The budget for the upcoming fiscal year proposed Tuesday by Mayor Jim Gray includes $22 million to restore the Old Courthouse.
A fiscally responsible Urban County Council — as we have — is obligated to weigh that expense against all the other needs identified in our community.
When that weighing is done, the council will be wise to fund renovation of the courthouse.
Council should heed the words of George Skarmeas, an architect with the firm that spent six months looking at every aspect of the courthouse to calculate a cost for bringing it back to life.
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"This is as cheap as it will ever be."
As every homeowner knows, no problem ever gets smaller, no repair ever becomes less costly. Time and weather relentlessly combine to make bad things worse and create new problems.
Delay will inevitably increase cost.
On the other side, the potential for tax incentives to help defray that cost will likely never be better. The total cost of renovation is put at $38 million so maximizing other funding sources is critical.
Quick action can allow the city, working with a private partner, to benefit from a state tax credit program, due to expire this July. (The deadline is for applying for the credit, not completing the work so, while ambitious, it is not impossible.)
And, with historically low interest rates, the cost of borrowing the money to fund the city's share is as low as it's likely to be for decades.
So, this is Lexington's moment to decide that the 1899 courthouse, an architectural jewel that has survived remarkably bad stewardship for the last half century, will be repaired and reopened.
The alternative is to continue on a path of demolition by neglect.
Why bother? Why not let the building decline until finally it is bulldozed?
Consider the message that would send.
While private businesses, like Dudley's, 21C, Parlay Social and a host of others have invested heavily to create a lively destination in the historic downtown, the city has put almost nothing in this building, which it has owned since 1999.
We're not keeping up our end of the bargain.
There's also something that's real, if harder to describe.
This courthouse, built of steel and brick in 1899 to be fireproof, modern and indestructible, belongs to Lexington and its history.
Although you can't see it now, inside there was a grand staircase and a soaring rotunda looking up to the dome.
Like our landscape and the Wildcats, the courthouse is uniquely, and beautifully, ours.