Jim Gray

Will H-L Ed Board run B&P out of town?

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November 18, 2011
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Seriously. Three editorials in one day? If they kept that up and just started a blog, Barefoot would go out of business. All our ad revenue would be sucked up and no one would ever stop by. We could just close up shop.

Here’s the HLEB on the water company:

The financial fallout of Lexington’s past error in outsourcing its water supply provides a cautionary tale. The board that oversees Louisville’s public water utility just passed a 3.75 percent rate increase, the same as last year, and will pay a $19.2 million dividend to the city. Meanwhile, Kentucky American, our private water supplier, which pays dividends only to its shareholders, got approval for a 29 percent rate increase last year and can be expected to go for another soon.

Here’s the HLEB on the hiring/firing issue:

[T]he administration of Mayor Jim Gray did the right thing by asking Cheryl Taylor to resign when it became clear that she had been involved in seeking work for her husband, an electrical contractor, through the department she oversaw. That’s nepotism and it is rightly outlawed under our city charter.

And here’s the HLEB on Doug “F*ck You!” Martin:

Closing Kearney a hack idea to help private developers

Councilman Doug Martin has upped the ante in the quest by private golf developers to blame public courses for their business woes.

Martin has suggested closing Kearney Hill Links, by far the city’s finest venue, and one of the Midwest’s truly great municipal layouts.

That last one’s a doozy… so check it out in full.

But you see what I mean. It’s like B&P barely needs to exist anymore if they keep churning ‘em out at that rate. Slow down! You’re scaring us.

Roundup: Demarcus does Romney, Richie does “Job Creation,” and more…

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November 18, 2011
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Sometimes we get behind. (Okay, we’re always behind.) And sometimes there’s so much going on it can’t all get the time it deserves. We’ve been busy, sorry. So… let’s fly through some stuff:

Ryan Alessi got the exclusive story of Mitt Romney’s recent campaign fundraiser… at which Jorts and Demarcus Cousins shared a stage with Mittens and gave the silvering fox a white UK cap. The event was organized by Romney’s KY finance chair, Mr. Joe Craft, who once told a crowd of people that everyone he went to high school with aspired only to drop out and live off the government but that he, Joe Craft, had a different dream… which was apparently to blow up mountains and rip off the people he grew up with. But that has less to do with Harrelson and Cousins showing up for Mitt. Or does it?

Continuing with basketball, if you follow the team, you must already know that Saturday’s game against a JoePa-less Penn State team is viewably only via this internet and only then if you have the correct internet provider. A lot of people are freaked out by this. What I find surprising is that they’ve never encountered this before. As a roving UK fan, I have crammed myself into all manner of places in order to find a game on a big(ger) screen and have seen many, many times, the internet-only ESPN3 games funneled through a series of tubes into regular televisions… most particularly at Jack Dempsey’s, the UK alumni bar in NYC. The HL article on this conundrum is sad mostly because a series of bars and restaurants have no idea what to do and only Pazzo’s has taken the time to figure out what is really really simple. So… Pazzo’s is going to be crazy tomorrow and every place else has about 24 hours to figure out how to connect the teevee to the internet.

And… continuing with basketball!… it appears Richie Farmer has blown one more thing handily — in the waning days of his failed run at Lt. Governor alongside (outgoing) State Senate President David Williams, Farmer hired his girlfriend at $5,000 a month. I would’ve dated Richie for $2,000 a month but perhaps I don’t have all the qualifications for the job Richie was trying to create.

Less basketbally (sorry, really), the LFUCG approved of the Gray/Fischer Lexi/ville “Super Region.” Which was a super surprising move on their part and an all-round super decision. Our council members are super. Super leaders, really. But seriously, this is super (really).

And somewhat less basketbally (like, if you want to consider this story in context of the Rupp Area development, then it’s kinda basketbally), the Distillery District public meeting went down last night. I was hoping to get there but, sadly, was/am a bit under the weather and failed. So I can’t tell you any more than what this article can and, really, it tells you a lot. (One has to wonder whether Mr. Kegley enjoys the escape of covering a story like this or if he spent the whole time wondering what killer crime stories he was missing… like the next Lexington Spiderman.) In brief, plans are coming along, though slowly (or, in the parlance of such things, deliberately) and there may be a plan of some sort by Spring 2012 but it may take longer and in all, includes streetscapes, walkways, etc etc. I’ll try to get more information because obviously this ties into that larger saga down the street but for the time being, Kegley take it away.

