A real estate consultant’s report that could help Lexington city officials decide whether to move City Hall to the long-delayed CentrePointe development will be discussed behind closed doors when it is available in coming weeks, city lawyers told the Urban County Council during a meeting Tuesday.
Mason Miller, a lawyer representing the city, told the Urban County Council during its Tuesday work session that the real estate report from Jones Lang LaSalle group will have detailed information that the city will need if it decides to negotiate with the current developers of CentrePointe. The city can’t allow that information to be public or it will lose the advantage in any negotiations, he said. Miller emphasized that the city hasn’t made any promises to the new developers — Bridgeton Holdings of New York and Matt Collins of Lexington — that it would move City Hall to the proposed development, which is to include a hotel, an underground parking garage, an apartment building, and restaurant and retail space.
The development includes an entire city block — bordered by Limestone and Main, Vine and Upper streets — that has sat empty for nearly eight years.
At-large Councilman Richard Moloney said during Tuesday’s meeting that he felt uncomfortable discussing the details of the report — expected by the end of this month or in early February — behind closed doors. Residents have been pressing council members for updates on the status of CentrePointe. Constituents ask more questions about CentrePointe than any other issue before council, Moloney said.
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“I got serious problems now,” Moloney said after being told that the report would be discussed in private. “I think the public should know what taxpayer dollars went to and what the study has said.”
The city is paying Jones Lang LaSalle $198,500 for a market analysis to look at options to determine the most cost-effective way to develop a new government center. The center has long been in the former Lafayette Hotel building, which city officials say would need substantial renovation if city government is to stay there.
“The conclusions of it (the report) could impact our negotiations,” Miller said. “I think the closed session will likely be the beginning of February.”
Jon L. Fleischaker, a Louisville lawyer who specializes in open records and open-meetings laws, said there is a provision in the open meetings law that allows a public body to discuss in closed session — not in public — the sale or leasing of property. The Jones Lang LaSalle report — which probably will contain leasing prices and other costs — would fall within this exception, Fleischaker said. The law doesn’t require such meetings to be private, however.
Moloney questioned why the report has not been completed.
Miller said 90 days for Jones Lang LaSalle to do its research and develop its report on an issue that could have a multimillion-dollar impact is not too long. The city needs to do its due diligence.
“It’s on time and on budget,” Miller said.
Miller said during discussion Tuesday that the property has not been transferred to Collins and Bridgeton Holdings yet. The new developers have a non-binding option to buy, but the Webb Cos., the original developers, still own the property. That option will expire next month, Miller said.
The city issued an order to the Webb Cos. in April 2015 to fill in the site because no work had been conducted on it for 60 days, a charge the Webb Cos. denied. The city has agreed to set aside that order while the new developers work on financing and developing a business plan. The new developers were given a 90-day extension on that order and are on the second of three 30-day extensions. The city structured those extensions to also give the city time to explore the developers’ proposal to move City Hall to CentrePointe, Miller said.
Council member Angela Evans said the public is under the impression that the city is holding up development on that block. That’s not true, Evans said.
Miller said he has been told by the developers that they have made progress talking to local banks and interviewing construction managers and architects.
Vice Mayor Steve Kay said that when the new developers announced in August that they were interested in taking over the project, they didn’t approach the city or have any assurances from Lexington officials that a new government center would be part of that development. Kay said that when the new developers came to the council with a proposal, the city opted to hire the consulting firm to do its due diligence and “discover what our options were broadly for where and when we might build a new government center.”
Neither Miller nor members of the council said what that initial offer was. That meeting was conducted behind closed doors. Miller said during Tuesday’s meeting that the initial offer wasn’t acceptable to the city.
“People are impatient; they want to see something happen,” Kay said. He said he doesn’t think the city should move City Hall to the development just to get the project moving. “There is no way that I as a council member would approve a deal for building a government center at CentrePointe solely to save that project if it’s not in the best interest of the city. Our job is to make a decision that’s in the best interest of the city.”