Category Archives: Jim Gray

Got A Big Idea for Lexington? Mike Bloomberg has $5M he wants to give you…

Mike Bloomberg, lifelong Mayor of New York City, is a very rich man. He has philanthropic goals — recently giving $50M to the Sierra Club to fight King Coal — and now his Philantrhopies are going to hand out $5 million to one city and $1 million each to four other cities for the boldest most replicable ideas.

Here, he dropped a very small coin on this video which explains it all:

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray is opening the challenge up to the community — in addition to ideas they are developing internally, us regular folk can submit ideas for how to innovate Lexington — but keep in mind, Mr. Bloomberg is looking for ideas that can be replicated by other cities… so fantastical unicorn skyscrapers aren’t going to cut it. And neither is a brand new basketball arena.

From the Mayor’s office:

“Mayor Bloomberg is again showing he’s walking the talk. Putting his own capital to good work. And it represents a remarkable 21st Century step in the tradition of Andrew Carnegie, who a century ago elevated cities across America by building thousands of libraries – 1,689 in this country – that lifted the spirits and lives of countless Americans.” In Lexington itself, the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning remains a living example of the investment Carnegie made here in 1906.

Gray invited Lexington citizens to submit ideas by August 1. The city will evaluate the proposals and submit a final idea to Bloomberg by Sept. 14.

“This is a chance for Lexington to take another exciting step forward in building our Great American City. It’s an invitation to think big, start small and move fast,” said Gray, who visited Bloomberg in 2010, just after he became Lexington’s Mayor, and recently attended the 2012 Mayor’s Summit, in which Bloomberg invited a group of 15 Mayors from across the country to New York to examine the role of cities in restoring America’s strength.


21c Round-Up

Beverly Fortune takes a long and fascinating look at Lexington’s first skyscraper, which would be home to the new 21c Hotel, which is chock-full of good stuff like this:

McKim, Mead & White designed at least one other Lexington project — Union Station, which was on East Main Street from 1907 to 1960 in the area where police headquarters is now.

Stanford White, one of McKim, Mead & White’s principals, was shot to death in 1906 in Madison Square Garden by Harry Kendall Thaw, the jealous millionaire husband of chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit, with whom White had had an affair that started in 1901 when he was 47 and she was 16.

The murder led to two of the most sensational trials of the early 20th century. The jury deadlocked at the first trial. Thaw pleaded temporary insanity and was acquitted at the second.

Tom Eblen looks at the economic impact, or potential of it, of the development:

This $38 million project confirms the wisdom of infrastructure investments by city government and civic-minded foundations and companies, as well as the judgment of developers, entrepreneurs and artists whose creativity and risk have made downtown hop again.

It validates the work of preservationists, who understood the value of Lexington’s built heritage. And it raises the bar for downtown architecture. The 15-story First National Bank building, Lexington’s first skyscraper, was designed by McKim, Mead and White, one of America’s best architectural firms a century ago. The renovation will be directed by Deborah Berke, one of today’s star architects.

More than anything, though, 21c Museum Hotels’ plan affirms those who see great economic development potential in making Lexington a city where the 21st century’s best and brightest people will want to live, work and play — an urban landscape that is as special as the countryside surrounding it.

Louis Bickett, prominent local artist, professes himself unqualified to discuss the economic possibilities of the new hotel, but points out that the hotel itself is possibly the least important part:

Though it has many things going for it (a wonderful restaurant and bar, flawless service, a great architectural design, etc.) it is the contemporary art displayed throughout the hotel and restaurant and the curated art shows in the museum that define 21c Museum Hotel Louisville as not just another well designed and operated hotel.

It is a museum with a hotel in it. If I had to pick one example of their exhibition excellence it would be Wilson’s and Brown’s early collecting and unwavering support of the now international art sensation Anthony Goicolea.

His work is both provocative and moving. 21c’s support of Goicolea from a time when he was just emerging onto the New York art scene until years later when he is well established internationally shows not only a devotion on the part of Wilson and Brown but proof that they know what they are doing when it comes to contemporary art issues.

Rich Copley checks in on the Lexington Art League’s reaction (they love it) and the progress they are making toward their own new arts venue right across the street above two of the finest bars in Lexington:

[LAL Executive Director Stephanie Harris says she quickly fell in love with the circa 1846 McAdams and ­Morford ­building for its iron facade, large windows and ­artistic past as a theater. For ­decades, the building was home to the McAdams and Morford drugstore. The building’s first floor now houses the bars Hugo’s and Harvey’s.

“I loved the thought of breathing new life into an old creative space, and it just has a lot of the structure needed to open everything up and have a big, fluid arts space hovering above downtown Lexington,” Harris says.

Architectural designs have been drawn for the space, and Harris says $75,000 is the ­threshold at which work can begin.