Rand Paul is leading the charge to end the Iraq War (while the rest of the Republican Party tries to crap all over President Obama for bringing all the troops home). But how do you end a war that was never started? Bush didn’t declare it and Congress never approved it as such, the Clintons, Kerrys and Edwards of the world just voted to okay invasion and then kept paying for it, but no one made the declarative statement. Here’s a question for a Friday: Is Rand’s move most similar to me declaring that America should land on the moon, or me asking Rand Paul when he stopped beating his wife? Feel free to discuss. Other hypotheticals accepted.

Okay. That was easy. A morning’s worth of news just breezes on by. G-d bless you all and G-d bless Kentucky.

Hiring & Firing & Resigning at LFUCG’s Environmental Quality and Public Works Division

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November 17, 2011
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Over the past week-and-half, there’s been some salivating going on. The Gray Administration’s Commissioner of Environmental Quality and Public Works resigned, saying she’d been asked to step down, and emailed people throughout LFUCG in order to fire the first shot.

The Gray Administration has kept quiet and, in response, the usual voices in LFUCG — let’s call them Team Newberry, who know a bit about obstruction and cronyism — have tried to frame the debate as if the Gray administration had something to hide.

Which is a fine place to start from — people in positions of power should be viewed skeptically, their actions questioned and transparency demanded. That’s all fine, and it’s funny that so many in Team Newberry are now figuring this out.

It should also be interesting to see how the Ed Lanes and Doug Martins handle the latest developments — in which it becomes pretty clear the Gray Administration acted diligently to protect the city; in which it becomes pretty clear Gray’s silence on the matter isn’t a matter of obfuscation but one of legality; and in which it becomes clear that some people really want to hire their husbands even after they’re told multiple times that it ain’t cool.

City officials cautioned Lexington’s former Commissioner of Environmental Quality and Public Works Cheryl Taylor at least three times not to direct city work to her husband, according to emails obtained Wednesday by the Herald-Leader.

Taylor abruptly resigned last week, saying she was asked to step down after the city began investigating whether she inappropriately tried to direct city funds to her husband.

Some of the requests to hire her husband, Robert Taylor, an electrician, were from officials in the Division of Waste Management, under Cheryl Taylor’s supervision. At least two requests were by Taylor herself, according to the transcripts released by the city in response to an open-records request from the Herald-Leader.

On at least three occasions in 2011, Law Commissioner Janet Graham emailed Taylor that her husband could not be hired as a city employee or do contract work for the city because it would violate the city’s nepotism ordinance.

Read the entire article… it is full of hilarity.

On a bright note, Ms. Taylor is well within her right now to hire her husband for anything he wants to do since she no longer works for the city. And he can now get a job with the city because she no longer works there. So… problems solved.

It’s also worth highlighting the fact that Ms. Taylor worked previously in the Newberry Administration as the Environmental Quality Commissioner overseeing Lexington’s sanitary and storm sewer system… before leaving that job to work for Kentucky American Water. It didn’t seem like a particularly good idea to bring her back to begin with and as it turns out, it probably wasn’t.

But perhaps Ms. Taylor could now get re-hired by Lexington’s corporate overlords at KAW as they seek to further screw the city’s taxpayers:

Now investor-owned Kentucky American Water has given six months notice that it’s ending its contract with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government to collect sewer, landfill and water quality (storm water) fees for the city.

Water and sewer bills are natural companions because sewer bills are based on water consumption. Kentucky American was paid $1.6 million a year under its latest billing contract with the city.

….Meanwhile, American Water, Kentucky American’s New Jersey-based parent, says the company’s third-quarter profits were up 2.3 percent — in part because rate increases more than offset declining water consumption.

Ah… American Water forcing rate increases they don’t need as water consumption declines — Team Newberry knows all about that.

Hopefully Martin, Lane, et al., will keep all of this in mind the next time they get their tighties in a twist. Sometimes it’s easier to just excuse yourself and dig a little deeper.

