Plans for new downtown cinema, entertainment complex altered

gkocher1@herald-leader.comMay 8, 2013 

  • Downtown area for six-screen project

Plans for a downtown Lexington movie and entertainment complex have hit a bump.

Jeff Fugate, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority, said plans are off to build a movie theater on top of the Transit Center or behind the Kentucky Theatre.

However, movie-theater developer George Krikorian of California said he is in negotiations for an alternative site that he didn't wish to identify.

"We do have a site we're negotiating on right now, but I really prefer to talk to you about it when we get done," Krikorian said. "We have an alternative site that is less complicated and probably better than the two sites the city was referring to."

The initial sites — atop the Transit Center and behind the Kentucky Theatre, both controlled by Lexington Fayette Urban County Government — "had fatal design flaws," and the properties "really didn't make for a very viable theater," Fugate said.

For example, using the space on top of the Transit Center would have meant the loss of parking spaces that downtown can't afford to lose, Fugate said. He did not know how many, but it would have been "in the three digits. It was pretty substantial."

In addition, "it was a pretty tight site to fit everything onto," Fugate said.

As for the space behind the Kentucky Theatre, "we didn't want to do anything that was too disruptive to the current configuration of the theater," Fugate said.

In addition, "it would have placed a large wall adjacent to Vine Street, and that really isn't compatible with the vision we have for Town Branch Commons in the future," Fugate said.

Town Branch Commons is the name of the proposed slender greenway that would stretch from Winchester Road, down Midland Avenue, along Vine Street and around Rupp Arena to join where the creek known as Town Branch now comes to the surface in its natural state.

Fugate acknowledged that there was concern that a new cinema should not be so close to the Kentucky Theatre.

"We are very sensitive to that issue," Fugate said. "The Kentucky is one of the treasures that we absolutely don't want to inadvertently cause a problem for."

On the other hand, the Kentucky offers independent, art-house movies, "and that was never seen as direct competition" with the fare screened at a new cinema, Fugate said.

He said there aren't a lot of undeveloped lots of the right size for a downtown theater.

"To build a modern movie theater takes a certain amount of space," Fugate said. "You have to have the right amount of space for the building and for accessing in and out of it. You have to remember, a lot of moviegoers are under the age of 16, and so there has to be ample drop-off and pick-up space. ... I feel confident that we're going to see a cinema in the downtown area in the foreseeable future."

In 2009, Krikorian announced ShowProp, a $70 million development on Angliana Avenue with a 12-screen movie theater, a bowling alley, restaurants, retail stores, a grocery and 150 apartments.

But the project was scrapped because the adjoining railroad, which owned a piece of property that was a key to the development, agreed verbally to lease the land and never formalized the agreement, Krikorian said.

Krikorian has been in the theater business about 30 years. He has built more than 20 multi-screen theaters, most in urban settings in California.

He became acquainted with Lexington and Central Kentucky through the Thoroughbred business. Krikorian's father was a horse trainer in New England, and Krikorian grew up around racetracks. He has broodmares and a racing stable.

Five years ago, he bought a horse farm in Woodford County, where he keeps broodmares.

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @heraldleader.

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