City accepts renovation bid for Lyric

jhewlett@herald-leader.comJuly 3, 2009 

The Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center came a step closer to reality Thursday as the Urban County Council voted 13-1 to accept a nearly $5.6 million bid from Denham-Blythe Co. to renovate and expand the old Lyric building.

"With the Lyric coming to life, an entire neighborhood is going to blossom," said Everett McCorvey, director of the University of Kentucky's opera company, who has been involved in the Lyric effort.

McCorvey said he could envision the neighborhood around the center becoming a thriving arts area with the Lyric as its centerpiece.

The Lyric, at the corner of East Third Street and Elm Tree Lane, was once an entertainment hub for the black community. Ray Charles, Duke Ellington and many other well-known artists performed there. It opened in 1948 and closed in 1963.

Plans are for the revitalized Lyric to host a variety of programs, with an emphasis on African-American heritage.

The city is required to renovate the Lyric as part of a 1997 settlement with the state, which had sued the city for failing to build a promised cultural center downtown. The settlement required the city to spend millions on a number of cultural projects, including the Lyric.

It's taken years to get to this point.

"Thank God it's over," said Juanita Betz Peterson, chairwoman of the Lyric Theatre Task Force. She added that getting the project to its current stage was a job well done that took a lot of love, patience and endurance from the people involved.

Fifth District Councilwoman Cheryl Feigel was the only council member to vote against accepting the bid.

She said she would love to vote for it, but the cost of the project and the cost to operate and maintain the facility could mean a big reduction in spending for other arts-related projects and less money for police officers and firefighters, among other things.

Seventh District Councilwoman K.C. Crosbie did not attend the council meeting.

The local government has agreed to sell bonds to finance the $6 million project, but some of the money could come from other sources, such as federal stimulus dollars, which would reduce the amount the government would have to bond, said Shaye Rabold, Mayor Jim Newberry's chief of staff and chairwoman of the Lyric Theatre Business Plan Work Group.

If the Lyric is financed with a $6 million bond over 20 years, the total amount paid for the structure is estimated to be $9 million, she said.

The business plan work group suggested that the city also pay Lyric operating and maintenance expenses for at least the first five years. That would give the Lyric enough time to get up and running and to seek out grants, Rabold said.

The cost of debt service on bonds and operating and maintenance expenses over a five-year period would come to nearly $3.6 million. If the local government decides to continue paying operating and maintenance costs, along with the debt service, until the debt is retired at the end of 20 years, the price tag comes to more than $13.6 million, Rabold said.

Reach Jennifer Hewlett at (859) 231-3308 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3308.

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