If you’re looking to chip in for the LAL contemporary art space, go here, or next Friday head down to the pARTy:

April 20, 5p – 10p, Fifth Third Bank Pavilion at Cheapside Park

Join LAL during Gallery Hop for pARTy hosted in partnership with LFUCG Parks and Recreation. Live music mixed by DJ Dr. Gram, beverages, interactive art installations, live performances with Dance Blue and March Madness Marching Band, video bombing, free tattoos & giveaways.

Non-Invisible Building Will Become Downtown Lexington’s Newest Hotel

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.

Our Condolences…

Mayor Gray’s mother, Lois Gray, passed away yesterday at 91 — Karla Ward and Beverly Fortune’s article says it all:

Outwardly Mrs. Gray had grace and charm, “but she had an iron will and a fierce determination,” Jim Gray said. “What a character.”

The youngest of Mrs. Gray’s six children was just 7 years old in 1972, when her husband died, 12 years after the couple had formed James N. Gray Construction Co.

Mrs. Gray took over as chairman of the company, which was based in Glasgow. The couple’s oldest son, Howard Gray, became company president when he was 23.

The family made the company into one of the nation’s top design-build contractors.

Keep reading…

You can sign a guest book for the family here.

Webbs’ Pedway Dream Collapses; CentrePointe financing really close

The Webbs are abandoning their CentrePointe pedway:

In a letter to the Courthouse Area Design Review Board, CentrePointe attorney Kimberly Bryant said the developers, the Webb Companies, are withdrawing the pedway from the design to be considered later this month “in order to minimize the pedway issue as a possible distraction from the construction and financing of the project.”

Bryant said the developer “recognizes that some in the community have questioned the need or appropriateness of the pedway.”

The letter goes on to state the developer “reserves the right to file an application to amend any permit or authorization that may be granted for the project to include a pedway element.”

So hopefully this is just a pedway bait-and-switch ahead of the 2:00PM, March 28th Courthouse Area Design Review Board meeting at which the Webbs will again present their plans, this team seeking Board approval for their fantastical project.

If you wanna see some pretty pictures of the CentrePointe design — floor plans, more design etchings — you can check out all of the drawrings in the full Webb application… a 48MB PDF.

Related, Dudley Webb opened up in an expansive sit-downer with Business Lexington.

One highlight:

What is the status of the project financing?

RDW: At this time, two major banks and two separate investment groups have indicated their interest in providing the financing and the equity needed for the construction of the project. As I previously explained, for this to happen we must now complete the plans and gain the approvals of the regulatory authorities before we can proceed with applying for and formalizing our financing arrangements.

And another:

Does this project require the city to construct a parking garage?  

RDW: This project will require some 450 public parking spaces on site to meet the internal needs of this development once it is completed. We are proposing that these spaces will be situated on two levels under this project and will be paid for with TIF bonds that would be debt serviced and sustained by the economic lift and parking income generated by the project. In addition, our consultants tell us that another 350 public parking spaces will also be needed nearby to meet the needs of the new visitors and customers to this project. We are likewise proposing that these 350 additional spaces be provided for in another new garage that would be situated nearby and possibly be paid for with TIF bonds that would be debt serviced and sustained by the economic lift that would be created by this project and the fees that would be generated from the rental of those 350 new spaces.

There’s a lot more to the interview, including The Dud’s feelings on how he screwed up the early announcement of the project, how much stronger the project is now thanks to Jim Gray’s pushing him to pursue a more open and creative process rather than the Newberry laissez disaster era, and so forth. Read on.

But yes, very exciting news that the project is almost funded again and that we still get to look forward to paying for their garage.

Which, again, raises the question of when that TIF expires, whether it is transferable from the old project to the new one, seeing as the TIF was based on a consultant’s report (which had questionable outcomes) based on a now-long expired project model.

Anyway. There’s time for all this.

Oh, and here’s some key stats. The cost has gone down.

Investors Beware? The latest CentrePointe design images aren’t terrible but what are they?

[For more on CentrePointe, read Tom Eblen's review.]

The latest CentrePointe meeting was well-attended but briefer than the Gang meetings. Taking a cue from the Rupp Area public meetings, it was a quick slideshow covering the basics and then opened up to a general milling about with teams of architects available to field questions and explore specifics.

First things first, the design team is open to feedback. You can send thoughts to:

The latest version of CentrePointe (or “The Dud” or whatever they want to call it now) owes much to Jeanne Gang’s work. Rather than the entire block being eaten up by one gargantuan building with its back to Main Street, the EOP et al. plan follows Gang’s, planting the hotel tower on one corner, filling in two other corners with “signature” buildings and placing retail, restaurants and residential (designed to scale with the city) along Main Street.

