The 21c Museum Hotel proposal for renovating the First National Building in downtown Lexington received conditional approval from the city's Courthouse Area Design Review Board on Wednesday.
The notoriously detail-oriented board had only one mild question for the architect: Why fill in a line of windows on the back?
Architect Tony Pitassi of Perfido Weiskopf Wagstaff + Goettel of Pittsburgh said that one of three elevators in the tower would be removed, making 15 stories of windows inaccessible from the inside. The shaft will be filled instead with such mundane but necessary hotel items as a linen chute, he said.
Still, said design board chairman Mike Meuser, the architect might want to rethink that, if only because federal and state officials might balk at historic tax credits because of that change.
Will do, Pitassi said.
"We think it's a great proposal," Meuser said afterward. "This is a very important building, one of the largest in the city and one of the most historic. The plan that they proposed addresses the building in a way that preserves the historic integrity and puts it back even closer to what it was in 1912. We're very happy with the project."
Construction on the luxury hotel and art museum could begin by the end of the year if financing and closing proceed as expected, said Craig Pishotti, general manager of 21c.
"It's a good day," said Pishotti of the review board's approval.
He said that the hotel has some legwork to do on financing but that the project probably would proceed even if tax credits for historic preservation are not granted.
In detailing the plans submitted for the design review board, Pitassi said modifications to the exterior of what was Lexington's first skyscraper at Main and Upper streets would be subtle.
Windows will be replaced and ornamental metal work will be refurbished, but most of the changes will be understated, he said.
The adjacent buildings on Main Street will have storefront glass display windows restored, although they will not actually provide entry into what will be the gallery space.
On the Wrenn Court side of that building, there will be an aluminum and glass roll-up door, similar to the one at the 21c hotel in Louisville, that could open up that public space.
Review board member Michael Speaks, dean of the University of Kentucky College of Design and an architecture professor, welcomed that news.
"I think that's a terrific feature," Speaks said. "I would concur with (Meuser). I think you've done a terrific job. You've really restored the building to much closer to its original state than what we have now."