Block of Historic Downtown Lexington May Be Leveled for "Green" Hotel
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Apr. 16, 2008
The oldest building in downtown Lexington, Ky., along with 13 other historic structures, could be torn down if the city greenlights a developer's plan for a 40-story hotel.
CentrePointe LLC wants to build the state's first LEED-certified high-rise in place of 14 buildings constructed between 1826 to 1930. The developer plans to meet this week with two local preservation groups: the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation and Preserve Lexington. "It's great that we are having these discussions, and it's definitely a good step in the right direction," says Julie Good, executive director of the Blue Grass Trust.
Yet some doubt that CentrePointe will amend its design for a $250 million hotel complex, which must be approved before it can request demolition permits for the historic buildings.
"The bottom line is that everybody in town has an opinion about our property and what we are proposing to try to do with it to make our downtown better," CentrePointe LLC owner Dudley Webb wrote in a Mar. 31 letter to the Lexington Herald-Leader. (In fact, more than 450 people crowded into the State Theatre in downtown Lexington on March 29 for a rally sponsored by Preserve Lexington.) "Our consultants and contractors have repeatedly reaffirmed to everyone concerned that we can't save these few old buildings and/or their facades and have this project too," Webb continued.
He has offered to donate the buildings to anyone who can move them, and lower the hotel's height to 35 stories, but some preservationists say that's still too high.
"It's not human scale," says Eric Thomason, board member of Preservation Lexington, a two-year-old nonprofit. "It destroys several viable businesses and takes away what entertainment scene we have downtown."
Demolition permits for four of the buildings are pending. Webb has said he will not raze them before the end of a 60-day postponement period granted by a local review board. That period ends in June.
One of the four buildings threatened is the Rosenberg jewelry store, constructed in 1826 by Lexington entrepreneur, William Morton. The Blue Grass Trust says it is one of the city's last Federal-style commercial structures.
Guidelines for Lexington's Courthouse Area Overlay Zone state that new buildings in the district should "reflect the city's goals to promote economic development, enhance the image of the area, and reuse its historic resources." Critics say the CentrePointe project accomplishes none of those.
"We urge the Courthouse Area Design Review Board to ask for a new design that adheres to its guidelines," said National Trust President Richard Moe in an op-ed published in the Lexington Herald-Leader on Apr. 2. "Instead of flattening [the 14 buildings], the city should reuse them, an action that would have important environmental benefits, since it would avoid wasting all the energy and materials that went into their construction and avoid adding tons of demolition debris to already-crowded landfills."
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