H-L Editorial: Make Two-Way Streets Happen

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November 17, 2011
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Git ‘er done!

A search through Herald-Leader archives finds near-universal support for two-way streets in Lexington’s downtown going back over a decade and studies to support the change.

Two years ago the council passed a resolution supporting two-way streets.

The question has remained: So, why hasn’t it happened?

Perhaps Mayor Jim Gray will finally answer that question. Maybe it hasn’t happened because neither the mayor nor the council has drawn a line in the asphalt and said, “make it happen.”

….more….

Lexington’s Two-Way Future?

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November 15, 2011
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Mayor Jim Gray has long called for converting Lexington’s downtown streets from one-way highways to two-way city streets. The never-adopted Downtown Master Plan studied the question and recommended making the transition. Both of the top-shelf architects who’ve come to town in the past few months — Jeanne Gang, Gary Bates — have pushed the city to make the move. And now:

Gray, in his first major speech after taking office in January, pledged to work to get a two-way street plan implemented, saying city leaders had “jammered and jabbered about it” long enough.

On Thursday, Chris King, director of the Division of Planning, said, “We are accelerating the process.”

Last week, the city advertised for consultants to submit detailed plans to convert the four pairs of one-way streets back to two-way traffic: Short and Second, Main and Vine, High and Maxwell, and Upper and Limestone.

There will be those who will fight this. The question is how many will they be, how loud will they be, and how many of them have, as time has moved on, begun to see the error in their thinking. How many one-way advocates of the past have woken up and smelled the greenbacks? How many of them have seen towns where cars move in orderly fashions and people walk the streets? How many of them have realized that concrete racetracks do not a downtown make?

The streets went one-way around the time folks exploded into the suburbs, creating a vacuum that was filled by, well, things you just wanted to drive by very quickly. The one way streets of Lexington were designed to do just what they do — which is move people at high speeds from one side of downtown and out the other as quickly as possible, or, in some cases, move people into downtown at high speed, deliver them to a parking garage (or surface lot!) and then whisk them out again about 8 hours later unscathed.

The reality is that if people understood how to get around their own city, the ones trying to avoid downtown could do so quite easily. That’s another bad-benefit of the One Ways… no one really bothers to learn where else to go.

The Fabulous Ms. Fortune’s whole article can paint you a much larger picture, so here’s another taste, but read it all:

At a recent conference of mayors, Gray presented some ideas being pursued in Lexington to revitalize downtown and mentioned two-way streets. “The mayors of Charleston, S.C., and Minneapolis both said, ‘Just do it,’”  said.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak told Gray, “15 minutes after you make the change, people will be asking why you didn’t do it 25 years earlier,” Shapiro said.

Lexington’s downtown business owners, developers, bar and restaurant owners have lobbied hard for several years to convert the one-way streets to two-way, saying the conversion would help business.

Some will undoubtedly complain about the congestion of rush hour as it is right now. Bless their hearts, but that ain’t traffic. And furthermore, the real headache folks are going to face are on the giant spokes that take them back to their Superbia. Aaaaaaand, if you watch this traffic flow from the comfort of your own two feet, you’ll notice that while there is some minor congestion in the downtown area around 8AM and 5PM… it’s all pretty much gone 15 or 20 minutes later. (So, a) it’s not that bad; b) take a walk on the walkable streets, go to Shorty’s, have a coffee, browse a shop, and then get in your car at 5:15PM and you’ll find breezy streets.)

The Boutique Bait & Switch, part 2: The Marriott Myth

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November 2, 2011
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On Monday we covered part 1 of the Bait & Switch, outlining how the Webbs obviously never really tried to find funding for the boutique hotel Jeanne Gang designed and the Webbs pretended to be interested in.

Today, let’s take a look at another part of the Webbs strange play-calling. As Ms. Fortune reported:

Gang’s vision for the CentrePointe block included a boutique hotel. Webb said he and Gang both talked with the owners of 21C Museum Hotel in Louisville, trying to recruit them to open a hotel in Lexington.

“When that didn’t work, … we went back to our original design for a convention hotel, which is much larger,” he said. Webb said the hotel would be a J.W. Marriott. “The design with the bundles wouldn’t work.”

