Centrepointe is a mixed-use development under construction by the Webb Cos. in downtown Lexington, Kentucky, bounded by Main, Vine, Limestone and Upper Streets. The project has undergone six major revisions from 2008 to the present.
The initial proposal for Centrepointe was a $250 millon, 823,000 sq. ft., 35-story high-rise tower. The project consisted of four major components and included a reconfiguration of Phoenix Park.1 21 The development would have included a four-star, 243-room hotel, 77 residential condominium units, 38,000 sq. ft. of retail space, a 10,000 sq. ft. restaurant on the top floor and office space.11 23
Centrepointe’s original design consisted of a four-story street-level segment that would have incorporated retail and office space, followed with a 12- and 13-story hotel component. A 40-story tower, later reduced to 35 floors, would have been located at the center.2 A circular drive was located in the center along Main Street, with an automobile entrance to the hotel off of Vine Street.4 Along North Limestone, and portions of Main and Vine, the tower would have included retail shops accessible from the sidewalk.4 Ventilation shafts and a service entrance would front Upper Street.6
The tower would have been LEED certified and consisted of a ‘green’ roof with trees and other flora.6 23 This was proposed partially in response to the Brookings Institution report that Lexington’s carbon footprint was the worst of the 100 largest cities in the United States.23
The Webb Cos. proposed 1,000 parking spaces for Centrepointe, 650 of which would have been located in an underground parking structure and the remainder in an extension of the Lexington Public Library/Park Plaza parking garage.1 The extension towards Limestone would have contained two levels of underground parking, 15,000 square-feet of ground-level retail and a four-level parking garage above. The garage would have effectively reduce the size of Phoenix Park by one-third, however, the remainder of the park would be redesigned and raised to grade level and include public art as part of a private $4 million effort.1 2
On the north-facing wall of the new parking structure, the site plan included the addition of a Jumbotron screen that would allow for public viewings of movies and documentaries and would be visible from Phoenix Park and the Courthouse Plaza.1 The Webb Cos. had an option to purchase two Jumbotron screens that will be used at the World Cup in South Africa in 2009.
On March 28, 2008 then-Vice Mayor Jim Gray proposed an international design competition to come up with a possible new design for Centrepointe, with Michael Speaks, now dean of the University of Kentucky College of Design, as adviser.10 Gray had previously called the project “massive” and “out of scale” with downtown. While Webb did not commit to a design competition, he stated “it was worth having a conversation about.” On March 31, the Webb Cos. nixed the idea of a design competition, stating that Marriott, the hotel chain that would be interested in the Centrepointe development, “would not even consider allowing one of its proposed projects to be part of such a competition.”12 13
On the 30th, Dudley Webb announced that Centrepointe had been reduced to the “bare minimum” 35 floors for which the project was economically viable.11 23
Centrepointe would have relied heavily upon tax increment financing (TIF), which is a mechanism to allow developers to recoup some of their investment related to public infrastructure improvements in mixed-use development projects by allowing the developer to keep a portion the income and property taxes generated over a 30-year period.1 The financing required state approval. On July 24, Lexington’s Tax Increment Financing Task Force agreed to move forward to partner with the TIF proposal and proposed $32 million in TIF’s: 27
At a August 5 Urban County Council meeting, the Webb Cos. declined to publicly identify the project’s financial backers, which led to some difficult and tense situations during the meeting.29 Citing confidentiality, the developers were lashed out by those seeking less transparency. Three days later, the Urban County Council released another list of TIF projects ranked in order of importance,30
The top six projects would cost $36 million, while the remainder were projected to cost $12 million.30 The Urban County Council voted to proceed with the tax increment financing project after the Webb Cos. announced it would pay $50,000 for a financial analysis that the city must submit to the state when applying for the TIF.31
The development of Centrepointe required the demolition of the existing buildings within the block, some of which were the city’s oldest buildings in continuous use.18 Organizations such as the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation and Preserve Lexington have voiced opposition to the project, advocating that incorporating Centrepointe with the existing historical structures would surmount much of the opposition.2 3 20 Although such organizations advocated for the utilization of some or all of the old facades, Webb stated that most of the facades were “unstable and not worthy of preservation.”10
