Dudley Webb submits scaled-down version of CentrePointe

Nothing will happen at site until after equestrian games

bfortune@herald-leader.comJune 10, 2010 

Developer Dudley Webb submitted a redesigned, vastly scaled-down version of his long-delayed CentrePointe project to Lexington's Courthouse Area Design Review Board on Wednesday.

Webb's new design takes the CentrePointe project from 498 feet and 35 stories to the equivalent of 25 stories, or just under 288 feet — about 58 percent of its previous height. The building would be about the same height as nearby Kincaid Towers, which houses Central Bank.

The new CentrePointe application follows two years of controversy surrounding the block bounded by Main, Vine, Upper and Limestone streets in downtown Lexington.

The Webb Companies unveiled the initial plans for CentrePointe to the Urban County Council in March 2008, saying it would be a $250 million tower with retail space, a hotel, condominiums and a 10,000-square-foot restaurant on the top floor. The project was supposed to be ready in time for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, which begin Sept. 25.

The block's historic buildings were demolished starting in July 2008.

But in April 2009, Lexington officials were notified that the unidentified European financial backer of CentrePointe had died in fall 2008, leaving no will. The project stalled and, since last summer, the vacant block has been a grassy field surrounded by farm fencing.

In the latest incarnation of CentrePointe, the "peak and spire" top of the building has been removed, but a 60-foot flag pole has been added.

The application says that above a three-story base, the design of the tower will focus on "simplicity and sleekness," including a mixture of cast stone and brick masonry veneer.

Webb said the project would cost more than $200 million. However, that number might change.

Contacted Wednesday evening, Webb would not say when the groundbreaking would be or reveal the source of the financing, saying only, "You'll know at the groundbreaking."

He said groundbreaking would be "when we let you know. ... We'll explain what is necessary for the Courthouse Design Review Board but, otherwise, our comments will come at the groundbreaking."

However, groundbreaking would be no earlier than Oct. 10, when the World Equestrian Games end. A letter from Webb's attorney, Darby Turner, to the design review board says Webb "wishes to leave the project site undisturbed during the World Equestrian Games and the related events planned for the downtown area."

In his letter, Webb refers to the new design not as smaller, but as refined.

"We ... have continued to refine the project based on current market and economic conditions. These unanticipated events have given us an opportunity to make adjustments to the project as required by market conditions and to continue to work with worthy prospects for all phases of the project."

In the letter, Webb did say publicly for the first time that earlier financing for the project had fallen through.

Webb's letter said he previously had a financing commitment from European sources "with the documents signed and deposits in place. The European sources have failed to honor these commitments after the death of the principal. We are continuing to pursue our legal rights and remedies against these parties."

He also said the project will now use "a more conventional financing model."

The new design with a three-story base is described as incorporating "a simpler and more elegant facade with a more historic, classical cornice and banded overhang," the application said.

The project will include:

■ 237 hotel rooms operated by Marriott International, a ballroom and "junior ballroom," a rooftop entertainment area, a spa and pool.

■ 53,081 square feet of office space, as originally proposed. "We have had very positive interest from major prospects for all of the office space," Webb wrote.

■ 14 pied-a-terre apartments — small apartments targeted at out-of-towners looking for a second home in Lexington.

■ 49 "more traditional condominium units in various sizes, while the top two levels of the building will house exclusive penthouse units," according to Webb's letter.

Billy Van Pelt, staff design review officer for the design review board, said the new design differs sufficiently from CentrePointe's previous plan that the application will have to go back through the review process to get approval.

"It is a new application," Van Pelt said.

He would not comment extensively on the new design, saying he hasn't had time to review it.

However, Van Pelt said Webb "has responded to concerns voiced by the community about the height and scale of the building," saying the new design is more of a rectangle and "less of a tower."

A hearing on the new design has been set for 2 p.m. June 30 in the council chambers of the government center on Main Street.

Hayward Wilkirson, one of the organizers of Preserve Lexington, a group formed in response to CentrePointe that worked to prevent demolition of the city block, said he looked forward to seeing the new plans.

"Now that those buildings are gone, I continue to hope that what Dudley Webb builds will be good for the entire community," Wilkirson said.

Vice Mayor Jim Gray, a vocal opponent of the project, sounded astonished at news of the new design.

"Is there no end to this circus? Do they think our city has no financial sense?" he said.

"Over-the-top projects like this aren't being built anywhere in America today," said Gray, a construction company executive who is running for mayor.

"This is going to affect the people of Lexington and our tax dollars, and we deserve to be protected."

Gray's opponent in the fall mayoral race, incumbent Jim Newberry, declined to comment on the proposal.

Reach Beverly Fortune at (859) 231-3251 or Cheryl Truman at (859) 231-3202.

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