Asked whether Gang was given an opportunity to design a larger hotel, Webb said that Marriott “only deals with architects who have done convention hotels in the past, so consequently, we were at a dead end on that one.”

1. After asking one group to finance the boutique, the Webbs threw their hands up and reverted to the convention design.

2. The Webbs then went back to Marriott.

3. Marriott only deals with architects who’ve done convention hotels in the past.

First of all, as we outlined Monday, there are plenty of other sources for funding a boutique hotel designed by a world class architect at the top of her game. Let’s revisit this quickly.

The Webbs claim they asked 21C and then gave up and went back to Marriott, as if that was the only option. Not only was 21C not the only option… but when the Webbs went back to Marriott, there was absolutely no reason to go back to the chain with the convention hotel and not with the boutique.

Marriott has an entire line of boutique hotels. From the Marriott website:

The stylish and distinctive ambiance of boutique hotels is one of the undeniable luxuries of travel, and in that realm Marriott International, Inc. is among the leaders. Our global collection of boutique-inspired hotels pay incredible attention to the details of traveling well and create a unique, urbane atmosphere with an eye on local character.

In all, Marriott has 18 “brands” — types of hotels, from the “Courtyard by Marriott” (a glorified Days Inn) line to the Ritz Carlton company. Of those 18, three of their brands — three specialize in the increasingly popular “boutique experience.”

Renaissance Hotels Travel should be inspiring. With over 145 Renaissance Hotels world-wide, you’ll find inspiration at every location. Choose from one of our historic icons, chic boutiques or luxurious resorts. Each offers it own personality, local flavor, distinctive style and charm. All will stimulate your appetite for discovery.
EDITION Hotels This is the latest edition of luxury boutique hotels and the perfect combination of energetic atmosphere, attitude and style. Each property is distinctive and designed by award-winning hotelier Ian Schrager.
Autograph Collection The Autograph Collection is a diverse collection of high-personality independent hotels. It plugs you into fresh, inventive and positively unique experiences only an independent can deliver.

But the Webbs don’t seem to have pursued any of these Marriott brands. Instead, they pretend that Marriott doesn’t do boutiques (and that no one other than 21C would do) and they pretend that when 21C said no, they were forced to revert to the convention hotel and get Marriott back on board.

But what Dudley actually said is that they reverted to the convention hotel and went back to J.W. Marriott. That’s one of Marriott International’s other brands and it is the brand that still adorns the “COMING SOON” sign that’s stood sadly on the CentrePointe block for three years, displaying a now three-times outdated version of the Webb architectural greatness.

JW Marriott Hotels & Resorts
  • Most elegant and luxurious Marriott brand
  • Provides business and leisure travelers a deluxe level of comfort and personal service on their terms
  • 39 JW Marriott Hotels worldwide; 16 US, 23 international

Some may wish to make the argument that the Marriott’s boutique brands weren’t a good fit — that Marriott would never go for it — because Marriott’s boutiques are only in big cities like the Renaissance in Times Square, a block away from the gigantic Marriott Marquis (which features a fun elevator ride, the only revolving restaurant in Manhattan, not very good views and $8 gin and tonics, two of which will get you a full revolution). That’s a fine argument. The hotel market is down and building luxury accommodations of any size in a place like Lexington offers significant hurdles. But this argument ignores the fact that there are only 16 J.W. Marriott’s in the US — the most elegant and luxurious brand. The closest Lexington gets to any of those locations is Indianapolis or Grand Rapids. The first is a more major city and the second is home to major American companies from furniture manufactures to Meijer to GE Aviation. Which again is not to say Lexington can’t be the 17th city, but that it’s silly to claim Marriott’s boutique brands couldn’t also call Lexington home, and in a worldclass designed Jeanne Gang building.

Now, to the fact that Dudley Webb says the phantom hotel will be a J.W. Marriott. Some have noted that because the J.W. logo is still on the sign, and that Webb is going back to it, that this means Marriott supports the building. And that may be true (and it may also be true that the Webbs don’t have the money to replace their hilariously dated “Coming Soon” sign).

But Marriott putting its name on a sign only takes you so far. Just as Webbs claim that a couple of banks have expressed interest in maybe funding an possibly eventual project, Marriott stands to lose nothing in this deal.

