After years of publicly talking about the dilapidated Lexington Mall property, city officials declined to discuss the site Friday as talk builds that the long-dormant space might be in the process of being sold. The silence also comes as a local developer said the mall's Maryland-based owner, Saul Centers, has rejected his plans during the past two years to buy and revamp the space.
"If there is something all worked out between Saul and some other party, then we will be in a position to comment on that, but we just can't right now," said Joe Kelly, who has long served as a liaison between Mayor Jim Newberry and Saul Centers.
Newberry told the Herald-Leader in early May that "we are aware that there have been serious conversations between private interests and Saul Centers Properties ... but we have not been advised as to what plans those private interests might have for the property."
Alan Gersh, Saul's leasing agent for the property, denied talk in early May that a large church in the area had approached Saul about using the property for a second location. Gersh denied that again Friday, saying, "I have no knowledge of these things."
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A spokeswoman for Louisville mega-church Southeast Christian recently told the Herald-Leader the church has not been in negotiation with Saul Centers. Four staffers at Lexington's Southland Christian Church, which has expanded recently by adding a campus in Danville, have not returned messages.
Councilwoman Cheryl Feigel, who represents the area that includes the mall property, said she "knows discussions are going on."
"I know that there were at least two people talking to (Saul) about possibly buying the property over the last six months or so," Feigel said.
One of those was developer Phil Holoubek, who oversaw the Main & Rose and Nunn Building Lofts developments downtown.
Holoubek said Friday that he has been interested in acquiring the site for more than two years and has "made repeated unsuccessful attempts to purchase the site."
He had planned a mixed-use development that would have included retail stores on the first floor with apartments and offices above, and greenspace and water features throughout the property. Holoubek said the space could have potentially served as an expansion to the Legacy Trail bicycle path.
"We had a transformative project for Lexington," he said, but noted that Saul has rejected the offers.
Echoing Feigel's comments, Holoubek said he has "heard another entity may be purchasing the property."
Such a purchase would come as welcome news to the community, said Feigel, who described the property as an "eyesore for many, many years."
She said she has spoken with Saul Centers executive Chris Netter, who declined to return messages left by the Herald-Leader, multiple times during the past 18 months to present ideas for the property. Retail would be Feigel's first choice for the property, but she said she has been told that the site does not have commercial potential because of the city's retail strongholds at Fayette Mall and Hamburg.
Indeed, those developments helped seal the end of Lexington Mall. In 2005, the mall's slow death became final with the exodus of Dillard's department store.
Saul has owned the property since 1974, the year before the mall opened.
With the exceptions of Perkins — and Applebee's since 2007 — the 30-acre site has sat vacant for almost five years. Mike Scanlon of Applebee's franchisee Thomas & King did not return a message Friday, and management at Perkins has said it's not aware of anymore development of the property.
Both operations are now listed on a sign that was posted on the property earlier this year, a move that Feigel said was done "to appease me."
The other businesses nearby — Central Bank and The Home Depot — own the land on which they sit.