  • Schedules.  With ongoing maintenance, it is easier to implement Jim’s suggestion
    that we provide more of a roadmap of service.  And we do that, to some extent,
    with our list of factory-recommended maintenance.  But it is very
    difficult to predict with accuracy when something will break and
    require repair, and for many repairs there are few warning signs until
    something breaks.  When visible, we’ll tell customers about signs like
    brake or belt wear or engine leaks.  One idea: We could take pictures of the actual parts that are wearing or of the places that are leaking, to show the thing that needs service.
  • Convenience.  Not sure yet how we might do something like this, but Jim’s other suggestion of working on vehicles overnight is interesting.  Perhaps we could pick a car up and have it back in the morning for very basic items, but a big part of our process is communicating back to customers about what we find (and they probably won’t welcome updates at 2 in the morning).  But Jim’s suggestion got us thinking: Are there other ways we could make getting auto service easier?
  • Updates.  As a mechanical shop, most of our repairs are completed same-day, so we almost never have the 20-day delay in getting completed that Letha’s friend had at the body shop.  But Letha’s post got us thinking: Are there other ways you’d prefer to be contacted?  While the phone is our usual way of updating customers, we do frequently find ourselves in a kind of phone tag during the service approval process.  We could provide more contact alternatives: text messages, Twitter DM’s (direct messages), etc. 

Which of these things would matter to you?  What other things would create an astounding car repair experience for you?

We really appreciate your thoughts, and please, keep giving us ideas on how to improve.

LowellsSquare

How would Zappos fix cars?

We spend a lot of time thinking about how to make our shop a better place for our customers and our community.  We feel like we're pretty good at the basics.  Just a few examples:

  • We have an expert staff who know how to get cars fixed.
  • We have a lot of nice touches for customers who wait on their vehicles: 5-cent Cokes, complimentary coupons for a drink and snack at Third Street Stuff, and we encourage customers to take our waiting area magazines with them.
  • For customers who can't wait around, we have a complimentary shuttle to take them back home or to work.  For longer repairs, we provide complimentary loaner vehicles.

These (and many other) touches have helped us a lot.

But "It can always be better" is my personal motto.  This isn't some pessimistic, glass-half-empty statement; it is a fundamental belief that we can always improve the way we do things.

3So we've been thinking about companies that really excel in customer service, and one name keeps popping up: Zappos

Zappos is a world-class online shoe and clothing retailer who has gained a fanatical customer following because they do a lot of things right:

  • They offer free shipping (both ways).  While not promised, the shipping is often next-day.
  • They have a 365-day return policy.  If your shoes don't fit or don't look the way you expected, return them at no cost.
  • They have round-the-clock customer service.
  • They have a positive culture which puts a premium on providing astoundingly great customer service and having fun.
  • They have an enthusiastic staff which has permission to make things 'right' for customers with frequent pleasant surprises like this one.

Zappos recently agreed to be acquired by Amazon.com, and there has been a lot of concern about their ability to maintain their unmatched customer service. 

But for us, Zappos presents an interesting question:

How would Zappos fix cars?

What would an astoundingly great car repair experience be like?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below. 

We can't wait to see what you come up with.

UPDATE: What you told us.

LowellsSquare

LexMobs on South Limestone?

The South Limestone streetscape project gets underway this morning.  Using Twitter, Lexington’s Mayor announced that the closure will result in traffic delays of up to 45 minutes. 

From a public point of view, the closure seems hastily and poorly planned, although the promised streetscapes look wonderful.  The project stems from a noble goal: to better connect the University of Kentucky campus with downtown Lexington. 

But businesses lining South Limestone (SoLime) had little time to adapt to the closure, and I wonder how many can survive being starved of traffic for so long.  When Lexingtonians realize that there is a “mess” surrounding SoLime, they will stay away in droves.  (With a business just off of North Limestone, I’m concerned about the disruptions to our southside Lexington customers making it in to Lowell’s.) 

There are a lot of great businesses along SoLime that would be a shame to lose: Sav’s, Pazzo’s, Tolly Ho, Failte, Sqecial Media, and many, many others.  Some (maybe all) of these are Lexington institutions.

How long could they operate without significant customer patronage?  How long could they retain employees?  How long can they make debt / rent payments?  How long can they pay bills?  How long can they survive?

So, here’s a challenge for our readers: Let’s go out of our way to demonstrate that we care about those businesses.