Marriott isn’t going to pay for the building. If somebody comes to them and says they want to build Marriott a $250 million hotel, Marriott — especially in this environment — isn’t going to say, “No.” The banks aren’t going to say “No,” either. They’re going to leave the door open because maybe, maybe, the deal will someday make sense.

It is certainly helpful to the Webbs to have Marriott’s name attached to their fantastical vision, but even if they are able to line up the financing, there’s no reason to think that Marriott won’t just back out and if they do, then the deal could fall apart and the supposed interested banks can back out. The only real losers are the Webbs.

So the Webbs are no closer to a deal than they were before the supposedly dead guy supposedly died.

And then there’s that last part.

Marriott “only deals with architects who have done convention hotels in the past, so consequently, we were at a dead end on that one.”

The Webbs have selected local firm EOP Architects as the new lead on their project. EOP was one of the six locals selected to build out Studio Gang’s vision for an individualized Main Street. Their hotel work includes the Gratz Park Hotel, the French Quarter Suites and the Hilton Garden all here in Lexington, as well as work on the Boone Tavern in Berea and a Hampton Inn in South Carolina.

Gratz Park is beautiful and the French Quarter is stunning. But it’s unclear which of these projects qualifies as “a convention hotel” — which Dudley claims is the prerequisite that disqualifies Studio Gang — and none rises to the size or scope of the J.W. Marriott brand. Which raises serious questions about Webb’s true intentions. (And this should in no way be construed as saying EOP can’t do the job or even that they are below it. As EOP has said, they are working to meld Gang’s ideas with Marriott’s needs and we should see there vision in a few weeks — hopefully it will be a great one, even if it’s undoable or if the Webbs, ultimately, pull the project away from them, too.)

So it’s unclear the Webbs actually sought funding for a boutique hotel, or if Jeanne Gang couldn’t have worked with Marriott if the Webbs had actually wanted such a thing, or if Marriott’s J.W. brand is any more realistic an option.

And, going further, it seems Marriott’s J.W. brand is actually unrealistic.

Here’s what Marriott’s “Hotel Development” site tells prospective builders and company shareholders:

Here’s what the Lexington market looks like, via the Distillery District’s TIF application (PDF):

And that same TIF application shows Lexington’s occupancy rate hovered around 61% from 2003 to 2008.

The J.W. Marriott brand carries a 71% occupancy rate with revenue per avaialble room at $143.34 — more than twice as much as Lexington’s market bears.

Which is a fact everyone but the Webbs seem to have known for years.

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: How Woodford Webb wooed me, but never really won my heart…

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November 1, 2011
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As discussed on Friday, the recent news of Dudley Webb dumping Jeanne Gang and her groundbreaking ideas for the CentrePointe block rips open the old public wound, putting the Webbs in an even worse place than they were just 11 months ago (which was already a pretty bad place.)

When Gang’s involvement was first announced, the public was hesitant — we’ve played this game with the Webbs for thirtysome years. Then they announced a public meeting.

A public meeting! After three years of locking the people out, after three years of hiding behind their complicit mayor, Mr. Newebberry, they were going to talk to the public. Even ask for input! It appeared something was changing.

In that room — the old courtroom of the old courthouse — I sat in the jury box and listened to Ms. Gang describe the beginnings of her vision at length and in depth. It seemed hopeful (see the ACE Weekly report).

Afterward, we were invited to mill about and talk with her and her team about our concerns and our ideas. In that crowd of people, Woodford Webb came up to Joe and I to say hello. It was my first time meeting him and he was warm, charming. “What do you think?” he wanted to know, excited like maybe we were getting somewhere.

We chatted for a bit. He jokingly lamented not having his own “category” on B&P (at the time only Donald and Dudley did; we added him), and then he talked about that one time when he went on WKYT back in 2009 and said they’d start construction “tomorrow” and how he’d never actually meant “tomorrow” in a literal sense but a hopeful one. I laughed and said I knew that. It was a good chat.

The whole day seemed to have rejuvenated spirits and mended some fences, or at least started to, like a new leaf turned over. Newberry was gone and with him went the concrete behemoth designed for Atlanta and plopped down on Main Street facing the wrong way.

