Late last week, the Webb’s erected new plywood signs for their CentrePointe project, replacing the “Coming Soon” signs that have occupied the empty lot for the past three years.
This week brings more exciting news:
Louisville philanthropists and art collectors Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown will announce plans Tuesday to buy the old First National Building in downtown Lexington and convert it to a 21c Museum Hotel — a combination boutique hotel and contemporary art museum.
They opened Louisville’s acclaimed 21c hotel in 2006, and Lexington’s will be the fourth in the 21c group of hotels.
“We’re excited about the possibility of opening a hotel in Lexington,” Wilson told the Herald-Leader on Monday.
The First National Building was Lexington’s first skyscraper, opened in 1914. It was designed by the same firm that did the White House’s West Wing. [Read more history of the building at the Kaintuckeean.]
It’s the little-big beige one at the corner of Upper and Main, overlooking the grassy field.
Of no less historic relevance, it was also home to the offices of B&P last year. Definitely needs a bit of plumbing work done. But it’s a beautiful building with great views, of solid construction and, you know… it already exists. Which makes it a cool place to put a hotel.
The address has been a rumored destination for a boutique hotel for a couple years, and there was some serious interest from at least one West Coast backer, but it’s good to see that not only is the First National going to get a makeover, that makeover is coming from in-state forces… and folks who’ve got a track record of creating remarkable hotels.
Last Summer when the Webbs, under duress, brought Jeanne Gang in to their flailing CenterPointe process, they considered a boutique hotel of their own but hilariously abandoned the idea after asking just one partner (the very same, 21C) if they were interested.
Some Webb apologists will invariably suggest that the boutique interest in the First National Building scuttled their own boutique idea. But that seems a bit unlikely as even in the Gang CentrePointe boutique, there would have been much more space and more rooms.
The First National 21C will have 80 rooms, a ballroom, restaurant and bar — in the existing 15 story building. By today’s standards, it is not a “big” building in either height or width.
The Gang CentrePointe design, on the other hand, would have been 388 ft. tall, just shorter than the Big Blue Building. In its earliest stages (and it’s unclear if it ever went back to the drawing board with any helpful Webb input) it had thirty stories with 10 set aside for a hotel but in a larger footprint.
That’s much closer in design to the most-current CentrePointe design which puts hotel room on floors 5 to 17, with ballrooms and such below and apartments and those mystical million dollar condos up above.
But let’s not waste too much time contemplating the Webb’s Field of Dreams. What about the building that actually exists?
The new owners made their move to purchase the address in January. They hope to start construction by the end of the year and open in 2014. As with the Webb’s CentrePointe fantasy, the 21C folks are looking for public assistance:
Much of the financing will be private, but city and state help will be needed for the project, said Craig Greenberg, president of 21c Museum Hotels.
The 21c will ask the city to help arrange a $6 million federal loan through a program that supports projects creating jobs for low-income and moderate-income workers. Greenberg said the project will create construction jobs and 150 permanent jobs.
The hotel company also will ask for $2 million that the city already has received under another federal program.
It’s unclear how much that all adds up to, but again, it seems unlikely they’ll get anywhere near the $50 Million the Webbs were trying to bilk for their earlier go round.
[And again, the Webb's CentrePointe project was initially approved for a TIF several years ago when the project was supposed to cost up to $100 Million more and the TIF deal and paybacks were structured around a larger space with more potential -- however bizarre or unlikely -- for return than the most current version, which suggests the Webb's use of the $50 Million TIF to lure investors with loose change to the project may be a ruse in itself... that TIF should have expired and a new application should need to be made.]
B.Fortune has much, much more — including Mayor Gray calling 21C a “great hotel brand” — so read it all.
I would love to send you, as well, to the reaction from the Webbs but, like their building, it doesn’t exist.