The Athens Boonesboro Rd. welcome sign: A monument to Lexington’s misplaced priorities

by Paul Oliva, Web Editor

In a city where homelessness has surged past pre-pandemic levels and low-wage workers are being pushed to neighboring counties due to unaffordable rents, the proposal to erect a $211,588.03 welcome sign on Athens Boonesboro Road is not just tone-deaf—it’s a glaring testament to misplaced priorities.

Lexington homeless population by year. (LFUCG Office of Homelessness Prevention and Intervention)

The current Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council, largely composed of new members who rode into office on a wave of progressive promises, seems to have forgotten the very people they vowed to represent. While the Athens Boonesboro Welcome Sign may serve as a picturesque backdrop for tourists, it does nothing to address the urgent, life-altering issues that many Lexington residents face daily.

Mayor Linda Gorton, who during her campaign said she found it acceptable for low-wage workers to seek housing in neighboring counties, should be reminded that a city’s greatness is not measured by its ability to attract tourists but by its commitment to uplift its most vulnerable residents. The sign, largely a marketing tool for the tourism industry, benefits sectors that have long been criticized for their exploitative practices. AirBNB owners, the abusive horse gambling industry, and bourbon whiskey liquor manufacturers may reap the rewards, but what about the workers who can’t even afford to live in the city they serve?

The $271,700 budget allocated for this project from the Division of Environmental Quality could be better spent on immediate needs. Imagine if those funds were redirected to combat the rising homelessness in Lexington or to provide job training for those struggling to make ends meet. Instead, the council is set to approve a project that, at best, serves as a cosmetic enhancement and, at worst, stands as a monument to the city’s skewed priorities.

Athens Boonesboro Welcome Sign bid recommendation. (LFUCG)

Vulcan Materials’ donation of limestone for the project may reduce construction costs, but it doesn’t alleviate the ethical dilemma. Public-private partnerships should not be a smokescreen that allows the council to evade its responsibilities. The donation, while generous, should prompt us to ask: Why can’t similar partnerships be forged to address homelessness or the affordable housing crisis?

It’s time for the council to reevaluate its priorities. Resources should be allocated to initiatives that have a direct, positive impact on the lives of Lexington’s residents. A welcome sign on Athens Boonesboro Road may attract tourists and please certain industries, but it does nothing to welcome struggling residents into a more stable, prosperous life.

As the resolution heads for its first reading this Thursday, with a final vote as early as September 14, one can only hope that the council takes a moment to consider the opportunity cost of their decision. Because every dollar spent on this sign is a dollar not spent on someone who desperately needs it—a glaring sign of a city that has lost its way.

A shopping cart sits "across the tracks" from Fayette Mall. (The Lexington Times)
A shopping cart sits “across the tracks” from Fayette Mall. (The Lexington Times)