Let's learn from history
When reading the latest regarding CentrePointe, I can't help but think of another sad history written just down the street from what is now CentrePit — that of the Phoenix Hotel.
It was one of Lexington's most distinguished locations from the 1790s to the 1970s. U.S. presidents from James Monroe to John F. Kennedy stayed there.
During WWII, the Phoenix Hotel served as a barracks for soldiers in Kentucky; in the 1960s, it was the site of civil rights marches and Vietnam War protests.
Then in 1981, Wallace G. Wilkinson demolished the hotel to build a World Coal Center, to have been Lexington's tallest building (as CentrePointe was originally planned to be) and the largest office complex between Atlanta and Chicago.
But like CentrePointe, Wilkinson's project was beset by funding problems. The site was a vacant lot (nicknamed the "Coal Hole," "Wally's Folly" and "Lake Wilkinson") for three years until Mayor Scotty Baesler, prettifying Lexington before it hosted the Final Four, convinced Wilkinson to build Phoenix Park.
And then, 30 years later, the city tells another developer to fill another empty, ugly hole of his own creation. Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.
The waiting game continues
CentrePointe developers fire back at city, the back story:
City waits patiently for letter to arrive from developers. Developers promise they sent it. City waits. Developers disclose the messenger must have gotten lost in Europe and died on the way to city hall.
City asks for a new letter. Developers send new, smaller letter. City receives letter but developer grabs it out of city's hands before it can be read. Developer promises to send new letter shortly. City waits.
Developer puts up a sign saying they will soon be sending a letter. City waits. Developer announces Office Depot is on board as the provider of the paper the letter will be written on. City waits.
Developer announces Office Depot was never going to provide the paper and needs more time to find new paper. City waits. Developer blames city for lack of paper. City agrees to lend developer some paper to write the letter but only if developer gives paper back if not used.
Developer agrees and starts writing a letter in public. City waits more. Developer tapes blank piece of paper to sidewalk and walks away. City waits, is confused, asks for paper back. Developer sends new letter. City waits.
Put an end to magical thinking
CentrePointe has always been our "shining city on a hill" dream.
We boxed the compass looking north, east, south and west looking for an especially charming city we could copy. Then we ripped the heart out of old Lexington.
In the past 60 years, over 100,000 strangers have made Lexington their home.
What made them come? Why did they stay? What was the magic charm we once had and lost?
We have our problems: traffic, housing, public transportation and urban blight. Our own back yards are crying for development. But the grass is always greener on another pasture.
Perhaps, if we all put our own houses in order and make Lexington more likeable, attractive and livable, our future would rest on something more substantial than a magic bean sprout that might rise from a gaping hole in the ground where CentrePointe dwells.
City should build museum
CentrePointe's a blight. The city is eventually going to take it over. Lexington has taken over two other downtown properties. They are now sites for a courthouse and a library. What's missing? A museum.
Imagine an art complex with studios and exhibition space. Not just visual art, but the space is right for an amphitheater. Design it right, and the museum would cradle the amphitheater. The Ben Snyder block that is now the site of a courthouse was used as art studios.
I'm literally at the middle point of my life expectancy. I am a North Carolina native, but have now lived more years in Kentucky. Raleigh has an awesome art museum. There's nothing in Kentucky that matches it. There should be. There's too much money and too much talent floating around.
End the subterfuge
Eight years after the destruction of an entire block of historic buildings, the developers say they are very close to selling the bonds to finance the underground garage portion of their project.
Well, goody for them. How many more years will it take to secure financing for the first floor, or the second? This is no way to do business.
Kudos to Lexington officials who have finally told the Webb Cos. that enough is enough. The developers' accusation that Mayor Jim Gray and others have been "intent on destroying the CentrePointe project" is ridiculous and resounds like the whining of a petulant toddler.
In the future, our officials need to ascertain that any proposed projects have financing in place before any demolition is allowed. That loss cannot be recouped.
We have tolerated this eyesore long enough. Fill it in and bring back the polo ponies.
Downtown fishing hole
I have an idea for the big hole in the ground downtown: Fill the hole with water, stock it with fish and charge the public to fish. Oh yeah, you gotta have a fishing license. The state has to make its money.
City, developers must collaborate
Both the city and CentrePointe developers' interests can only be advanced with collaboration.
The hole is necessary for foundations, basements and parking that go along with every project. Backfilling it would be wasteful and counterproductive.
On the other side, the long delay in meaningful construction strongly indicates a lack of adequate demand from the planned high-end users. The developer needs to realistically assess the chances of filling this block as originally conceived.
The project needs a major kick-start from the city. In exchange, the developer should make significant concessions.
The city and other developers have collaborated on two nearby projects. The land for the courthouses was assembled in large part by private developers who turned it over to the state along with parcels acquired by the city. The library — with apartments above, park in front and parking garage in the back — was created by public and private interests.
Lexington needs a new city hall with parking. A downtown parking garage would be a long-term useful asset for the city. It would free up the existing parking garage and airspace above the bus transit center on Vine Street for residential development. All of this requires collaboration, not litigation.
John S. Talbott