During the Gang-era, Dudley Webb (and Woodford) said the project could be done in installments. That doesn’t appear to be the case here. Essentially this is one giant block wide building that is built together but with different elements to differentiate it’s feel. This is a welcome change to the original CentrePointe design(s).

I asked one of the architects why they were going for full growth rather than splitting it into plots. One reason may be an effort to not endanger the TIF (is that even still applicable four years later? do they need to reapply?) but the architect had a perfectly good reason which is that then there is no replication of work. If adjoining walls are built together, along with plumbing, electricity, gas lines, etc, it decreases the overall work to design everything in one “shape.”

It’s kinda like the Meijer brand facade we all know and love:

Look! We’re in a small village!

But in the case of CentrePointe, it is fancier.

Speaking with the architects, that does come across. These are local firms with an investment in the community. They are working together, and with certain parameters (both from the developer and from the Court House Area Design Review Board), but they each seem genuinely passionate about their individual designs. They aren’t phoning it in and they’re not trying to build a Meijer brand prefabrication that could be plopped down any old where.

As far as timeline goes — since that’s the biggest question — one person close to the project told me the plans are close to being ready to go and that they are being told to work on an accelerated timeline. It is possible, they said, that ground will be broken by the end of the year if all goes as well as expected.

I’ve asked my old friend Woodford for an official Webb unit but have not yet heard back. Still, “by the end of the year” sounds genuinely Webb-like and assuming the project ever gets funding, at some point it will be true if it keeps being said. With the project as laid out, all things considered, this plan at least offers the city around it something to behold so funding enthusiasm is bullish. (The TIF however…)

Let’s do some images (You can click on them to make ‘em bigger):

They did solar studies of the new block. That’s the Winter Solstice. That’s the Gang influence again. The tower casts a long shadow (it’s 28 stories tall) but it’s not the freakish beast of yesteryear dreamed up by the Webb-mind.

The condos on the upper levels are sizeableish and all come equpped with a grand piano!

The Main Street first floor has three retail spots and a restaurant. The Restaurant is large. There is currently no tenant (Saul and Jack Ruby are on Vine and are “committed”). There was a local interest in the space but that may have passed. There is a Louisville restaurant interested in filling the space, even to the point of wanting to possibly include not just the large bottom floor of the Pohl building (aka, Buster’s and the Dame) but also the Dick Levine/CSC building next to it. That’s a large restaurant. Hopefully by Louisville we’re not talking about a KFC.

Here’s the mighty pedway!

It’s coming out of a fire stairwell/hallway between the Pohl building on the corner of Main and Upper. That fiery hell you see behind it is the hotel ballroom. Below that are the loading docks. The Design Review Board didn’t like how the design was so closed off to Upper. You are looking at the closed off section. On the corner there would be windows along the first floor looking into/out of the restaurant (you know, like Buster’s had) and down the block after the loading docks you get hotel entrances in glass and on the corner a street level cafe (an un-Webb version of what they tried at the Radisson). So it’s not terribly blocked off, and the biggest losers here would be McCarthy’s, as that’s their view.

But wait… the pedway!

I asked Graham Pohl how he got stuck with the pedway coming out of his building. He was good natured, and a real trooper. He didn’t have anything bad to say about the pedway and stuck to the facts. He got the pedway on his building because it’s coming out of a hallway. That hallway runs behind the residences in his designed building and connects both to the Hotel and to the “galleria” shops (we’ll get to that). So Pohl got to design a pedway. He allowed 1) that the pedway was not totally thought out at this point, and 2) that the Design Review Board had really disliked it so there was a good chance it wouldn’t happen.

This is a shame. The people demand pedways. Our women are not safe. The Pedway Capital of the World is nothing if it does not have pedways.

[The Streetsweeper suggested to me that the pedway has another purpose. It stretches across Upper over the Harvey's swoon deck and into the Big Blue Building's dark parking structure. The Streetsweeper tweeted at me that the pedway "abuts the old Melodean Hall building which needs another access besides the interior stairway." He said, "I believe that one of the Lexington arts groups wants to use the western two thirds and will need access for public." Ponder away.]

Go-Kart race track.

Let’s see. What can top that?

Let’s look at Main Street:

Small, Different.

And one by one…




Pohl Rosa Pohl

Each one has its distinct feel, just as Jeanne Gang prescribed. Each one, thus, meshes with the Main Street buildings.

Are any of them The Dame or Busters? No. Are they “bougie”? Sure. Fine. Is that bad?

There is nothing there. The buildings are gone. Something must be there, as nice as that field of blue is. What restaurants and retail will go in there? High class, probably. Does downtown Lexington need more Bellini’s? More Metropols? More Deauvilles? More Dudleys?

That’s actually not a bad question, as rhetorical as it may feel.

On the one hand, more fancy restaurants downtown threaten the established ones. On the other hand, they threaten the Malones, Harry’s, Drake’s franchise that exists in the Old Country.