The next day I ran into Leslie Beatty at Giacamo’s at lunchtime. We talked about CentrePointe and the presentation.

Leslie said, “What’s in it for the Webbs?” I asked what she meant and she went on, “Why did they open this process up, after refusing to for three years? Is this a bait and switch? I don’t trust them.”

I said I wouldn’t put it past them but that that seemed crazy. How stupid would you have to be to invite the public into a process they’d been begging to join, then hold their hand and, with friendly smiles, take them down a path toward something approximating progress into a vision of a downtown to-scale with the city and in line with its needs — only to yank it away and revert back to the soulless proposals that had so obviously failed in the past?

Seriously: How stupid would you have to be?

Apparently I underestimated the Webbs. Leslie Beatty was right, as it turns out. (And for that she’s almost assuredly won a Rootie).

But throughout the summer and into the Fall, the Webbs let Jeanne Gang continue to develop and present a project for that block at the heart of this Bluegrass, and the whole time they kept trying to get chummy.

Dudley went on WKYT and tried for a mea culpa, telling Bill Bryant that maybe they’d been a little rude in their earlier approaches, a little short-sighted. Maybe they’d made some mistakes and now they were trying to fix those — they wanted, he claimed, the community involved. He had seen the errors of his ways, thanks to Jeanne Gang and Mayor Gray. It was a heartwarming performance (and Dudley, too, is guaranteed a Rootie for it).

And Woodford. Sweet Woodford Webb. He got so damn warm and friendly I told Joe that Woodford was my new boyfriend. Every time I saw him — out around town, at meetings, on his bike, etc — Woodford was all jovial and cheery, like he couldn’t be happier to see me.

Not that I bought it. It was sweet. Cute even. But I’m not an idiot.

After the first public CentrePointe meeting, I emailed Woodford a set of questions. It was the first time in three years he’d ever replied.

He told me they were thinking about renaming the development and the block, “The Dud.”

“The Dud.” That’s Joe’s nickname for Uncle Dudley. And… it’s a pretty apt name for the block.

The Dud. That’s what the Webbs’ CentrePointe idea actually is.

No amount of scorn or snark could do it any better than what Woodford himself suggested.

After the second public meeting, he again came over — wishing Joe well in Louisville and wanting to know what we thought of Gang’s creative, imaginative, maybe even doable plans. I asked about the money and sweet Woodford was evasive. Charmingly evasive, self-deprecating — “Well in this economy,” ha ha ha — but trying to be open.

That much seemed genuine. He was trying. So was Dudley. Maybe they weren’t ever actually trying to get Jeanne Gang’s ideas built, but they were trying to get themselves liked. There was a genuine need in their eyes, whether from fatigue or self-doubt. They wanted our love, Lexington’s support. They wanted to know what that might feel like.

And for a few months, they had a glimpse.

After the first Rupp Area Task Force meeting, where another out-of-town genius, Gary Bates, spoke of a similarly refreshing vision for Lexington, Woodford sent me an email. He’s on the task force and Bates had talked of possibly adding water as a feature to liven the now dead-space to the west of Rupp.

Unsolicited and unexpected, Woodford sent me this image:

That’s “Lake Lexington.” It’s a 1980s Webb idea that never came to pass. It was part of a ploy to destroy the Salvation Army and remove the homeless from downtown Lexington.

The Webbs called the Salvation Army “a blight on the downtown community.” (The irony.) And they said the homeless should be moved to “a more rural site, perhaps on publicly owned property, away from the inner city and away from the opportunity for drinking and gambling and other temptations that contribute toward keeping these people in a rut.”

They wanted to fill that area in, as you see above, with water. (And it should be noted that around the same time, their World Coal Center skyscraper failed and was, eventually, turned into Phoenix Park — hilariously magnifying the homelessness the Webbs see as a blight, rather than the blight of their own concrete canyons and empty lots.)

Woodford sent it to me because Bates had talked about adding water to downtown. The point, I suppose, was that the Webbs were ahead of their times, maybe even, in their own way, visionaries. (And there’s more on Lake Lexington and the current Rupp debate later.)

Each time I saw him after that, that was our common conversation. Pretty lake? Yes, sure, pretty lake.

And after the second Rupp Area meeting, inexplicably, Woodford sent me the same picture again.