Preserve Lexington released a statement on March 4 stating “the thousands of Lexingtonians that are contacting us, believe that the spirit of this development can be altered in such a way as to preserve the vital historic resources that already exist on this block.” On the following day, the Blue Grass Trust stated that it was “disappointed that numerous buildings that most agree have historical significance to Lexington (will) be destroyed. We hope that as the plans are further developed and the input of all of the citizens of Lexington is received, that the plans can be revised to accommodate the preservation of these historic structure.”3
Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, stated that “sensitive new development can play an important role in revitalization, but massive, out-of-scale projects that promise a quick fix rarely deliver on that promise. In fact, such projects can actually deter revitalization by destroying the distinctive character that people seek out and enjoy in older communities everywhere.”15
No one is seeking to stifle growth or progress, or to freeze time and turn downtown Lexington into a museum. We all want an urban center that is lively, attractive and economically viable — but you don’t make a place better by destroying what makes it special.
Vice Mayor Jim Gray expressed concern about the scale of the buildings, stating that the Downtown Master Plan, which cost $400,000 and involved input from hundreds of citizens, called for a maximum building height of 15 stories in the downtown core.6 Although that recommendation was removed before it went to the Planning Commission for approval, it was because that component necessitated further study.3 In addition, much of the block resided within the Courthouse Area Design Overlay Zone, and any new development within the designated area was subject to strict design guidelines, such as that any new construction must appear similar in mass and scale to nearby buildings.4 6 20 Of the 14 buildings on the block, ten were listed and two were eligible for placement on the National Register of Historic Places.10 15
You can’t ask people for their input, get community consensus and then ignore it.3
Vice Mayor Jim Gray
Another source of tension was the “aggressive schedule” that the Webb Cos. anticipated to have Centrepointe completed in time for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.2 Some on the Urban County Council disagreed with the timetable, with some council members vocally expressing disagreement with the timetable. Dudley Webb stated that development relating to Centrepointe had been ongoing since October 2006,12 although the first announcement of the project to the public came on March 4, 2008.1 Webb acknowledged that he was willing to listen to other ideas, but that the project had advanced on for two years and that it could not be “drug out forever.”17
While many business people instinctively embraced CentrePointe, a large and diverse group of citizens pushed back hard for a variety of reasons. Faced with possible rejection by one government panel, Webb last Wednesday asked for a 60-day delay so he could try to sell his plan to the public and compromise with his critics.17
Music and entertainment enthusiasts also raised concerns with the venue The Dame,2 which was slated for closure in June.8 Others criticized the removal of the Lexington Farmers Market, which was held along Vine Street on Saturdays.2 3 A Facebook group dedicated to the opposition of Centrepointe attracted over 1,400 registered users.5 On March 24, business owner Joe Rosenberg filed for demolition permits for four buildings that dated to 1826 which fronted South Limestone and were not included within the Courthouse Design Review Area.7
“Wake Up Lexington: An Event to Save Our Block” was shown at the Kentucky Theatre five days after, an event organized by Preserve Lexington with the documentary compiled by Creative Downtown who had collected oral histories of the block on film.5 9 Speakers discussed about the importance of the block and examples of projects in other cities that incorporated historic buildings were displayed. Between 400 and 450 people attended the rally and packed the theater to capacity; overflowing crowds spilled out onto the sidewalk. Those in attendance included Dudley Webb, the developer of Centrepointe.11
We’d love to incorporate the facades of the old buildings, but a couple of them maybe could be saved. But beyond that, most are decrepit and falling or have been modified to the point that they aren’t historic anymore. There would (also) be problems saving the buildings because they would crumble once blasting for the underground parking begins.
