A mid-century modern bank building on South Broadway in downtown Lexington is one step closer to being saved from demolition.
The Lexington Center Corp. board voted Thursday to approve a 99-year lease for a little less than an acre for the building’s new location at the corner of West High and Patterson streets.
The lease took more than five months to negotiate and was one of the final pieces of a complex puzzle to save the early 1960s-era, aqua-blue building that once was the home of Peoples Bank. The long-vacant building was in jeopardy of being razed after plans for a cinema complex were announced for the corner of West High Street and South Broadway late last year. The bank’s current location will become a new entrance to a parking garage that sits between the bank and the proposed 12-screen complex.
The Warwick Foundation, a nonprofit that specializes in preservation, will take over operations of the Peoples Bank building once it is relocated the short distance across the Rupp Arena parking lot. Warwick plans to turn the building into the People’s Portal, a type of community center with a focus on inclusion and cross-cultural programming. Warwick and others, including former Kentucky first lady Libby Jones, have spearheaded efforts to raise more than $850,000 in private funds to move the building. The group met its fundraising goal in September.
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Laurel Catto of the Warwick Foundation said Thursday’s vote by the board was “huge, pivotal. Nothing could go forward until this domino fell and we are grateful for the herculean effort – both public and private — that made this happen.”
In addition, Mayor Jim Gray set aside $150,000 in the city’s budget to help offset the cost of moving the building.
Langley Properties, the current owner of the building, has agreed to donate the structure to Warwick if the foundation can move it to a suitable location.
Holly Wiedemann, a Lexington Center board member who helped negotiate the lease, told the board during Thursday’s meeting that the two groups worked to come to an agreement that was fair to the nonprofit but at the same time protected the Lexington Center.
The Lexington Center Corp. does not receive a direct appropriation from the Urban County Council. It receives a portion of the county’s hotel and motel tax. It operates Rupp Arena, the attached convention center and the Lexington Opera House.
“We wanted to ensure that anything that we did would not negatively affect potential future revenues,” Wiedemann said. The Rupp Arena parking lot has been discussed for years as a potential location for retail and other development.
John Rhorer, a lawyer who represents the Lexington Center, said the initial lease will be for nine years with the option of 18 additional five-year terms. Warwick Foundation will pay $10 a year to rent the land. It must provide the center with its tax returns and financial information annually. If the People’s Portal goes under, it must transfer the lease to another nonprofit that must be acceptable to the center, Rhorer said.
After Warwick signs an agreement with a moving company to move the building, the center will also give Warwick a $75,000 contribution. The group had originally asked the center for $150,000. Rhorer said during Thursday’s meeting that another donor has stepped forward with $75,000, so the center will not have to give the full $150,000, Rhorer said.
Robert Langley, of Langley Properties, the owner of Peoples Bank, agreed to donate the $75,000, Scott Davidson, president of Langley confirmed Friday.
Nothing could go forward until this domino fell and we are grateful for the herculean effort – both public and private — that made this happen.
Laurel Catto of the Warwick Foundation
Warwick must be under contract with a mover by the end of March. If it does not have a contract by that time, the agreement and the lease is void, he said.
Lexington Center will lose approximately 60 parking spaces once the building is moved. That’s a loss of approximately “$35,000 a year in event parking revenue,” said Bill Owen, president and CEO of Lexington Center Corp.
The group will have 18 parking spaces and must coordinate its events with the center, Rhorer said.
Judy Taylor was the only board member to vote against the lease. During Thursday’s meeting, Taylor asked questions related to the financial impact of the lease to the center and what would happen if the People’s Portal fails.
Rhorer said after Thursday’s meeting that the two sides have not yet signed the lease but will soon.
Catto said the Warwick Foundation is beginning to accept bids for movers. An exact date on when the building will be moved has not yet been set. Warwick must coordinate with Lexington Center and work with the movers. Rupp Arena will likely be closed sometime in June as part of a renovation that includes major technology upgrades. It’s possible that the bank building won’t be moved until June.
“We are so encouraged by this,” Catto said. “This is a huge step forward.”