Beginning today, and continuing through the next month, let’s pick one or two businesses to “flash mob” each day.  Let’s get together to show, with our feet and our wallets, that we want those businesses to survive.  Let’s show up.  And eat.  Or buy.  Or drink.  Let’s refuse to let these businesses fail.

If our LexMobs get too big, that’s OK – I’m sure that the plentiful nearby businesses would also love some of our overflow business.

Will this effort be well-organized and well-thought-out in advance?  Not a chance.  Will it be messy?  Yes.  Will it be chaotic?  Absolutely.  Will it be inconvenient?  Certainly.  Will you be too busy to interrupt your day?  Undoubtedly.

But that is precisely the point: to go out of our way to demonstrate we care for these businesses.

So… Let’s LexMob South Limestone.  Look for more details on Twitter with the hashtags #LexMob and #SoLime.  See you there!

Update: The inaugural LexMob will be Wednesday, July 22nd @ Pazzo’s Pizza Pub at 11:30 AM near Euclid on SoLime.  Can’t make it?  We’ll try for other times and places with future LexMobs!

LowellsSquare

A modest proposal to end blight

Comp Care Lot
Comprehensive Care Parking Lot

Every morning when I walk into work at Lowell's, I see 8-foot-tall tree-weeds growing through unkempt hedges and spilling over into the public sidewalk.  I see a planter adjoining our building, burgeoning with weeds and grass and the massive stump of a long-dead tree.  I see a pitted, crumbling parking lot with clogged drainage.

Many customers assume it is our lot.  It does adjoin our building.  And they can't see the sign declaring "Comprehensive Care Center Parking Only".

IMG_2483
116 Mechanic Street

Across the street I see a tiny old shotgun house with a gigantic half-rotted tree looming ominously over both the house and the main Lowell's parking lot.  After the ice storm and other storms this spring, downed branches lay in the asphalt front yard of the house.  For over two months.

Absentee owners neglect both properties.  Neighboring businesses have conducted the most of the maintenance on the properties over the past couple of years.  In effect, they are abandoned.

As a business owner, I worry about the effect it has on Lowell's famously loyal customers.  Even if they cherish us and the service we provide, I'm genuinely concerned about the ability of such eyesores to repel visitors to the shop.

I often talk with nearby business owners, who share my concern for the negative effects of these properties on our neighborhood.

* * *

Many folks have wondered why I have been so vocal on the CentrePointe mess.  There are many reasons, but one of the biggest is that the abandoned properties surrounding Lowell's have given me firsthand experience the negative effects of blight like the CentrePointe scar.

There are many such highly-visible, blighted, non-productive and apparently abandoned properties in Lexington: CentrePointe in Downtown, Lexington Mall on Richmond Road, and Continental Inn on New Circle at Winchester are some of the most apparent.  But there are numerous smaller examples littering our city.

Just like the properties surrounding our shop, the absentee owners seek to avoid any and all expenses.  They avoid capital gains taxes by refusing to sell their properties.  They avoid maintenance expenses by refusing to invest to make their properties economic contributors to the community.  They avoid property taxes by refusing to improve their decrepit real estate.

Such abandoned properties generate near-zero direct contributions to the economy.  Moreover, they generate negative economic effects for surrounding properties and businesses: They drive away business and drive down property values.

* * *

It is time for such neglect to end.  It is time to make sure that lazy landowners are motivated 1) to improve their holdings and 2) to transform their properties into contributors to our community's economic engine.

My modest proposal: Implement a 'blight tax'.  Lexington landownders whose property qualifies as 'blighted' would have to pay a moderately severe annual blight tax.

The definition of 'blighted' would need to be worked out, but should include an assessment of the property condition, as well as proof of substantial progress on needed improvements.  We could start with Division of Code Enforcement standards.

To overcome their avoidance of maintenance expenses, property taxes, and/or capital gains taxes, I'd propose that the blight tax have some teeth: Say, 35% to 50% of assessed property value per year.

In the CentrePointe case, the blight tax would generate $8 to $12 million per year of revenue to the city until the developers improve their land.  When historical buildings were demolished to make way for CentrePointe, many rationalized that the old buildings were greater eyesores than the pit which remains today.  I disagree.  But a blight tax may also have helped prevent the demolition-by-neglect which occurred on that block over the years.

I would imagine the former Lexington Mall and Continental Inn properties would generate amounts similar to CentrePointe, given their sizes and their locations on busy thoroughfares.

