The Urban County Council on Tuesday gave an initial go-ahead to begin the process of hiring a contractor to renovate and expand the Lyric Theatre.
The council also unanimously referred the Lyric's recently released business plan to the budget and finance committee for further study. The committee will take up the issue at its Tuesday meeting.
The business plan says the city will be expected to provide more than $300,000 a year to operate and maintain the Lyric.
The council's initial nod to move forward with the search for a contractor still requires two official council readings for final approval. That could come March 12.
The decision to move forward with the $6 million construction project and to refer the business plan to committee was controversial.
A few council members said the project should be halted while the business plan is being reviewed because the plan assumes the Lyric will more than double in size from its existing 13,000 square feet to 29,000 square feet. "The business plan is centered around the proposed building," said Councilman Ed Lane. "It's important to look at the building size and the plan."
Other council members said the Lyric's operations are a separate issue from construction. The work shouldn't be delayed while the business plan is studied, they said.
The business plan should be given an in-depth look, but "this is prime time for bidding for construction," said Councilwoman Andrea James, who is also a member of the task force that developed the Lyric's renovation plans.
A contractor to do the work still has to be selected and the council will approve that contract before construction begins. The earliest construction would start is May.
No pension changes: In other business, the city has decided against pursuing changes to Lexington's public safety pension plan during this year's legislative session.
Instead, the city will continue to work with the police and fire unions to reach a solution agreeable to everybody, with the goal of taking it to the state legislature next year.
Earlier this month, a city task force recommended starting a less generous pension plan for new employees. The proposal, opposed by the police and fire unions, would set up a system for new police officers and firefighters that would get largely the same benefits as those offered under a state plan that serves public safety workers in most Kentucky cities.