After nearly an hour of discussion during a work session Tuesday, the Lexington Urban County Council gave initial approval for an additional $150,000 to move and save a mid-20th Century bank on South Broadway.
The council will not take a final vote on the $150,000 for several weeks. Tuesday’s vote was to put the $150,000 on the council’s agenda.
The Warwick Foundation, which is spearheading efforts to save the building, has agreed to give council its five-year business plan before Thursday’s council meeting, when the resolution backing the city allocation will have its first reading. The city budgeted $150,000 to Warwick for the current year. The group is asking for an additional $150,000 after bids to move the bank came in around $1.3 million — $450,000 more than originally expected.
Plans call for the bank to moved to a donated site on the Rupp Arena High Street parking lot. It will then become the People’s Portal, a type of community center that can also be rented for private events.
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Some on council said Tuesday they were struggling with giving an additional $150,000 to save the bank when the city has so many needs, and some expressed concern that the city will be on the hook for future operating expenses.
“That’s a pretty big ask when we have parks that need dugouts and park benches,” said Councilwoman Jennifer Mossotti. “It puts us in a difficult situation.”
Others on council and Mayor Jim Gray said they supported giving the additional $150,000. The money would come from unspent bond funds.
“I think it’s a valuable project and it’s a worthwhile investment,” Gray said. Gray also said the city has used taxpayer money to save buildings of historic value in the past, including the remodeling of Ashland, Henry Clay’s home, and the Kentucky Theatre.
Councilwoman Susan Lamb said so much effort has gone into saving the bank — which was slated for demolition — that it would be unfortunate for the effort to go to waste.
Laurel Catto, chairwoman of the Warwick Board, told the council Tuesday that the group had to have the new site on High Street approved by federal agencies in order to secure historic tax credits. Those agencies wanted the original mulitiered exterior to be reproduced at the new site, further driving up costs, Catto said. Catto also told the council that Warwick will give an additional $300,000. It has already given $300,000.
The public has given $260,000 as part of a public fundraising campaign, and engineers, architects and other building trades professionals have donated work to save the building. The Lexington Center Corp., which controls the Rupp Arena lot, also vetted Warwick’s five-year business plan before donating the site and $75,000, Catto said.
Councilman Fred Brown questioned if Warwick could get a loan to cover its shortfall. But Catto said the Warwick Foundation board has been clear — they want the project fully funded before signing a moving contract.
“It has to be self-sustaining,” said Catto. “It’s at near-break even. We have no flexibility.”