Such tax revenue could be specifically allocated to offsetting the effects of blight: community improvements to sidewalks, bike paths, streetscapes, parks, community centers, business incubators, community ventures, and the like.  If property owners avoid the blight tax by making their properties more valuable (i.e., by improving them), then all the better.

To create a vibrant city, we need to ensure that Lexington doesn't have the economic scars that blight leaves behind: dead spots which contribute little (or which actually destroy) monetary value in our community.

My proposal is the blight tax.  What's yours?

April in Review

April has been a busy month in the shop and on the blog.  Here's a sample of what we've been writing about this month:

  • Lowell's School Tools and the Bluegrass Vehicle Report.  We provided data about the vehicles we drive in Lexington and surrounding areas, as well as tools for parents and teachers to use to make the data come to life for their students.
  • Why CentrePointe will fail.  Our all-time most popular post analyzes why Lexington's CentrePointe project is doomed even if it is built.  (Also published in Ace Weekly)
  • But it isn't enough to simply grouse about the failure of CentrePointe.  We need to understand what went wrong, what to do about it, and what to do with the empty block downtown.  We need a plan.  Toward that end, we offer The UnTower Manifesto as a starting point for moving beyond CentrePointe. (Portions cross-posted to Ace Weekly and Barefoot & Progressive)
  • We weren't always serious in April.  We speculated on the real source of the Toyota truck logo.
  • What do you hate about Lowell's?  We ask you what you don't like about Lowell's.  We want to be better. 
  • Why Twitter matters.  Twitter has become something of an online sensation of late, with everyone from Oprah to the White House jumping on the Twitter bandwagon.  We talk about how to make it work, and why Twitter is more important than it may seem.
  • A better brand for Lexington.  We talk about what it will take to truly re-brand Lexington.  Hint: It doesn't involve a blue horse or Pentagram.  (Also published in Ace Weekly, and cross-posted to Transform Lexington)

Many thanks to our friends at Ace Weekly, Transform Lexington, and Barefoot & Progressive for amplifying much of what we wrote here this month.

Enjoy!

What do you hate about Lowell’s?

OK, so 'hate' is a strong word for it.

But as much as we try to be the best mechanic in Lexington, we know we're not perfect.  We know that there must be some parts of your experience with us which could be better.

So tell us.  Let us have it.  We can take it.  And we need it.

To get the conversation started, here are some aspects of our business you might want to riff on:

  • Our location
  • Our pricing
  • Our service
  • Our website
  • Our blog
  • Our lobby
  • Our restroom
  • Our people
  • Our honesty
  • Our attitude
  • How we checked you in
  • How much time we took
  • How well we explained what we did
  • How we checked you out
  • Something we did
  • Something we didn't do
  • Something we should do

Please let us know how Lowell's can get better.  Use the comments section below, call the shop at 233-1173, or email us at lowells [at] iglou [dot] com.

We can't promise we'll do everything you suggest, but we will work to make your overall experience with Lowell's a better one.

And thank you.

[where: 111 Mechanic St., Lexington, KY, 40507]

Lowell’s Bluegrass Vehicle Report

Today, we are pleased to release the Bluegrass Vehicle Report 2009.  Using state registration data, Lowell's compiled statistics on vehicles in seven Bluegrass counties.  We've put the results together in a fun and informative format which shows details about the automotive marketplace in and around Lexington.

In addition, Lowell's is releasing Lowell's School ToolsSchool Tools is a companion guide to the report which helps teachers, parents, and student create their own fun and interesting findings from the automotive data.  More about School Tools can be found here.

Among the more interesting results from the Report:

  • Toyota is the #1 brand of vehicle in Lexington.  The 33,624 Toyota vehicles on the road put Toyota ahead of both Ford (31,018) and Chevrolet (29,712).  Toyota nameplates are on 15.4% of the cars on the road.
  • A lot of Toyotas.  All of those Toyotas, placed end-to-end, could fill all 4 lanes of New Circle Road, completely encircling Lexington.
  • A lot of gas.  Lexington drivers consumed over 156 million gallons of gasoline in 2008 — more than enough to fill Rupp Arena from floor to ceiling.

You can see all of the results here:

Or, you can download a PDF of Bluegrass Vehicle Report 2009 (1886.4K).

[where: 111 Mechanic St, Lexington, KY 40507]