A divided Urban County Council took the first step Tuesday toward giving a major makeover to the Distillery District, an area along Manchester Street where officials hope an arts and entertainment district will thrive someday.
During its work session, the council approved putting on Thursday night's docket a resolution to spend $500,000 on a feasibility study to determine what work needs to be done in the area, how much it would cost and how long it would take to complete.
The project probably would include new sidewalks, storm and sanitary sewers, underground utilities, street lights and construction of a portion of the Town Branch Trail along Manchester Street.
The study will be conducted by Strand Associates, a Lexington engineering firm.
Reworking Manchester Street not only will beautify the existing road but create an "urban road," Mike Webb, commissioner of public works and development, told the council.
It's a complicated project because it involves working with existing buildings in a historic area, possible archeological concerns, a railroad, a flood plain, possible road re-alignment and a walking trail, said Brian Marcum, the city's director of purchasing.
The feasibility study will identify environmental and flood plain issues, and recommend the most cost-effective method to complete the project. "It will give us a picture of what we are facing," Marcum said.
If approved, the proposed contract with Strand would be the first in which the city uses a method called qualification-based selection for a project. The method, which does not rely on comparing competitively priced bids, does not sit well with some council members.
Several, including Vice Mayor Jim Gray, expressed concern that the contract awarded to Strand was not put out for competitive bidding based on fees.
"I have a DNA aversion to not having a competitive price negotiation," said Gray, an officer in Gray Construction, his family's construction firm. Gray is running for mayor against incumbent Jim Newberry.
However, Marcum said that when contracting for engineering and architectural services, qualification-based selection is required by the state and federal governments. "Fees cannot be considered in the selection," he said.
Failure to use the method could disqualify the project from state and federal funds, such as environmental funds to clean up brown fields, Marcum told the council.
Manchester Street is a state road; the nearby Town Branch is a federally protected waterway under the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers, and flood plains are overseen by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
After receiving the feasibility study, Marcum said, the city can negotiate a fee with Strand for the design work or cancel the contract.
The Distillery District engineering proposal first came before council members before their summer break. Because of questions and concerns expressed by some members, the issue was tabled until the first meeting after the break, which was Tuesday.
The city received eight proposals for the Distillery District engineering work, narrowed the list to three and chose Strand, based on its ability to do the job, all without talking about fees, Marcum said in an earlier interview.
The selection committee participants included Marcum; Councilman Tom Blues; Corrin Gullick of the state Transportation Cabinet; Jim Clark, executive director of LexArts; Harold Tate, president of the Downtown Development Authority; Andrew Grunwald, senior municipal engineer; and Billy Van Pelt of the city's Department of Public Works and Development.
Voting in favor of the resolution were council members Linda Gorton, Peggy Henson, Julian Beard, Andrea James, Ed Lane, Blues, Doug Martin and Cheryl Feigel.
Opposed were Gray, Chuck Ellinger II, K.C. Crosbie, Diane Lawless and Kevin Stinnett.
George Myers and Jay McChord were absent.
Reach Beverly Fortune at (859) 231-3251 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3251