Developer Dudley Webb
The Courthouse Area Design Review Board on April 2 recommended postponing demolition of buildings in the Centrepoionte block that are in the Courthouse Area Design Overlay Zone, and also postponed any authorization for new construction.14 This did not apply to four buildings fronting Limestone nor those fronting Upper. The board stated that Centrepointe’s proposal did not “demonstrate the full economic potential of the existing structures, if each were rehabilitated and utilized to its highest and best use.”
To counter this, Dudley Webb requested a 60-day postponement on April 3 so that “our side of the story could be heard” and to garner additional public input on the project.16 Webb stated that no building would be demolished during that timeframe. The agreement to postpone was hastily reached only two hours prior to the Review Board meeting.16 The quick action potentially avoided a heated public meeting that was packed with mostly opponents of the project and confrontation with the Review Board.
Webb was the keynote speaker to a rather skeptical audience at a May 13 Bluegrass Hospitality Association symposium at the Lexington Center, fielding questions regarding the viability of a high-end hotel whose rates would average over $200 per night.21 Webb replied that there have been four market studies completed, two by hotel chains, one by a consultant hired to conduct a financial analysis for possible tax-increment financing, and another commissioned by The Webb Cos., that concluded the Lexington market can support a high-end hotel.
On May 28, the Webb Cos. unveiled a revised Centrepointe design to the Courthouse Area Design Review Board that included,22 23
Three architectural design teams from Los Angeles, Chicago and the University of Kentucky, sponsored by the University of Kentucky College of Design, unveiled several futuristic alternatives to the “conservative” Centrepointe design on July 22.24 The three designs were conceptual and were not actual full-scale designs.
On July 22, Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine stated that the law makes no provision to halt demolition of several buildings in the block bounded for Centrepointe. This refuted Preserve Lexington’s attempts to seek a temporary injunction to prevent the razing of the buildings until the Planning Commission could hear an appeal of the Review Board’s decision.25 The Planning Commission was set to meet on September 18. In return, Webb stated that the buildings in the block would come down “immediately,” with demolition beginning the very next day.26 Preservationists halted all efforts to stop Centrepointe’s development on July 26.28 Goodwine expressed disappointment towards the Webbs, asking why there was no community involvement with the design of Centrepointe.25
On October 31, the Webb Cos. released a statement that the building’s design was slightly modified. Details of the changes were released on November 11, which included,32 33
The base was altered to accommodate a request by the Marriott Corporation to make ceilings taller and increase the ballroom from 7,000 square feet to 10,000 square feeet.33 In addition, the tower saw the addition of 12 penthouses, the larget of which was a two-story, 9,000 square-foot condominium with a 360-degree view of the city. The changes were filed with the Courthouse Area Design Review office and approved.33
Engineering began in early October with core drillings on the western half of the block, although no drillings were been performed on the eastern half due to debris that remained.32 The drilling was performed down to 45 feet and noted the geology was “solid rock.” The site had been excavated 30 feet below street level for the parking garage.
By February 2009, no visible work had been completed on Centrepointe site sans the excavation. Bovis Lend Lease, of Columbus, Ohio, submitted a request to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet for a lane closure on West Main Street and Vine Street.34 In a letter to Webb, the Bovis stated that it would take several weeks to get the lane closure permit and about four additional weeks to obtain the barriers and signs. On April 10, Los Angeles attorney Richard P. Crane Jr. stated that a key financial backer of Centrepointe died in September 2008,36 but that the Webbs were working with the financier’s heirs to keep the $250 million development on track.35 The agreement between the financier and Centrepointe’s developers was signed on June 9, 2008.36 The identity of the deceased financial backer was not disclosed for privacy and contractual reasons.
