Architects presented a preliminary design for Lexington's CentrePointe block to the Courthouse Area Design Review Board on Wednesday. Rick Ekhoff, a principal in the firm of EOP architects, told the board he wanted their critique and feedback.
The design retained several pieces of the master plan done last year by Chicago architect Jeanne Gang and her firm Studio Gang Architects. Those pieces include a hotel and condominium tower on Vine Street, a low-rise office building at Main and Limestone, three and four-story retail buildings facing Main Street and an underground parking garage.
Board members were tactful in their remarks but said they wanted to see changes in parts of the plan Ekhoff presented.
Developers Dudley and Woodford Webb tore down 14 historic buildings in downtown Lexington in 2008 to make way for CentrePointe, a hotel/condominium project that has not materialized. The block remains empty, and the design presented Wednesday was at least the fourth.
The Webbs hired Gang in March to come up with a new vision for the block. In October, Dudley Webb announced that Gang had completed the job she had been hired to do and no longer was part of the project.
Ekhoff described the two-acre block as the core of the economic welfare, cultural strength and social vitality of the community. "Hopefully, with your blessing this project can move forward," he said.
The block is included in the Courthouse Area Design Review Zone, in which all new buildings and exterior changes to existing structures must be approved by the review board.
Several members said there needed to be more pedestrian access through the block, at ground level, so people could walk from Main Street to Vine Street.
Buildings facing Upper Street need more windows instead of solid brick walls, they said. One board member said it looked now as if the project had "turned its back on Upper Street."
Several members took issue with a pedway connecting the hotel to the Financial Center parking garage. It would be possible for people to walk from the CentrePointe hotel all the way to Lexington Center via pedways.
Board member Kevin Atkins asked whether that worked against the current push to get more people walking downtown. Last summer the city completed a multimillion-dollar, three-year project to build new sidewalks on Main and Vine streets and South Limestone.
Dudley Webb said women would feel safer at night on pedways when they had to walk from Lexington Center to the CentrePointe hotel.
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," said board member Michael Speaks, dean of the University of Kentucky College of Design.
What downtown needs is more pedestrian traffic, not less, he said.
"I really don't like the pedway, Speaks said."
Board chairman Mike Meuser said one thing the public appreciated about Jeanne Gang was that she had public meetings and solicited people's ideas, several of which she incorporated into her design. Meuser suggested Ekhoff also have a public meeting so the community would feel included in the process.
Board member Harry Richert asked whether the entire project, with all the buildings, could be built in phases. Webb said that would be too expensive, so it would be built at one time, he said.
Webb said three businesses — Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse from Cincinnati, Saul Good Restaurant and Pub, and Urban Active gym — have committed to take space on the block. J.W. Marriott will take the hotel space.
A public meeting will be scheduled, Ekhoff said. Then the design will be finalized, and EOP will file a formal application to the Courthouse Area Design Review Board. The board will schedule a hearing on the application three weeks after the filing.
Reach Beverly Fortune at (859) 231-3251. Twitter: Bfortune2010