In reality, bringing more people inside the circle and making them understand that what is great about Lexington isn’t defined by the soulless expanse of hub road exurbia achieves an end. If it works, it gets more people closer to an awareness that there is value in Sidebar, that there is something special at Al’s, that Stella’s and the Green Lantern have life to offer them, that Suggins is just a place and no offense to it because Romany is as nice as Chevy or Southland, but a city is defined as much by its neighborhoods in which people live as it is by the place that holds its center. It gets people to realize that there are great stores along Limestone, along Maxwell, at the Woodland Triangle, on Euclid between Ashland and Tates Creek, on Lime from Short up to Third and Loudon and out past to the Circle.

Lexington’s best neighborhoods — the ones that have the actual feel of place — are few. Meadowthorpe, Chevy Chase, Southland, the burgeoning arts corridor of North Lime. Each one is within the circle and each one is made stronger by a growing awareness that there is something at that center.

Does that mean anyone is going to live in these Main Street addresses? No.

Does it mean that anyone is going to frequent the bars, restaurants and retail — or, as they are now popularly called as if it might increase business, “boutiques” — of this Webb development? No.

But it might.

It might. And that’s the grey area between realistic cynicism and business-minded optimism.

Downtown needs many things. One of them is real jobs. Another is people. There are already plenty of places to live. If you drive around the downtown core, be it Kenwick or Ashland, Chevy, Lime down through Loudon, the Western Suburb or out Leestown, there are great homes to buy.

This isn’t an argument in favor of CentrePointe. It’s not like a (still) massive luxury hotel in a town that can’t fill the two fancy hotels it already houses at already (and cheaper than CentrePointe) egregious cost is going to be the thing that transforms Lexington into some fantastical version of Austin (that ignores the livability issues of Austin) or Portland (that ignores the employability issues of Portland) or Madison (which ignores the cultural differences of Madison).

But it would be wrong to, out of a justified distrust of the Webbs’ instincts, simply discount this idea.

On the one hand, one could view this latest version of CentrePointe as transitive, like, yes, it will fail and what’s next?

On the other, one could view it as a “Festival Market” writ large, a “Victorian Square” of more failed business, a “Radisson” of a concrete block, a new slate of condos and “urban residential” in a sea of unused, unwanted, unwarrented and economically out-of-whack “homes.”

But you could also look at it a different way. Not that you have to. And not that it makes more sense or is somehow worth more. Like: these residences along Main St. make more sense than the failed ones which surround them.

The condos at Main and Rose seem reasonably filled (give or take). The ones along Limestone seem saddish. The ones along MLK between Maxwell and Upper are deteriorating in embarrassing fashion. The ones next to Victorian Square have aged worse than that failed complex.

That man at “The Lex” has been trying to walk away from that lease for about three years and, sadly, he’s locked in.

Do people want a downtown address at egregious cost?

Apparently not.

Is that an argument against the multi-story residences along Main Street?

I’m not sure it is. In sum it’s an argument against building sh*t condos at low cost and selling them for high cost to people who would rather live in Hamburg with no backyard and no windows on the sides of their homes in houses made out of plywood and plastic.

These “condos” along Main Street… they might be different. They are designed in ones and twos and threes. They aren’t mass created and they are designed with architectural vision.

Talking with these individual firms, you get the sense that they want to make a statement in a project that never wanted to. They want to represent Lexington, they are honored to try, even if the entire idea of the project, its genesis, never wanted any such thing.

These Main Street homes are, even if mandatorily part of some giant construction project, conceived with an idea of individuality. That’s something lacking at The Lex, at Main + Rose, at the “500s” and at most of the other “condos” and “lofts” that have mistakenly gone up around town.

That’s not an endorsement. It’s just a recognition that these addresses make more sense than the others and it’s worth taking the time to separate them.

That said…

Master Bedroom < Hers

Let’s go back and look at those condos.

As mentioned before and as seen above, each one comes with a grand piano.

How quaint.

The upper floors (see below) of “The Dud” are occupied by condos.

Selling these condos has a) advantages over the more grounded ones along Main, b) advantages over the soulless ones ringing the central downtown core.

In comparison to the Main Street residences, these have height. That’s about all you can say for them. They lack the personality of the limited Main Street ones. There are many more of them.

Regarding the second — Why would I spend a million on this rather than several hundred thousand on that? – the advantage again is height.

Height makes sense in a big city.

In a big city you can look out your window and see a sea of sparkling lights.

In Lexington, if you go up high enough, you look out over some dim lights and a sea of darkness. The city really is pretty and green and if you look at it from some heighth all you see, mostly, is trees and at night that just means you don’t see anything.

Is Lexington ready to clearly handle the number of upper level condos the Webbs are selling?

Looking around at the, let’s call them, more grounded condos, clearly not.

