Category Archives: Lexington

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.


CentrePointe financing “imminent,” says Dudley Webb

A new design, a new sign and now a new promise of imminent financing!

WEKU reports 8 construction firms are about to bid on the Webb’s CentrePointe project, according to Dudley, who also had this to say:

“Well I think the deal is more financeable than it’s ever been..the contractors  are obviously gonna give us the prices and they’ll go into the final mortgage package that the lenders will review…and they’ll issue a commitment based on those prices,” said Webb.

Webb says the current economic situation is improved and believes ‘financing is imminent.’

Maybe this time, maybe this time, maybe this time…

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.

CentrePointe Mystery Financier Demands New Rules

The Herald Editorial Board is bang on:

Across the street from the 21c site there once was a collection of some of Lexington’s most historic commercial buildings we now have grassland.

But then came CentrePointe, a $250 million hotel-condo-office-retail project proposed for the block bounded by Main, Limestone, Upper and Vine. Despite intense opposition, the developer, the Webb Companies, got permission to tear down the buildings on the block, including those in the protected Courthouse Design Zone. The Webbs moved quickly to level the block in the summer of 2008.

As it turned out, a mystery financier the Webbs never identified also never materialized before we were told he died.

The point, you’ll see, is that Lexington still needs to rectify the process which allowed the CentrePointe block to be demolished and (continue to) sit empty for years after. The excitement about 21C is good, but it should remind us all that the underlying problem across the street hasn’t been fixed. And it needs to be.


Jim Newberry: Still a bitter, pathetic little man

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,


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.

University of Kentucky, Slumlord.

I can’t agree with Tom Eblen’s premise in his Sunday column in the Herald — “After the games, nation got an unflattering look at UK, Lexington” — but the larger point he’s getting at is a good one:

Last week’s mayhem was a wake-up call to both UK and Lexington officials. They must redouble their efforts to clean up neighborhoods around campus that have been allowed to become little more than student-rental slums.

The problems began in the 1970s, when UK dormitory construction and maintenance began falling behind enrollment growth. About the same time, longtime residents of some nearby neighborhoods built between the early 1800s and early 1900s began dying off or moving away.

Many homes were sold to the university for campus expansion. Others were sold to student-rental entrepreneurs, who either cut up old homes into rental rooms or knocked them down to build boxy apartment complexes.

Once-lovely neighborhoods where many faculty and staff used to live fell into disrepair, as fewer and fewer homes were occupied by their owners. UK’s hands-off attitude reached its zenith in 1998 when officials banned alcohol from campus, which pushed student parties into the surrounding neighborhoods.

Landlords used zoning loopholes to build large dorm-like additions to bungalows and pave over yards, overwhelming those areas with people, cars, garbage and storm-water runoff. Those neighborhoods were not designed for such density.

Diane Lawless, the Urban County Council member who represents those neighborhoods, said the problems have been made worse by spot rezoning and years of building inspection that was “way beyond lax.”

Eblen goes on to look at how these neighbhorhoods are changing, how the city and the University have begun working together to play catch up on getting the situation under some sort of control (or attempt to).

His thoughts on State Street came on the heels of more pointed criticism from the paper’s Editorial Board, which correctly and directly placed the blame for the situation at the feet of the University of Kentucky and years of lax governance from the city… that abusive relationship in which the city has bowed at the feet of the University over and over again as if the one controls the other and not the other way ’round.

If University of Kentucky researchers ever want to study the link between social pathology and failed urban planning, all they have to do is walk across Nicholasville Road.

There, in the shadow of UK’s beautiful new hospital, they would find what once was a pleasant neighborhood of retirees, young families, professors and students.

The neighborhood was destroyed when demand for student housing and UK’s 1998 ban on alcohol at fraternity houses collided with an ineffectual city government, and, voila, Lexington created a slum.

It’s no coincidence that this overcrowded student ghetto is Ground Zero for the vandalism, arson, drunkenness and violence that accompany UK sports events and reached an embarrassing peak after Saturday night’s win over in-state rival Louisville.

As to Eblen’s initial point, that the University’s abuse of its neighbors resulted in a black eye for Lexington on some national scale… I’m not so sure that particularly matters, even if it were true. And it’s probably not true — no one’s talking about UCONN’s “riots” (which weren’t riots either) after last year’s victory. The truth is, six months from now, no one outside the state will care about Lexington or the supposed riots. And the truth is that the real issue isn’t what people might think, but what the University could do better to no longer be a predator on its community but a protector.

And… as we’ve been pointing out, the real story about that celebration wasn’t a few bad apples, but that the “riot” wasn’t a riot at all but instead a pretty remarkable city-wide celebration. As the Fuzz themselves said:

About 60 fires were reported, and more than 20 people, including a shooting victim, were taken to the hospital.

However, police emphasized at a news conference Tuesday that the majority of revelers was well-behaved. Police said crowds at South Limestone, State Street and the intersection of Woodland and Euclid avenues totaled 15,000 to 20,000 people.

“The number of arrests we made and the number of problems we had, we felt like, were relatively small based on the number of people that we had celebrating,” Police Chief Ronnie Bastin said. “I think that speaks volumes to Wildcat fans and the Big Blue Nation.”

Food Truck Food Fight

The Herald’s Editorial this morning argues in favor of allowing food trucks in Downtown Lexington. With a yearlong task force exploration of the subject and some serious push-back from the HVAC-and-plaster restaurant industry, things are shaping up to be… weird.

That’s a legitimate reason to think carefully about how, where and when mobile food merchants would operate — as the task force has — but it’s not a compelling argument to keep them out of downtown altogether. More important to Lexington, to downtown and ultimately to the business people who have invested there is creating a lively, inviting street scene that will attract people throughout the day and the week. It’s in the interest of everyone to find a compromise that can bring street food to Lexington this summer.

….Back in Lexington, the task force is considering a pilot program that would allow food carts and trucks after 10 p.m. to cater to the bar crowd after restaurants have closed their kitchens. We’d take that a step further and suggest some regular daylight hours on weekends for those too old or too young to enjoy the late-night scene. It could help dispel the eerie quiet that can settle over downtown Lexington on summer weekend days.

Food trucks across the country aren’t really a “trend.” In addition, existing restaurants can (and successfully have) set up their own food trucks which then act as advertising for their business. There would be nothing to stop Natasha’s or Dudley’s or the other good downtown sit-down restaurants from bringing their tasty food to, say, Ecton Park on Saturday’s for little league season.

On top of that, food trucks have allowed many blossoming chefs and entrepreneurs without the resources to set up physical shop the chance to burst into their city’s culinary scenes, develop buzz and attract investors.

As ProgressLex has pointed out, the Cheapside Entertainment District Association, representing restaurants in that area, have pushed for a 200 Foot buffer between any physical locations and a truck. Some even pushed for a limit of just 2 food truck allowances.

Why then, aren’t they seeking similar buffer zones and number limits on physical restaurant locations? Why would the growing number of sit-down spots not hinder established businesses from making money but certified food trucks would? It doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Let there be food trucks.

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.