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Merge old buildings, new plan, they say

Hayward Wilkirson, a founder of Preserve Lexington, said his organization does not oppose a major development on the old Woolworth block on Main Street, where the CentrePointe project is proposed.

But preservationists want to see some of the 14 buildings integrated into the development.

The organization submitted a rebuttal to CentrePointe LLC.'s application seeking permission from the Courthouse Area Design Review Board to demolish the structures.

Included in the rebuttal was an analysis of the condition of each building done by the engineering firm Buell Fryer McReynolds Jahed Inc. of Lexington. Also a historical and architectural survey of each was included.

”The buildings were viable commercial establishments until recently when tenants were forced by the owners to vacate,“ Wilkirson said. ”In one case, the owners paid a considerable amount of money to get the tenants to vacate their lease prematurely.“

Among the businesses displaced were The Dame and Buster's bars, neither of which have found new locations, and a pharmacy and restaurants.

As for the condition of the buildings, ”It is a direct result of the lack of maintenance by the owners,“ he said.

Vice Mayor Jim Gray, who has been the public face of architects, preservations and downtown activists opposed to the size and scale of the 35-story project, wants to see a new design that incorporates some of the historic buildings.

In a statement e-mailed to the Herald-Leader on Tuesday, he said, ”I'm just asking the same question the community's been asking since the project appeared: What do the taxpayers get for the $70 million investment.?“

To make the project work, the developers, the Webb Cos., said CentrePointe will need $70 million in tax-increment financing, a procedure that requires approval from both the Urban County Council and the state TIF Commission.

”Our citizens should be treated as partners on a project that will define our downtown, that can be either a touchstone to our future, or a millstone around our necks for generations,“ Gray wrote.

The Kentucky Heritage Council surveyed the 14 buildings and said 12 are historically significant and eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

Preserve Lexington commissioned an architectural historian to fill out National Register nomination forms on each of the 12 and submit them to the Heritage Council. The council's National Register review committee will meet in August to review the nominations and forward it to the U.S. Department of the Interior for final consideration.

Buildings listed on the register are eligible for up to 30 percent federal and 20 percent state historic tax credits available for rehabbing.

Donna Nearly, executive director of the Heritage Council, said officials from her office met with the developers in 2006 about incorporating some of the historic structures into the in-fill project.

In a letter to the Review Board, Neary said it was ”discouraging“ that the project design ignores the historic fabric of Lexington and that historic-preservation concerns are portrayed by the developer ”as coming late in the game.“