So I wrote back to him. This was mid-October. There were rumors flying that the Webbs were up to their old tricks, that they were dumping Gang and reverting to their cemented ideas of poor design, inhospitable real estate and dead downtowns.

I asked him how CentrePointe was going. I didn’t ask him if it was dead again because, well, it’s hard to break up, and who doesn’t want their boyfriend to lie to them… so you know that they’re lying. Because you knew it all along but you just had to know.

Woodford wrote back:

From: Woodford Webb
Date: Wed, Oct 19, 2011 at 8:37 PM
Subject: RE: Re:
To: David Schankula

All is going progressing in a very positive manner. I do not know of anything scheduled currently for October but will certainly let you know if I hear of anything.

So dumping Jeannie Gang was “going progressing.” Squandering the public good will was “going progressing.” Reverting back to a giant, unneeded and fiscally unsound hotel was “going progressing.”

If this leap-backward is the Webbs’ definition of progress then… well, wait. That probably is the Webbs’ definition of progress.

(This would be a good moment to point out that Lexington’s best blogger, Rob Morris, continued to ask hard questions the whole time — another Rootie!)

When the news broke last Thursday that in fact the rumors were true and Gang was gone, I wrote back to Woodford and asked him if he had anything further to add, any clarification he might want to make.

But Woodford’s gone silent. All our late night emails were just a charade. A summer love, perhaps, before we all fell back into yet another Lexwebbington winter.

We were never honest with each other, so it was bound to happen. Like we were never having the same conversation, or even speaking the same language.


(For what it’s worth, I’m Olivia Newton John, and no, no he did not get very far — obviously Woodford’s all talk. And my suit was only damp from the water, thank you very much. This song is sick.)

****

  • Coming Wednesday: The Boutique Bait & Switch, part 2 — the Marriott Myth.


The Boutique Bait-and-Switch, part 1: The Webbs didn’t even try…

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October 31, 2011
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Dudley Webb says one of the reasons Jeanne Gang didn’t work out is because no one wanted to build a boutique hotel in downtown Lexington. His evidence for this is that he asked the owners of the 21C Museum Hotel in Louisville.

Webb said he and Gang both talked with the owners of 21C Museum Hotel in Louisville, trying to recruit them to open a hotel in Lexington.

“When that didn’t work, … we went back to our original design for a convention hotel, which is much larger,” he said. Webb said the hotel would be a J.W. Marriott. “The design with the bundles wouldn’t work.”

This is ridiculous.

First of all, there is already a group of investors who have looked at creating a boutique hotel in the heart of Lexington’s downtown. They exist. They’ve studied it, want to do it even. And this was well after the economic collapse. The deal fell hasn’t happened, it’s on hold or being re-thought, it’s on hold, last I heard — but they wanted to do a 21C-style boutique.

So it’s not true that no one is interested.

Putting that aside… people with money are putting money into boutique hotels:

  • $3.5 Billion in Stamford: “By next summer it expects to open a boutique hotel and two residential buildings, including a 22-story high rise.”
  • $22 Million in Wichita: Which is being protested by Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity. Where ya at, Lexington Tea Party? Let the Webbs hear your voices!
  • Charleston, SC: “Because of wetlands and the narrow configuration of the three smaller parcels, a boutique-style hotel would most likely be the option there, Hofford said. If the study calls for a hotel with a convention center and exhibition halls.”
  • Boulder Junction, CO: “Plans to build a transit hub, a 140-room upscale boutique hotel and a 71-unit affordable apartment complex at Boulder Junction are moving forward.”
  • Miami, FL: “Neighborhoods all over Miami are getting big residential and retail makeovers. The 56-acre Midtown Miami developments second phase, which will start next year, will include a boutique hotel, a movie theater and 100,000 square feet of retail.”
  • Tampa, FL: “So far, Buckhorn has talked to four or five developers about the potential for redevelopment and consulted with urban planning experts through the Mayors’ Institute on City Design. The possibility he thinks is strongest is a “boutique hotel” with 100 to 120 rooms.”

The point here is not that anyone’s getting anything done. The point is that people are interested.

The point is that Dudley Webb says he asked one investor if they wanted to fund a world class architect’s vision and when they said they weren’t able to at that moment… Dudley Webb gave up.

