LexTran plans to spend $1.7 million on site for new headquarters

raretakis@herald-leader.comJune 20, 2013 

Lextran plans to move its headquarters less than half a mile down Loudon Avenue to the former site of a General Electric glass plant, a decision hailed by community leaders Thursday.

Lextran's board of directors voted unanimously Wednesday to enter into a $1.7 million agreement with GE to buy the 13.69-acre site at 200 West Loudon Avenue.

The agreement calls for a 90-day due-diligence period and hinges on approval by the Federal Transit Administration. The GE glass plant closed in July 2010 and was demolished.

Lextran General Manager Rocky Burke said the bus service has outgrown its existing headquarters, which sits on about 5 acres at 109 West Loudon Avenue. It also has a satellite building on Spruce Street.

"It will provide us with adequate space," Burke said of the GE site. "At the same time, we're looking 15 years down the road to continue to expand Lextran."

Lextran's decision to build on the former GE site, which is now a grassy field, is welcome news to the neighborhood, said Urban County Councilman Chris Ford, who represents the area.

"There was a concern whether or not that site would be redeveloped and if would be redeveloped in a compatible use," Ford said. "And I think now ... we have it."

Lextran will consolidate its offices at the proposed site, said Jill Barnett, Lextran director of community affairs. There will be room for as many as 100 buses there, compared to room for 75 at the current headquarters, she said.

Barnett said Lextran doesn't yet know how much a new headquarters might cost. A construction plan has not been developed, she said.

Lextran has about 200 employees and an annual operating budget of about $23 million. Its revenue comes from a mix of local taxes, rider fees and federal money.

The land purchase will be funded by federal grant money, cash reserves and traditional financing, Burke said.

Lextran previously planned to partially demolish and renovate a two-story brick structure on its current property, but the building was deemed historically significant in 2011. The structure at 101 West Loudon was built in 1928 and used by Greyhound.

"The original plan was to remodel that building and use that for administrative and operations, and renovate all the facility on that site," Burke said.

The estimated cost of that project was $12 million, but Lextran officials eventually decided more space was needed. Lextran "re-evaluated what we needed to do" and decided that "it's best we spend our money on expansion," Burke said.

The decision to save the historic building at the intersection of West Loudon and North Limestone will help the surrounding community, said Griffin VanMeter, a northside business owner and vice president of the North Limestone Neighborhood Association.

If reused properly, the building could be "a catalytic economic anchor for the neighborhood," VanMeter said. A variety of buildings have been renovated recently in the North Limestone corridor, turning it into a budding arts and culture district, he said.

"You are seeing a lot of people take pride in the neighborhood," VanMeter said.

While no plans have been developed for the historic building or other portions of Lextran's existing campus, the relocation is a sign of reinvestment in the neighborhood, said Jeff Fugate, director of the Downtown Development Authority and a member of Lextran's board.

"It's great to see those former industrial sites be redeveloped into new projects," he said.

Rachel Aretakis: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @heraldleader.

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