Complicating the matters was the fact that the financier died without a will, so his estate was marred in probate court. The accounts were also held in numbered Swiss bank accounts.37 The eldest son was designated by the family to represent the financier in settling the estate.35
Crane, an appointed trustee by Centrepointe investors, stated that he had made three overseas trips in the prior four weeks to “secure and insure the continuation of the planned and committed funding.”35
A stouthearted Webb criticized the Urban County Council on May 5 for their comments regarding Centrepointe, stating that the fate of the funding would be known within the next two to three months.36 In a prepared statement, Webb stated that he had a letter of support from J.W. Marriott, and that he was being unreasonably excoriated by bloggers, the Herald-Leader and then-Vice Mayor Jim Gray.
This became a cause célèbre for editorial writers, columnists, bloggers, public officials, rumormongers and others. (I) will not continue to respond to this negativism.36
Gray replied back, accusing Webb of misleading the city regarding the project’s financing.36 He also criticized Webb for publicly stating last summer that funding was secure and that construction would begin by December. As recently as February, Webb stated that the project would begin in two weeks. Gray then asked if a building permit had been applied, and after conferring with a building inspector, he noted that none had been issued.36 Applying for a building permit could take six months, Gray noted.
On June 3, Webb stated that he had a “Plan B and Plan C” for financing if the existing plans fall through, and would look for fill dirt to level the site and plant grass.37 He said that he would accept free fill, but might opt to paying for dirt “to shut these people up,” referring to critics of Centrepointe.37 On June 19, Webb stated that six inches of top-soil would be spread on the vacant block and seeded with grass.39 The soil and seed cost $50,000 and the dirt came from the excavation site for The Lex.
Diversified Demolition, the company that razed 17 buildings for Centrepointe, filed a lien of $73,000 against Centrepointe LLC for non-payment shortly after.38
The Webb Cos. filed for an extension of the original construction permit issued in November 2008 by the Review Board on July 7.40 Questioned as to why one would request a construction permit half-a-year prior to its expiration, Darby Turner, an attorney for Dudley Webb, stated that having more lead time would “give assurance to our investor that this project is still doable.” He further elaborated, stating that he wanted to avoid someone trying to challenge an extension in the fall.
The extension would move the next renewal request to July 2010 instead of November 2010, when the next Lexington mayor and Urban County Council members would stand for re-election.40 The extension was ultimately approved.
Chicago architect Jeanne Gang unveiled models of a redesigned Centrepointe block to a crowd of over 300 on June 2, 2011.43 The reception was warmly received not only for the design but for the openness of the discussion in which she took in feedback.
On July 13, Gang released renderings of a redesigned block that showcased a 30 story tower that was accompanied by an eight-level asymmetrical office tower.41 The new building, which would be slightly shorter in height than the Lexington Financial Center, had the appearance of a “bundle of tubes” that were arranged to allow air and light to filter in between. The tubes would be of variable height and include rooftop gardens. A cluster of six small buildings would front Main Street to create a visual continuity.42
In following with a more open environment with Centrepointe, Gang involved Kentucky architects for the design of the smaller buildings.44 Of 25 firms that applied, six were chosen and all are based in or around Lexington. It included Pohl Rosa Pohl and RossTarrant, Richard Levine’s CSC Design Studio, EOP Architects, David Biagi of Shelbyville, the Director of the University of Kentucky School of Architecture, and Omni Architects.
An initial configuration included a ten-story hotel, ten-stories of apartments, seven floors of condominiums and three floors of penthouses.41 The tower would face Vine Street, and all of the retail stores, including the lobby, would face and open into the street. Mayor Jim Gray, who was once a vocal opponent of Centrepointe under Jim Newberry’s mayorship, added support to the latest renderings.
The project’s financing was not been disclosed other than a majority of the funding may come from non-traditional sources.42 The only tenant that has expressed interest in the new Centrepointe is Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse, which could help fill out a smaller retail structure along Main Street and jumpstart construction.
By October, however, Gang was no longer associated with Centrepointe.45 A new preliminary design was released on February 15, 2012 by EOP architects, which retained several elements of the master plan developed by Gang.46 The hotel and condominium tower on Vine Street was saved, as was a low-rise office building at Main and Limestone, the three- and four-story retail buildings along Main and the underground parking garage.