Perhaps, using Webb logic, those other ones didn’t sell because they didn’t cost enough.

Or, perhaps, the people who live in and love Lexington appreciate the hospitableness of Lexington.

High rise living has it’s place, but, you know, largely it happens in places with a paucity of land. In Lexington, we have plenty of that and plenty of homes with yards and neighborhoods and other more earthly amenities.

Not that people don’t want to move on up.

But people understand the value of a dollar. And getting back to that floor plan above… that ain’t worth a million dollars.

If you look at it, you’ll see the living room is the largest room (with grand piano) and then there’s a “master” bedroom which is also adorned with a “His” bathroom and a “Hers” bathroom which, taken together with what appears to be a walk-in closet, makes up the second biggest room in the house.

Let’s look at it again, but bigger this time:

I don’t doubt there are some people who want to spend a million dollars on that lay out.

But are there enough of them? In Lexington?

I get it, sure. The Webbs are convinced that really rich women have to have that much space. And really rich men only need a little tiny place.

Putting aside the heteronormative layout my college degree demands that I acknowledge, the question begging like a resident of Phoenix Park asks is, How many Imelda Marcoses live in Lexington, Kentucky?

The condos at CentrePointe never made sense and they still don’t.

To any potential investor: Beware.

While much can be said for this version of the CentrePointe project, I will personally bet one bottle of Woodford Reserve that Woodford and The Dud can’t fill these all these spots within a year of construction.

It’s like their pedway dream. I’m all in favor of them building another pedway. The last time I took a pedway through the Big Blue Building, it took me down a hallway past a room that was literally filled with Herbie Curbies.

That’s what the Webbs want to sell Lexington as. That is their architectural vision. Prime office space filled to the brim with trash cans.

Granted, that was in 2007 before the economy collapsed so maybe they’ve since filled that prime office space just as they’ll fill these prime condos with their grand pianos and grand layouts in which the “His” is miniscule and the “Hers” is the second biggest room in the house.

Shirley that will make up for that grand view of a midnight town full of beautiful old trees and houses with backyards waiting to be bought for a third, fourth, or fifth of the price.

Let’s look at the breakdown:

Oh la la!

Half of the building is condos and penthouses. There’s a layer of pied-a-terres — which literally means “foot on ground” and, pardon my french, that ain’t a g-ddamn pedway.

The bottom third is comprised of hotel rooms.

And that, friends, is another opportunity to congratulate the Webbs on their new-found realism.

The J.W. Marriott chain demands an occupancy rate above what Lexington currently achieves at a significantly higher price than what Lexington currently bears.

Limiting the number of hotel rooms at exponential cost reduces the ratio of room to occupant and thus increases the rate, making it more realistic that one might achieve the J.W. Marriott goal.

Does that make the investment more sound?

Or does that mean the building could be about a third shorter?

I’d let Imelda Marcos decide but she’s indisposed and, sadly, there’s only one of her and not 100 and the 100 not-hers don’t live in the Bluegrass so… does the Webb financial plan for this new CentrePointe, as good as it is by comparison to the previous, actually hold?

Is this a sound investment or just a CentreBubble?

But let’s remember…

A person close to the project said that if all goes well, the project will be funded soon and ground will be broken before the end of the year.

Let’s not lose ourselves in disbelief. Let us have faith and let us trust. Let’s look at some more pictures.

Two Pools? Too Cool!

The J.W. Marriott (which won’t return my emails about their commitment to make Lexington the smallest of their small handful of American markets for the latest extension of their brand) has certain demands about how a hotel must be constructed.

One of those, apparently, is that the hotel must have its own fitness club even if a giant Urban Active is situated next door. Another may be that they need an indoor pool and, as you see here, an outdoor one as well. But that’s not just any outdoor pool, it’s an “infinity pool” whose border disappears into the horizon across Vine Street into an empty parking lot.

Still, roof top pools are always nice so that is, to more aptly borrow a phrase from the French, an accoutrement.

But why waste an entire floor of a hotel structure that’s being abused to sell very possibly unwanted condos for a “fitness center” when there’s a giant and nationally recognized chain moving in next door?

Jack Ruby was Saul Good.

That’s the first floor. There’s a “galleria.” It cuts through the middle, allows pedestrian transport from Main to Vine with internal retail browsing like a tiny mall or Festival Market and Victorian Square. There is a Jeff Ruby’s restaurant right next to a Saul Good’s and a series of retail ringing the heart of our downtown. If you count ‘em, that’s four new restaurant bars in one block, each of ‘em livin’ large.

Getting back to that rooftop “infinity pool” we find ourselves back in one of the strengths of the Webbs’ current version of the project.

That pool on the roof you see there isn’t as “open” as it looks. It belongs to the hotel and will be more cordoned off than it appears in the pictures.

Still.. there’s more to behold.

