Developers of the controversial CentrePointe project in downtown Lexington pleaded with city officials Thursday to rescind a demand to fill in the site.
Joe Rosenberg, a partner in the project, told officials during Thursday night's Urban County Council meeting that the city's decision to send the developers a letter Tuesday with the demand had hurt the project.
"We believe it is the most important block in our city," Rosenberg said. He added that releasing the letter to the media rather than talking to the developers first about concerns that work on the project might have stopped was "wrong and reckless."
Dudley Webb of the Webb Companies echoed Rosenberg's comments, saying they were close to selling $25 million in bonds for the three-story underground parking garage. But the public release of the letter has hurt the development, which is supposed to include a hotel, apartment building and office tower.
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"We are still making an effort to get it done. We are not giving up," Webb said. Webb said it was "disheartening" to hear about the demand letter through the media instead of from city officials. "I don't think that's any way to do business, but I'm not here to be combative or to be confrontational."
Thursday's council meeting was the latest in the ongoing drama surrounding the long-stalled downtown development. A block of buildings was demolished in 2008 to make room for CentrePointe. Years of delays pushed construction back. Finally, in late 2013, excavation began on the underground garage. Tower cranes sit on the site, but the garage has not been built. The site — bounded by Main, Vine and Upper streets and South Limestone — is in the heart of downtown.
Webb said developers were waiting for bonds to be sold to continue construction of the garage.
"This is a very difficult project," Webb said. "The bond attorneys will tell you that they are very close."
Mayor Jim Gray reminded the council and CentrePointe developers that the two groups signed an agreement in December 2013. The agreement said that if no work had occurred on the underground parking garage for 60 consecutive days, the developer would restore the site to its previous state. In the alternative, the city could take out a mortgage on the property that would pay to have the site filled.
"The city and the developer had an agreement," Gray said. "The city's responsibility is to monitor that agreement for compliance. The city has done that. The city's position is that the developer is not in compliance, and a notification letter to that effect was sent to the developer."
The Webb Companies says it has worked on the site during the past 60 days. In a letter to the city Wednesday, it included emails and invoices from several contractors who said they had been on the site during that time.
However, Mason Miller, a lawyer for the city, has countered that no substantial work has taken place for more than 60 days.
After Thursday night's meeting, Webb said he wasnot sure what would happen next. The two sides appear to be at an impasse.
"We have asked them to rescind the letter, and we will just have to wait and see," Webb said.