But the design by EOF was criticized by the Review Board for not being pedestrian friendly, with a lack of pass-through between the streets noted.46 The design also lacked windows along Upper Street and a 45-foot long pedestrian overpass between the hotel and the Financial Center parking garage.
The idea that people have to walk in a conditioned, secure environment says something not so good about downtown. I live downtown. Downtown is safer than the suburbs here. What downtown needs is more pedestrian traffic, not less.46
Michael Speaks, dean of the University of Kentucky College of Design and Review Board member
Webb replied that women would feel safer at night on the pedways than on the streets.46
On March 1, the public was able to view the EOF renderings – the fifth set developed for Centrepointe.47 While reaction was mostly positive, Webb noted that the project would need to be developed in phases due to financial constraints. The EOF proposal was approved by the Review Board on March 28 on the condition that the pedestrian overpass be removed. Webb noted that at least one or two banks were interested in financing Centrepointe, but offered little other details.48
The Review Board approved a change to the Upper Street side of the base of the hotel.50 Architect Rick Ekhoff requested that 11 one-bedroom apartments be constructed on the second, third and fourth floors of the tower, with windows and balconies overlooking Upper, and the addition of two floors to the office building proposed on the east side of the development.
On March 7, 2013, House Bill 260 was passed the in the Kentucky General Assembly, which if signed by Governor Beshear, would reduce the amount of money the developers must spend before the state can start recovering money invested in public infrastructure, such as a parking garage.49 The bill’s passage was seen as critical, as costs associated with Centrepointe had dropped to $160 million as the high-rise was lowered to 28 stories, and the number of condominiums reduced from 77 or more to just 14. The 700-space parking garage would cost $30 million and generate only $10 million in revenue for the duration of a 30-year TIF.
A new CentrePointe master development agreement was approved on July 9 that included plans for a hotel, apartments, offices, retailers, restaurants and a three-story underground parking garage.51 The site plan showed a hotel and Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse facing Vine Street and apartments and offices facing Main Street, with the tallest buildings in the complex reaching 19 stories. The capital investment required was estimated at $193.3 million, including $45.5 million for public infrastructure, according to a report from the state Cabinet for Economic Development that was submitted earlier in June by AECOM. Including financing costs, the Centrepointe was estimated to cost $393.9 million.
The new development agreement called for a 286-room full service hotel, eight condominiums, 96 apartments, 10,700 square-feet of retail space and 157,710 square-feet of offices.51 Construction was estimated to begin in January.
Council also approved of a resolution authorizing the mayor and other officials to execute agreements regarding the TIF. Under the agreement, the city would incur no debt as a result of Centrepointe, but the developers would have to spend at least $150 million to receive the incentives under the agreement with the city, replacing the previous TIF plan.51
The latest design for Centrepointe was unveiled at a Courthouse Area Design Review Board meeting on August 21, which received lukewarm replies and comments.52 During the three hour meeting, Webb told the board the failure to receive approval of the expedited designs as a whole would lead to the loss of a major tenant in the ten-story office building. After a short recess, the unnamed tenant stated to Webb that the company would sign a lease if everything but the cosmetics of the proposed apartment building were set and ready to go.
We have to walk out of here today with your approval. That doesn’t mean the design process stops; that doesn’t mean we put down our pencils and go right into the construction documents. It means we continue to tweak, we continue to talk, we continue to improve where improvement’s needed.52
Rick Ekhoff, design principal, AOP Architects
It was also acknowledged that the hotel within Centrepointe would be a J.W. Marriott.53 The board granted approval of the design, with the exception of the materials to be used on the seven-story apartment building, by a vote of 2-1.52
In September, EOP Architects pulled out of the Centrepointe development due to a fundamental difference between Webb and EOP’s culture and design philosophy.53 Despite the departure, a ceremonial groundbreaking for construction was held on October 14.53