At a public meeting Thursday, Chicago architect Jeanne Gang will share preliminary ideas for rebuilding Lexington's empty CentrePointe block on West Main Street.
Developers Dudley and Woodford Webb in March hired Gang, founder of Studio Gang Architects, to propose a new design for the block where 14 historic buildings were razed in 2008. Funding for the project collapsed, and the once-bustling block was turned into a field.
The meeting will give Gang and members of her firm a chance to hear public comment about downtown and that particular block.
"It's more about listening to people and hearing what they say is important," Gang said during a telephone interview Wednesday. "And it's also to say, 'Hey, this is a new day because we are starting this again.' It's not going to be the same building that you saw before that looked like it could be anywhere, Atlanta or wherever," she said.
Mayor Jim Gray, who opposed the CentrePointe project from its inception, helped arrange for the Webbs to meet Gang. Gray said in his inaugural address this year that his administration would work with the developers to create a more imaginative project for the block.
Gang will not be presenting final drawings, but rather a series of studies that show ways the block could be developed with buildings of different sizes and shapes. The studies are still in flux, but Lexingtonians will be able to "start to get a sense of what that block could be like," she said.
"The public will really need to see the drawings to understand because it's just massing concepts at this point," Gang said.
Plans show two towers placed somewhere on the block. One would be perhaps as tall as 30 stories with a hotel and condominiums, and the other would contain office space in the range of eight to 10 stories.
"I try to keep a couple of ideas going, so we're developing more than one concept for the tower," Gang said.
The Webbs are pursing two kinds of hotels — one a boutique, the other a major chain. "The tower would be taller if it were the major chain," she said. Parking would be in an underground garage.
Across the street from the CentrePointe block is a row of 19th-century buildings of different sizes, shapes and designs, built over of time. "Our challenge is we have to design this block all at once," Gang said. "But how do you get that texture and variety, that experience that makes a city rich, by doing a complete block all at once?"
The Studio Gang strategy calls for inviting several architects from Lexington and Kentucky to help design the smaller buildings. An advertisement will go onto the American Institute of Architects' Kentucky Web site in a couple of weeks to seek architects who would like to participate in the project.
The Webbs have met with Gang, Dudley Webb said. "She met with folks from the city to get their thoughts and ideas," he said. "The third step is get the public's thoughts and ideas. It's an evolving process."
Webb indicated he was open to changing the name of the block from CentrePointe, but he wanted to wait. "The project needs to evolve, and we'll see if the name's appropriate,'' he said.
Gang said the time line of the project is flexible enough to accommodate ideas for the block that might come up at Thursday's meeting. "We've got to give ourselves time to incorporate anything that's interesting ... and to develop the structural concept of the tower," she said.
At a second public meeting, planned for July, the design of the buildings will be shown and names of the guest architects will be announced.
Gang visited Lexington several times over the years before being hired by the Webbs. She has served on design review panels at the University of Kentucky College of Design, and her firm was retained to do a master plan for expansion of the architecture school.
She called Lexington "a very livable city." In a visionary way, the city put into place a green belt around the city in 1958 with establishment of the Urban Service Boundary, she said; "What that did was give Lexington a chance to have a dense urban fabric."
At the turn of the century, the town was 40 percent more dense with buildings and population than it is today, she said.
"That presents a huge opportunity to repopulate downtown and make it more vibrant," Gang said. "I feel like Studio Gang can be part of something that is really crucial to this city going forward, and we are bringing our skills to bear on it."
To walk down Lexington's Main Street with "our architecture from the 21st century on one side, contrasted with 19th-century architecture across the street, creates an interesting place to be," Gang said. "I don't really know of another place exactly like that."
Reach Beverly Fortune at (859) 231-3251 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3251.