There’s a rooftop bar/cafe in the lower right, above the Jack Ruby’s. And then there are the trees and open space behind it.

During the official presentation, this was described as “a tree house concept” and “a vertical park” (which seemed a sly wink to the “vertical Lexington Mall” of earlier versions).

It’s an open space for office workers, condo-billionaires, hotel-stayers and, yes, the general public.

Will there be hours of availability? I asked one of the architect team and he seemed unsure but he did assure me that the idea was that it was open to the public. This isn’t supposed to be an exclusive hideaway.

If you’ve been to New York in the past couple years and ventured to the High Line, it could be like that — beautiful, an oasis, public but monitored, closed after dark — if it wants to be.

And that’s a good thing.

Let’s end on that high note.

There is plenty to distrust in this latest version (Fool me once, the former President reminds us), and there is plenty to dislike (Grand pianos and pedways for everyone!).

But there’s also a lot of good here, all things considered.

The best scenario for the block might be that the individual parcels are sold off one by one but, right now, that seems unlikely. Comparing the current plan to ones from the past, this one isn’t terrible.

Is that a good thing? That it’s not terrible?

It’s an improvement.

Will it be built the way it is currently being sold? Certainly not. Architectural designs for large public (whether you like it or not, this is public and not just because of the questionable TIF) projects are sold in one image and almost always turn into another.

This one has strengths. The office space. The restaurants. The retail.

It has weaknesses. The condos. The condos. The condos. The hotel. The number of restaurants. The “galleria.” The culture of Lexington.

The last is a big one.

Lexington isn’t Greenville. It’s not Charleston. It’s not Austin or Portland or Madison. It’s not Indianapolis or Columbus.

It’s Lexington.

Building a luxury hotel, allowing a giant casino, building a “campus-style” convention center — none of those things will define our city.

That’s up to us. We define our city. Currently it’s defined by a downtown core, a series of wonderful neighborhoods, and sprawl of population who could live anywhere.

Getting them downtown, getting them involved in the city, is important. Parts of CentrePointe will do that. Parts of it serve other purposes. Parts of it seem pure pipe dream.

But groundbreaking will begin by the end of the year, for the forth year in a row, so it may be something to consider.

Hide your wife, hide your kids, because nobody’s safe outside the pedways

Last week the Webbs’ released their new CentrePointe design. Or, not really new but refashioned — it’s a Studio Gang design stripped of some of its power but better than what the Webbs kept coming up with on their own.

One part of Beverly Fortune’s really fantastic article we didn’t get around to mentioning on Thursday — because it deserves more than passing mention — was Dudley Webb’s pedway vision:

Several members took issue with a pedway shown connecting the hotel to the Financial Center parking garage. It would be possible for people to walk from the CentrePointe hotel all the way to the Lexington Center via pedways.

Board member Kevin Atkins asked whether that worked against the current push to get more people walking downtown. Last summer the city completed a multi-million-dollar, three-year project to build new sidewalks on Main Street, Vine Street and South Limestone.

Dudley Webb said that when women had to walk from the Lexington Center to the CentrePointe hotel at night, they would feel safer walking in pedways.

There are two points to discuss here.

The first is Dudley’s idea that pedways are good design.

The second is his hilarious (or, if you want to be angry — craaazy) views on safety.

Let’s start with the design element.

We here at B&P have long advocated for MORE PEDWAYS. Like the cowbell is to music, so too is the pedway to our urban-county fabric. Time and again, we have called for pedways in our time, even going so far as to google bomb Lexington, effectively turning us into the Pedway Capital of the World (regardless of the fact Louisville is now looking to build a significantly longer track — a classic example of that sad city’s Lexington-envy). As written in these pages in 2010, the Webbs are building a pedway to heaven:

Sure, “CentrePointe” does not yet exist and its current business plan – a hotel twice as expensive as the competition achieving occupancy rates well above the city’s current average – makes absolutely no sense. And the fifty million dollar condos aren’t exactly a hot commodity.

But Jim Newberry and the Family Webb know something the rest of us do not. They have a secret weapon.

It is the power of the Pedway.

As we have detailed over and over, the CentrePointe project as a whole is laughable: high on ego, short on funding, mindless in design, lacking in brains, etc.

But its Pedway system… oh, the CentrePointe Pedway system is genius. We hope this thing gets built some magical day in the future just because of the heavenly Pedways it offers the well-healed citizens of this fair city.

You see, even if the CentrePointe monstrosity sits essentially empty and serves no purpose for the vast majority of Lexington’s citizens – it will still have the Pedways!

Like Festival Market, Victorian Square, the Big Blue Building, the “World Trade Center” and the “Radisson” hotel before it, if there is one thing the Webb Company knows how to do… it’s build Pedways.

Images courtesy of Clarke.

