Jim Newberry

Jim Newberry: Still a bitter, pathetic little man

2 comments
April 11, 2012
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Failed one-term mayor and sore loser Jim Newberry was feeling especially bitter this Easter Sunday. He was busy sulking that he didn’t get to hang out with all of the Kool Kids during the UK basketball fun times, when he decided to let his pathetic internal feelings go outward, posting this to his Facebook “fan” page:

Run again, Jim. Pleeeeeeeease run again.

XOXO and nothing of any consequence,

Joe

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

9 comments
March 2, 2012
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[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: centrepointe@eopa.com.

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…

EOP

Biagi

CSC

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

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February 20, 2012
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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…

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….

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…

3 comments
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…

8 comments
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?

no comments
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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