Perhaps, you say, all those projects bullet-pointed again were misguided, that they are as fantastical as Gang’s and that Webb made the shrewd decision, looking at the hotel market, to step away from the Boutique Hotel game.

That’s a fine point.

But if that’s what Dudley did, then Dudley’s not listening to the very industry he’s trying, desperately, to insert himself into.

Just this past weekend, industry muckety-mucks gathered in Miami for the “the third annual Lifestyle/Boutique Hotel Development Conference.”

And what did conference goers learn?

Said Steve Rushmore, head of Hospitality Valuation Services:

He said now is the time to buy a hotel. But he would wait until 2013 or 2014 to sell, particularly in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Norfolk, Virginia; Nashville, Tennessee; St. Louis; or Buffalo—markets “that will not show as great increases” as others. He also suggested independent boutiques with food and beverage do better than brand affiliates and/or foreign boutiques. Among the reasons: no franchise fees, lower administrative costs and marketing fees.

So, in fact, the Webbs have a better chance of funding a non-Marriott hotel… and not just that, a boutique one.

But Dudley asked one group and they said no.

None of this should suggest that funding any hotel development would be easy in this environment.

In fact, Rushmore made clear that to get funding for a successful project, you need to pick your market well:

To minimize volatility, developers should pick safe cities like Orlando, Florida; New Orleans; Seattle; Tucson, Arizona; and Minneapolis. They should avoid high-volatility spots like Jacksonville, Florida; Philadelphia; Charlotte, North Carolina; Houston; Anaheim, California; and Detroit.

You’ll note that each of those “safe cities” cities is a destination already . The idea of trying to create a destination hotel in a non-destination city, let alone a mid-sized one without a major airport hub is not a safe bet and makes funding much more difficult.

The point here isn’t that Dudley can’t get his mammoth Marriott funded. People make bad investments all the time.

And it’s not that he could have necessarily gotten the Gang-design paid-for either… but that he didn’t even try.

And the takeaway from that is that he never really intended to.

He spent the past three months misleading the people of Lexington, just as he’s spent the past three years and, for that matter, the last three decades.

****

  • Coming Tuesday: How Woodford Webb wooed me but never won my heart.
  • And Wednesday: The Boutique Bait & Switch, part 2 — the Marriott Myth.

On CentrePointe, Hope Springs Internal?

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October 30, 2011
By

On the Webbs and their potential:

Rather than cap his career by building a Jeanne Gang creation — and score a big marketing coup for himself and Lexington — Webb said last week that he had chosen to go in a “different direction.” He replaced Gang with EOP Architects, one of five Lexington firms that she had brought in to help her.

….But an architect can only be as good as his client allows. EOP’s biggest challenge on this job might be keeping its own good reputation intact.

Gang’s departure from CentrePointe is disappointing, but she leaves an important legacy. She set a high bar for new architecture in Lexington. She also showed how builders can honestly engage a community that finally seems to understand that good design will contribute to Lexington’s beauty, functionality and economic success.

There may still be hope. Maybe. READ IT ALL.

 

Dudley Webb tells WKYT a different story…

3 comments
October 29, 2011
By

When he spoke to the Herald-Leader, Dudley Webb had one story:

Gang’s vision for the CentrePointe block included a boutique hotel. Webb said he and Gang both talked with the owners of 21C Museum Hotel in Louisville, trying to recruit them to open a hotel in Lexington.

“When that didn’t work, … we went back to our original design for a convention hotel, which is much larger,” he said. Webb said the hotel would be a J.W. Marriott. “The design with the bundles wouldn’t work.”

Asked whether Gang was given an opportunity to design a larger hotel, Webb said that Marriott “only deals with architects who have done convention hotels in the past, so consequently, we were at a dead end on that one.”

He said he met with Gang and “explained we were going in a different direction.”

But now Dudley’s pushing back/spinning/clarifying that position, telling WKYT:

Webb says Gang’s plans have now gone to the Marriott for revisions.

“There is no severing of this relationship, this is just a process,” Webb said. “People have to understand that.”

A local firm, EOP Architects, is being used to help bring Gang’s and the Marriott’s plans together.

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