A date has been set for the demolition of the Frankfort Convention Center and several other downtown buildings as plans for redeveloping the area slowly move forward.
The redevelopment project includes demolishing the 26-story Capital Plaza Tower, Frankfort Convention Center, Fountain Place Shops and two parking garages in downtown Frankfort. A new five-story office building and parking garage for 1,500 state workers will be built in the vicinity of Capital Plaza Tower, but plans to redevelop the remaining land are not yet final.
The final scheduled event in the Convention Center will be a gathering for Jehovah’s Witnesses on Oct. 29, with demolition scheduled to follow on Dec. 13, according to Pamela Trautner, director of communications for the Kentucky Finance and Administration Cabinet.
Although a developer has not yet been selected for the project, demolition of the convention center is “estimated at less than $600,000,” Trautner said. The convention center and Fountain Place Shops will be turned into “green space” for future development, she said.
Frankfort Mayor Bill May, speaking at a recent Frankfort Area Chamber of Commerce board meeting, said the city is working to create a master plan for the redevelopment project.
“We’re hoping that this opportunity that’s been given to us will be fruitful,” May said.
May said the master plan will include residential and commercial opportunities, as well as potentially building a “multi-use center.” The master plan will take shape after the state selects a developer for the project, May said.
The Finance and Administration Cabinet released a request for proposals from developers on May 9, with a deadline of May 31 to express interest. However, that deadline was extended to Aug. 25.
As of May 31, the cabinet had received 44 “solicitation forms” from developers expressing interest in the project. Half of the developers are firms located in Kentucky. Other developers are located throughout the country, including in New York, Louisiana and Nevada.
The selected developer will enter into a built-to-suit agreement with the state, and will “finance, design, develop, construct, maintain and lease” a new office building back to the state, as well as demolish the convention center and Fountain Plaza Shops, according to the posted request for proposals.
The posting says a developer will be selected “on or about Aug. 29.”
State Senator Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, said there was “near unanimous opposition” to demolition of the convention center, and there has been “substantial opposition locally from the citizens.”
Carroll said he and several other legislators met earlier this year with William Landrum III, the secretary of the Finance and Administration Cabinet, “trying to get him to change his mind,” but did not prevail.
“That’s the bottom line of where we are,” Carroll said. “It will be torn down and there is no interest in talking about it further.”
Carroll added that the nearby YMCA was not part of the original proposal but could be added to the list of buildings slated for demolition in the future.
Landrum, in a June 20 letter to May and Franklin County Judge-Executive Huston Wells, said the redevelopment project “will change the face of downtown Frankfort for decades to come,” and “it is time to shift to a result-driven outcome” for the Capital Plaza Complex.
“I think we all agree that state and local government cannot continue standing at ‘parade rest’ regarding the Capital Plaza Complex,” Landrum wrote.
Trautner said it was too costly to either renovate or replace the Capital Plaza Tower. The estimated cost for renovating the tower was $68 million and the estimated cost to replace it was $90 million. The state also determined it would cost $34.5 million to renovate the convention center, $18.9 million to bring the convention center into “code compliance,” and $3.3 million to “reroute utilities” for the convention center, she said.
The convention center has no sprinkler system or smoke evacuation system, an outdated fire alarm system and “accessibility deficiencies,” according to an analysis provided by Trautner.
When demolition begins, some one-way streets may become two-way streets, but Trautner said the state has “no anticipation of businesses closing … related to the demolition.”
Carroll said discussions are ongoing about how to use the green space created by the project, including a proposal to create a concert venue with a stage and seating. Retail and residential space will likely replace the Fountain Place Shops, according to May.
It is not yet clear where some events routinely held at the convention center, such as high school and community college graduation ceremonies, will land. One possible location is the Alltech Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park
The Kentucky Book Fair, which was held annually at the convention center, is moving to the Horse Park this fall.
Brooke Raby, an organizer with the Kentucky Book Fair, said she received notice of the demolition of the convention center through a phone call from the state, then received a letter a few weeks later stating that their contract with the Frankfort Convention Center had been canceled.
No other venue in Frankfort is large enough to host the event, Raby said.
“We did what we could to try to keep it in Frankfort,” Raby said. “Frankfort was very supportive and such a great home.”
The convention center and Fountain Place Shops generated $877,000 in revenue during fiscal year 2016 and the state spent $822,100 operating them, creating a net profit of $54,900. However, Trautner said those figures do not include maintenance and repair costs.
Overall, the 50 events held at the convention center in 2016 attracted 122,715 attendees, which officials estimate created a $19.3 million economic impact in Franklin County.
Local leaders are hopeful they can find ways to quickly replace the convention center’s economic impact.
Terri Bradshaw, who leads an agency that promotes economic development in Franklin County, said she “was pretty nervous about the whole thing” when state officials announced plans to demolish the convention center. But as discussions continue, she’s “gotten really excited in the past few weeks” about the change to affect Frankfort far into the future.
“We have got one opportunity in our lifetime and it’s a huge opportunity, and it is so exciting,” said Bradshaw, president and CEO of the Kentucky Capital Development Corporation
She emphasized the need to collaborate on the downtown redevelopment project, and seek input from citizens and business owners.
“We can do awesome things but we have to do it as a unit,” Bradshaw said.
Monica Kast: 859-231-1320, @monicakastwku