So we are not opposed to the pedways. Webbs idea to build a pedway from his latest CentrePointe project to his parking garage is fine with us — it’s brilliant. We personally advocated this to Woodford Webb last summer when the Webbs brought in Jeanne Gang and listened to her bizarre pedwayless plans. In fact, we want the Webbs to go even further. To build another pedway from the parking garage at Park Plaza and the Public Library above Phoenix Park and across Limestone into the CentrePointe blocke. This would allow one to walk on air from the center of downtown all the way to its western end. This is genius.

Now, some would say that Jeanne Gang is a “genius.” But she said pedways were bad design. So did the Rupp Area master planner. And so did the Court House Area Design Review Board.

But what do they know?

Dudley Webb knows pedways.

And he knows that not only are they good design, they are a public safety imperative.

There is a lot of violence on Lexington’s downtown streets with people being attacked at all hours of the day by murky forces of evil.

Our streets are not safe. Our women are not safe.

Dudley Webb said that when women had to walk from the Lexington Center to the CentrePointe hotel at night, they would feel safer walking in pedways.

This is true.

It is true even though every single woman I have spoken with finds it offensive. And it is true even if every single person I have spoken with thinks it’s stupid or totally disconnected from reality.

The thing about the downtown Lexington pedway track is that much of what it connects are well-designed Webb family structures.

Should Webb’s latest pedway stand (and it should!) it would stretch above McCarthy’s, into the Big Blue Building parking lot, through the building, across Mill into the World Trade Center to the Radisson (or whatever) across to Festival Market and over Broadway to Victorian Square then all the way down to the empty condos and across to the Lexington Center at which point it circles back through to Kentucky Central (or whatever) and back into the Radisson.

This is about the safest route any woman would want to take late at night.

Put another way: Any woman who wouldn’t take this route is taking her fate into her own hands. Or feet.

The streets are dangerous. Anyone who has ever walked from one place to another in downtown Lexington and gotten there quickly, directly and without incident understands this.

The pedways hold many advantages.

1) The pedways are isolated. People don’t use them, they are generally deserted. Assuming that no criminal elements are there, you are unlikely to come across any witnesses or anyone who might hear you scream.

2) The places the pedways connect are isolated. There is very little foot traffic in the parking garages late at night. It’s a good place for someone to hide in a car, or between them, and there’s few passersby to contend with. The long empty hallways inside the empty buildings the pedways connect are winding and contain many blind corners. There is safety in not knowing what is hiding around the bend. You cannot find this safety on the open street level where, for the most part, you can see both in front and around you.

3) No one will hear you scream. On the street, people make noise and they holler at each other and cars drive by and people wave and laugh and sometimes some jackass vomits or two meat heads hit each other while large groups of people remain in total safety in the places around them. Inside the pedways, none of this awfulness can happen. That means you — man or lady, it doesn’t matter — can get good and sauced and wander all throughout the Lexington pedway system singing your brains out. You can scream songs at the top of your lungs crossing over Main or Broadway, and no one will hear you. You can chant and drum and, because there is no one around, no one will stop you or come to your harmonic aid.

Let us sing.

There’s a Dudley who’s sure
All that glitters is gold
And he’s buying a Pedway to heaven

When he gets there he knows
If the hotels are all closed
With a word he can get what he paid for

Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh
And he’s buying a Pedway to heaven…

Webbs’ latest CentrePointe architects, EOP, release more design details

Following the news of the most recent CentrePointe design (H-L, B&P), the architects at EOP have released more details and a couple new images. Here’s the glass shard building, an Urban Active:

And here’s what they have to say about the project as a whole:

EOP’s design builds on the master plan presented by SGA and includes a 28-story tower consisting of a Marriott hotel on the lower floors and condominiums, pied-a-terres and two-story penthouses on the upper floors; an elevated expansive outdoor public space with sculpture garden, terrace and pool; an 8-story wedged office building with a Saul Good restaurant; a 3-story signature building for Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse and Urban Active Fitness; plenty of underground parking; and 3- and 4-story buildings along Main Street designed by other local architecture firms. The Main Street buildings will be a mixture of two-story townhouses and one-story flats above street level retail in varying heights and materials.

So again, it’s like the Gang plan without Gang and replacing the Tower of Tubes with what one might imagine is the somewhat uninspired demands of Marriott for their promised hotel (which is not truly terrible like the Webbs’ initial forays). The plan maintains Gang’s vision of a non-monolithic monstrosity, the same ten story office structure and the three story restaurant/gym, along with the refashioned Main Street. Which looks like this:

They’ll be back soon, they pledge, for a public meeting to present the whole plan to the people, and will be joined by the local design firms working on those Main Street structures.

[For more reactions to this latest Webb attempt, visit the Kaintuckeean.]

CentrePointe is back with a brand new invention!

Well that only took four months.

