Lexington Mayor Jim Gray is proposing that the city spend $150,000 to partially pay for moving the 1960s-era Peoples Bank building on South Broadway to save the mid-century modern commercial structure from demolition.
The money to help move the aquamarine building with its zig-zag roof was part of the proposed $323 million budget Gray unveiled April 7.
It's one of two preservation projects for property not owned by the city in the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Gray also proposed $75,000 for a preservation plan for Pope Villa, a property owned by Bluegrass Trust near the University of Kentucky campus.
Tom Cheek, an architect who has been working with a group that includes private donors and a nationally known nonprofit organization to save the former bank building, said the $150,000 could be a catalyst to get the project moving. The group hopes to move the building to a nearby site.
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"We have a doable project," Cheek said. "We just have to get a site lined up and some more funding in line."
Architect Sarah Tate said last year that the building was an excellent example of good Modernist architecture that has been altered little over the years.
The building's future has been in question for years as the surrounding block attracted more development. A proposed mutliplex theater at South Broadway and High Street put the bank building — which has been empty for nearly 20 years — in immediate jeopardy.
Efforts to preserve the building started in a very modern way: Facebook.
Lucy Jones, a Lexington resident who is a fan of the building, posted a photo shortly after the theater deal was announced in March 2014. In her Facebook post, Jones said she hoped the bank building would be spared.
The response was immediate. "It's the most 'liked' thing I have ever posted on Facebook," Jones said.
She said efforts to save the building kicked into high gear when the owner of a small business in Lexington texted Jones late last year while she was on vacation in Colorado to say there were bulldozers in front of the property.
"I began to text everyone I knew who had expressed interest in saving the building," Jones said.
She was able to get commitments from many who said they would be willing to give money to save the building.
Then the Warwick Foundation, a nonprofit group that promotes and preserves the work of architect Clay Lancaster, got involved. Lancaster, a Lexington native and a national leader in preservation, also wrote more than 30 books on a variety of subjects. He died in 2000.
Laurel Catto, treasurer of the Warwick Foundation board, said Warwick would provide programming for the building, which will stress Lancaster's emphasis on multiculturalism and inclusion. Called the "Peoples Portal," the building also would be available for groups to rent.
The Warwick Foundation maintains Lancaster's compound outside of Harrodsburg but has been looking for a way to have a presence in Lexington and raise its profile, Catto said. The Peoples Portal seemed an ideal way to further Lancaster's legacy of preservation, and inclusion and equality.
"We also have access to grant money that we were able to use to get this project off the ground," Catto said. "Warwick will also be responsible for programming going forward."
Catto credits Langley Properties, which owns the bank building and the property where the proposed theater would be, for being willing to work with the group. Langley agreed to donate the building if the group was willing to move it.
Scott Davidson, vice president of operations and leasing for Langley, said that in addition to donating the building, Langley had removed asbestos from the building when it originally was slated for demolition.
Cheek said removal of the asbestos would help cut costs of moving the building.
The building was designed by Lexington architect Charles Bayless and finished in 1961.
"It's in relatively good shape," Cheek said.
Moreover, the only architectural details that have been removed are the light fixtures. "There is not a lot of really significant architecture from that period left in Lexington," Cheek said. "Most of it has been torn down."
Although the proposed theater complex would be in front of the parking garage facing High Street — the opposite side of the garage where the bank now stands — the entrance to the parking garage has to be reconfigured because of the theater. The lot where the bank now stands probably will be used during construction of the theater, Davidson said. A start date for construction of the theater has not been announced.
Cheek said the total cost of moving the building probably would be more than $800,000
Warwick will be able to put in more than $300,000, and there is a group of private investors who have stepped forward to help pay to move and save the building, Cheek said.
Cheek said the group does not want to move the bank far — just to the front of the High Street parking lot across from the Hyatt Regency Hotel. To do that, the group must get approval from Lexington Center Corp., which manages Rupp Arena, the attached convention center and the High Street parking lot.
Cheek said supporters hope to appear before the board to discuss the proposal soon.
Bill Owen, president and CEO of Lexington Center Corp., said the board had not heard about the proposal or had an opportunity to discuss it.
In addition to acquiring a site, the Urban County Council ultimately would have to approve the $150,000 allocation. The council would have to weigh the proposal against other projects in Gray's budget, including $22 million to renovate the former courthouse owned by the city on West Main Street. The council will begin deliberations on Gray's budget this week but typically does not make final decisions until late June.
Catto said the city's contribution would be a one-time investment. Warwick has agreed to foot the cost of programming going forward.
"We are definitely optimistic; we have had a lot of positive feedback from the community and the council," Catto said.