Herald-Leader Editorial

Hotel/museum good investment; downtown project to repay funds

Downtown project to repay funds

October 5, 2012 

Lexington has been waiting more than four years for a big, transformational project downtown — ever since a local developer was allowed to knock down an historic city block and build nothing but bitterness in its place.

Now Lexington is on the brink of a big, transformational project that, instead of destroying the city's history, will build on it.

The proposed $36.5 million renovation of the historic First National Building into a 21C Museum Hotel is a coup.

Last week the 100-year-old "skyscraper" on West Main Street became the property of 21C Museum Hotels, a Louisville-based enterprise that plans to create an 80-room hotel with restaurant, bar, meeting rooms and a contemporary art museum.

The project is expected to create 150 permanent jobs.

As anyone who has been to the 21C Museum Hotel in Louisville can attest, this won't be just a hotel but a unique destination.

Created by Brown-Forman heiress Laura Lee Brown and her husband Steve Wilson, 21C Museum Hotels are also being built in Cincinnati and Bentonville, Ark., where the art-themed hotel will complement the $150 million Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

To complete the deal, Lexington is being asked to provide a $1 million no-interest loan, sponsor the project's application for a $6 million Housing and Urban Development-backed loan and create a tax increment financing district.

The administration wants to tap $1 million that was salvaged from a city-sponsored federal loan that went into the failed Festival Market.

Under the terms of the proposed agreement, 21C would repay the $1 million in a lump sum in 10 years.

This sounds like a pretty good deal, considering that Cincinnati has agreed to give 21C a grant of more than $2 million for its $57.8 million project there.

The realization that the city had $1 million in an account for downtown projects has inspired a bevy of ideas and requests, such as renovating the old courthouse and updating the Kentucky Theatre.

All of these projects are worthy, but none come close to providing the economic payback to Lexington of a 21C.

Also, with 21C, the city would have $1 million in 10 years to invest in new projects.

It's been a long wait, but, at last, downtown has a project that everyone should enthusiastically support.

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