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Funding inquiry again rebuffed

”Show me the money“ was the refrain of Lexington Vice Mayor Jim Gray during and after a meeting Friday concerning the planned 35-story CentrePointe hotel and condominium project.

And again, an attorney for CentrePointe developers The Webb Companies said ”No.“

Gray was again seeking proof that developers Dudley and Woodford Webb and their business have the more than $200 million needed to build the project. The developers, through attorney Darby Turner, have declined to provide any proof of funding or to publicly identify financial backers.

Gray, getting ever more vocal in his concerns about the planned hotel and condominium complex, also again challenged the business merits of the project.

He questioned whether the complex's condominiums could bring in $450 a square foot, as the Webbs plan to sell them for, and whether the hotel rooms could bring in $250 to $300 a night, as planned.

Lexington is now having trouble selling existing condominiums for $200 a square foot and the average hotel room charge is $100 a night, or less, Gray said.

The viability of the hotel and condominium project, which is set to take up an entire block of downtown, could determine whether it qualifies as a tax increment financing project. Tax increment financing allows cities to use a portion of local and state taxes generated by such a development to pay for public improvements associated with the development.

The Webbs have said they can build CentrePointe without tax increment financing.

In Friday's meeting of Lexington's Tax Increment Financing Task Force, where Gray repeated his concerns, task force members talked about public improvements made through TIF money that they have been considering. The proposed improvements include a parking garage below Phoenix Park, improvements to the new courthouse plaza, and a new home for the Farmers Market. Two possible location were discussed for the Farmers Market.

A map showing showing a possible TIF district that encompasses the proposed public improvements also was distributed to members of the task force, which is composed of seven Lexington-Fayette Urban County council members and Mayor Jim Newberry.

”I think we have identified the base area for consideration as a TIF district,“ Newberry said.

The map includes the planned CentrePointe complex along Main Street and property on either side of it, the area around Lexington's old courthouse, the new courthouse plaza area, and property across from the old courthouse that extends from East Short Street to Church Street.

Task force members are considering including three areas that are contiguous to the base area boundaries. They are: two blocks bordered by Barr, Upper and Main streets and Limestone; an area east of Phoenix Park bordered by Main Street, Martin Luther King Boulevard and Water Street; and the Hilton Hotel.

The task force is scheduled to discuss the three areas at another meeting Wednesday.

Gray said that if the hotel and condominium complex plan is unsound, then talking about public improvements using TIF money is raising false expectations.

”You can't talk about the ornaments if you don't have the Christmas tree,“ he said.