Architectural review board questions developers of IMAX theater proposed for downtown Lexington

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comFebruary 26, 2014 

Developers working to build an IMAX theater in downtown Lexington said they will likely push forward with their plans despite hearing multiple concerns Wednesday from a city board that oversees historic properties.

Dallas-based Look Cinemas came before the Board of Architectural Review for initial review and feedback on bringing a multiplex downtown.

Board members questioned all parts of the plan. Many of the concerns centered on whether the theater complex, proposed for the corner of High Street and South Broadway near Rupp Arena, was appropriate for a historic district.

The initial design includes a 10-theater traditional movie complex that includes an IMAX theater, a restaurant and bar space. There would be an 80-space underground parking garage with frontage on High Street. There would also be patio space for the restaurant or bar.

"I like the design," said board member Sarah Tate. "I just don't like it in this location."

Other members of the five-member board, including architect Graham Pohl, agreed. "I don't think it's right in that location," he said.

The plans for the complex include relocating a house built in 1808 from West High Street to West Short Street, or possibly to the South Hill neighborhood.

For the plan to go forward, Look Cinemas will have to return to make a formal application with the Board of Architectural Review for final approval on all three parts of its plan, including moving the historic home, the new site for the home and designs for building the cinema.

Chris Westover, a lawyer representing Look Cinemas, said that Look recently became aware of two potential sites in the South Hill neighborhood for the 1808 home — two parking lots near the former Dudley's restaurant property, off Maxwell Street. Keeping the home in the neighborhood could help alleviate some of the board's concerns with moving the home, Westover said.

Ron Jackson, a board member, said moving the 1808 house could alter the home.

"You are going to lose a tremendous amount of character of this building," Jackson said.

Other members said that moving the house to West Short Street might be problematic. The 1808 house is two stories tall, but neighboring properties on Short Street are one-story and were built during a different time period. In a historic district, buildings can be only 10 percent shorter or taller than surrounding properties.

But Brian Hill, an architect on the project, said there are other two-story homes on West Short Street that are similar in style.

Look Cinemas partnered with IMAX Corporation to find a site in Lexington. "I think it will be an anchor for future development," said Chuck Stillery, president of development for Look Cinemas.

The site is across from the parking lot of Rupp Arena on High Street. The parking lot is scheduled to be developed in coming years as part of the new Rupp Arts and Entertainment District. Pohl said proximity to the Rupp development is one of the proposed IMAX's problems.

"You are hurt by the fact that across the street from this site is an ideal location," Pohl said.

Stillery said that IMAX did not want to wait two, three or four years for the Rupp Arena property to be developed. It will simply move on to the next city slated for an IMAX, he said.

Overall, the board was concerned that the IMAX would destroy the South Hill neighborhood, a historic neighborhood in the city's core that is bordered on all sides by development.

But Stilley and Hill argued that the IMAX theater will have minimal light and sound impact on the neighborhood. Neighbors' privacy would be protected by its design; no one could see into South Hill neighbors' lawns or windows, they said.

Westover said after Wednesday's meeting that Look Cinemas architects will look at the concerns raised by the board, but said she could not say when the group would file its application.

"We are going to take into consideration all the comments that they made, and where we can we will make necessary adjustments," Westover said.

Beth Musgrave: (859)231-3205. Twitter: @HLCityhall

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service