Block of Historic Downtown Lexington May Be Leveled for "Green" Hotel

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If city officials in Lexington, Ky., approve a 40-story hotel, this entire block of buildings, constructed between 1829 and 1930, could be razed.

Credit: Janie-Rice Brother

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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Submitted by Brian at: August 24, 2008
I can't believe that it is EVEN POSSIBLE to demolish a structure which has survied since 1826!!!!! Haven't any of these developers and their followers been to Europe? They'd probably demolish all of Venice, and other Renaisance buildings "in the way". America has to start somewhere. I don't see a lot of 1826 buildings in my neighborhood. I don't know about the other buildings, but My God! Save the 1826 structure!

Submitted by Louisvillecityfan at: July 6, 2008
fairness, there is nothing beautiful about the Dame or Busters. Have you ever walked passed those two establishments? All we smell is urine, trash, and musty, funky dampness. Look up into their 2nd story windows and it looks nasty and dusty. I remember it took months, if not years to tear down the old Woolworth building which is now a parking lot. On the other hand, McCarthey's is nice and clean, and I have no problem walking near or into their establishment. I do agree with Weber's statement about helping Lexington's economy. Our family will continue to spend our money in downtown Louisville and Cincinnati until downtown Lexington is updated. A friend of mine from Chicago once asked me, "When you have out of town relatives or friends come to Lexington what do you do? Does Lexington have any downtown attractions, a zoo, or an amusement park? I said, "Well we take them out to eat and shopping at Hamburg or Fayette Mall. If they want a downtown or anything else we take them 65-70 miles west to Louisville." Bottomline, Preservation Lexington continues to keep downtown Lexington living in the past. Lexington needs to get a clue from Louisville and stop being a third rate city. Maybe, just maybe CentrePointe will re-energize downtown Lexington.

Submitted by Louisvillecityfan at: July 6, 2008
Who really cares? Downtown Lexington is dead and has been since the early 80s. Everything closes at 5PM. Plus downtown Lex is outdated except for Hamburg. The people of Lexington don't want progress just read all the other postings. We'll continue to visit/give our money Louisville or Cincinnati for clubs, entertainment, the zoo and amusement parks, etc, etc. Lexington is good for shopping and eating nothing else.

Submitted by fairness at: May 22, 2008
I am thankful your magazine has publicized the attempt of Webb Companies to destroy the beautiful old buildings in downtown Lexington.' The Webbs are ahistorical and do not represent the voice of Lexington.

Submitted by moderatejoe at: May 3, 2008
Though these buildings are historic, the owners of these buildings and their tenants have not been good stewards. And, will never be. The neglect for these buildings is also the reason the block has been destroyed and no longer significant. I think too we need to look to the preservation staff of Lexington as part of the problem. This situation did not arise over night. Due to many inconsistencies in the preservation staff’s processes over the years, motivated people have not purchased old buildings in downtown Lexington. Just look at the many inconstancies around town as it relates to what one can do to their buildings. Not to move forward is one of the reasons our downtown is in such a dire state.

Submitted by Tierney at: April 23, 2008
I agree with Weber. We need to move Lexington "forward." I am excited about the LEED certification of the building. That will really make a statement for Lexington.

Submitted by Weber at: April 23, 2008
These buildings are not historic. They are old and in horrible condition. They have been through years of alterations and neglect. There is a true need for this project. We are in a recession and a visionary project such as this will give our economy a needed boost. Further, a development on this block will result in the preservation of the truly historic blocks nearby. This project will truly be a catalyst for future preservation projects. I applaud the project and the vision of the developers. Thank you!

Submitted by KClay at: April 20, 2008
With the amount of unused office, hotel, and residential space in and near downtown Lexington, I don't find this project practical. Development is definitely necessary, but this is not the answer.

Submitted by drj at: April 18, 2008
I hope that this issue is resolved soon. As a resident of downtown Lexington and a person who is part of the entertainment scene of downtown I feel very strongly about this situation. Thank you to all those involved in protecting our history.