Like a couch after a big win, what once was State Street is about to burn to ashes.
For many University of Kentucky students, the smell of fire, the sound of cheering and the sight of burning couches in the street are part of a post-win tradition at UK that may soon turn to ashes.
State Street, a focal point of celebration for the students of UK that includes partying after a big football win and car flipping, is set to undergo a transformation as the university expands the Markey Cancer Center.
UK Spokesperson Jay Blanton said the expansion will take several years as the center is part of a $2 billion new healthcare facility plan that is projected to be finished in 2030.
Blanton said starting last December, UK started acquiring properties in the State Street, University Avenue and Elizabeth Street area.
Primarily student housing, the properties were removed to make way for the expansion of the Cancer Center, transforming the street in the process.
“It’s an ideal location to help advance cancer care in our state,” Blanton said. “It’s the best of care for the worst of diseases.”
The university is in the design phase of the new healthcare facility with 35 of the 40 properties purchased and will start the construction phase soon after all properties are acquired, according to Blanton.
State Street resident Zach Holloway said even though the center sounds impactful, he feels like as the houses are being removed, the street has already started to feel different.
Holloway said he’s scared what this expansion could mean for the street as the celebrations have been a tradition for decades and played a monumental part in student culture.
“It makes me sad. I love this street and I love the atmosphere,” Holloway said.
As a fifth-year mechanical engineering student, Holloway said that it's very bittersweet knowing he was able to enjoy living there and others won’t get to experience it quite the same way.
Although, senior Zach Preston's experience with State Street wasn't so positive. Last fall, Preston’s car was totaled during a post-game celebration after UK ‘s 26-16 win over Florida.
“When I was there, I was having fun, but then realized my car was getting overturned and that definitely straightened me up,” Preston said.
Preston said he watched the game in a house on State Street and, as he lived one street over, he thought his car would be fine parked there.
“I noticed it started flattening and crashing down as people jumped on it,” Preston said. “They started to rip the numbers off and the headlights and taillights out.”
To repair the damage, his dad started a GoFundMe campaign the next morning, which raised $5,637 for his son to get a new car.
After the incident, Preston said his dad discovered the Lexington Property Valuation Administrator website states the university owns State Street. Preston said when his family contacted UK about the car damages, UK told his parents that they don’t claim State Street as on-campus property and dismissed them.
Preston said even after the events, he's still a UK kid at heart and plans to continue going to the street for celebrations. He is scared of what will happen to the student culture if all of State Street is destroyed due to the new development.
“With all of the construction that is happening, they’re definitely doing it to sway people away from State Street,” Preston said.
Blanton said that last December, UK’s board approved the initiation of construction of the new $500 million advanced cancer building, leading UK to acquire the properties on State Street and other streets in the area to help facilitate the construction project.
Blanton said the new center will expand its reach to serve even more patients in need as Kentucky leads the country in the incidence rates of many cancers.
“Fortunately, we have one of the best cancer centers in the country, but we need more space to provide more outpatient advanced cancer care,” Blanton said. “A large number of cancer patients in the state come to Markey Cancer Center.”
Julia Price, resident of State Street and graduate of UK, said that she believes what UK is doing is wonderful for the community but seemed intentional that they picked State Street and thought they might have purposely chosen it because of the name and reputation that it had.
“I remember driving and thinking, ‘I've never even noticed that vacant lot before,’” Price said. “Then I remembered there was a house there that my friend had lived in and that wasn't even there anymore.”
Price said that when she moved last fall to her fourplex on the street, she was notified that her lease might not withstand the whole year due to her rental being surveyed for possible demolition.
Price said that she knew it was a possibility that she would have to move out but doesn’t think the destruction of houses on the street would affect the traditions of the students.
“If you take down this street, they’re [students] just going to move it [the celebrations] somewhere else,” Price said.
Preston and Holloway agree that the traditions of State Street will simply move to a different site, even if it's just a few streets over.
Preston believes it's up to the future generation of students to keep the State Street traditions and customs alive, even if the spirit has to move to a new street.
Holloway said the atmosphere of State Street on non-game days is what he loves most about the street, where everyone is outside on the lawn, throwing footballs and playing music.
“It’s just a really fun place and it's fun to be social,” Holloway said. “You get to make friends and it’s fun just to people-watch.”
As it’s Holloway’s third year experiencing living on State Street, he has seen many of the houses and parts of the atmosphere vanish.
“It’s quite sad that students literally lived in these houses that made many of the staple traditions at UK,” Holloway said. “Now the houses are gone and it's upsetting.”