Back in October when Dudley and fam fired the worldclass architect they’d hired to reinvent their dead block they said they’d have a new plan in three weeks.

The Herald reported at the time:

Webb hired Lexington firm EOP Architects to incorporate Gang’s ideas into a design for the block. EOP already was involved with the project as one of Gang’s guest firms.

“We are excited to be able to take a great vision in terms of the master plan and move forward with it,” EOP’s Rick Ekhoff said Thursday. He said he hoped to make the EOP plan public in two to three weeks.

We last checked in six weeks later. EOP and the Webbs had remained silent, no new designs, no word, no action. Just a four year old “Coming Soon” sign.

But seasons change. And the CentrePointe rises again! At least on paper:

The view from Vine, between Upper and Mill.

The Webbs hung out with the Court House Area Design Review Board yesterday for a ‘preliminary review’ of  a “project bounded by Main Street, Vine Street, Upper Street and Limestone Street.”

The current plans which have not yet met the same fate as all previous plans are basically a rip off of the Gang principle. At its base, that is a good thing.

The hotel and million dollar condos appears to be about 25 stories tall and occupies just the south west corner of the block — as had the Gang design. Where the Gang hotel was iconic, pleasant to the eye, the Webbs’ latest effort is frankly better than anything they’ve come up with before without losing that classic “generic” Webb touch. It looks a little like they took one of the cheapo skyscrapers that have gone up in Manhattan in the past six years and lopped off the top. It’s kind of stubby.

But it’s still far better than the pre-Gang designs. And it does a better job (how could it not?) of keeping the street open.

Same view, street level.

From the ground, you see the austere hotel entrance (because that’s what fancy people want out of a hotel entrance, that’s why they’re paying significantly higher rates to stay here than to stay at the Hilton down the street) and in the background a fun four story glass shard structure.

This Vine street view would be a huge change to the nature of Vine. Before it was a stretch of broken sidewalk stretching in front of an empty field, this part of Vine was a stretch of broken sidewalk stretching in front of buildings that, basically, did not open to Vine. There were some trees and shade, but it was largely a beige place not inviting foot traffic nor offering a driver anything to circle back around and possibly stop for.

With the CentrePointe designs pre-Gang, the Hotel/Condo monstrosity devoured the entire block, did nothing for the public street level. It’s a bit different here and again, they’d love to take the credit, but this is Jeanne Gang’s work, not the Webbs.

The Tour de France passes the block at Vine and Limestone at dawn. Or is that dusk? It’s been raining.


And just as Gang prescribed, the plan hangs on to the 10 story office building at Main and Lime and the squatter glass shard building at Vine and Lime, which may host a rooftop garden, possibly with bar/restaurant, and restaurant inside. And along Main Street… three and four story retail. Again… Gang.

The biggest change here is the hotel itself.

Studio Gang’s CentrePointe, from the Vine Street canyon.

Other than that, the Webbs have done what Gang told them to. And even with the hotel, they’ve done some of what Studio Gang told them to do and for the first time, the Webbs have put forward a plan of their own (if you want to give them credit for this plan like it’s their own, which obviously it is not) that doesn’t allow the hotel to dominate the entire block (or all of downtown).

B.Fortune writes:

The block is included in the Courthouse Area Design Review Zone, in which all new buildings and exterior changes to existing structures must be approved by the Design Review Board.

Board members on Wednesday were tactful in their remarks, but they said they wanted to see changes in parts of the plan Ekhoff presented.

Several members said there needed to be more pedestrian access through the block, at ground level, so people could walk from Main Street to Vine Street.

Buildings facing Upper Street needed more windows instead of solid brick walls, they said. One board member said it now looks like the project has “turned its back on Upper Street.”

There’s a fabulous discussion about pedways — in which Dudley promises to protect the city of Lexington — but we’ll cover that in a separate post.

The Board pushed the Webbs to promise a public meeting on the project and they ecstatically agreed. Or at least, they said they would hold a public meeting.

And in terms of progress and prospects:

Board member Harry Richert asked whether the entire project, with all the buildings, could be built in phases. Webb said it would be too expensive. It will be built at one time, he said.

Webb said three businesses — Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse out of Cincinnati, Saul Good Restaurant and Pub, and Urban Active gym — have committed to take space on the block. J. W. Marriott will take the hotel space.

That would leave a floor wide gym empty above the Big Blue Building’s parking garage (Urban InActive, I suppose) but other than that it saul good. Right?

I’ve reached out to J.W. Marriott for comment on their continued commitment to making Lexington the next location for their brand.

I recently had the chance to visit the J.W. Marriott in Grand Rapids. It was a pretty place. There were these lights. It had big windows looking over a rollicking river.

Anyway… we’ll have more later, including a closer look at the crime fighting pedways and perhaps a rumination upon the Courthouse Area Design Review Board.