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Task force OKs downtown TIF boundaries

A city task force on Wednesday approved boundaries for Lexington's first tax increment financing district, and endorsed several projects that might be funded with tax revenue generated in the district.

The projects shown on the Phoenix Park/Courthouse Development Area map include two sites for the Farmers Market, pedestrian walkways from the CentrePointe development, and parking under Phoenix Park. The proposed $250 million CentrePointe hotel, condominium, retail and office project is included in the district to generate tax revenue to fund the public amenities.

The approved map and list of projects will next be sent to the Urban County Council for council members to review at their Tuesday work session. For that meeting, the city's TIF consultant, Northern Kentucky attorney Jim Parsons, will prepare a description of the goals of downtown and how the proposed projects would revitalize the area.

Parsons said this narrative will need to make the case that these projects are closely tied to CentrePointe, the economic driver for the proposed TIF district. ”They must tie together for this project to get state approval,“ he said.

The map was amended to include a second pedway connecting CentrePointe to a state-owned parking garage in an adjoining block. Before voting, councilman Tom Blues asked whether approving the map meant council members could not alter details of the projects in the future. Blues said he is skeptical about the need for the Phoenix Park parking garage and the pedways.

Council members can change or eliminate projects on the list, Parsons said. He added, ”It's better at this time to put more into the district than less.“

Councilman Julian Beard asked why the map showed one location for Farmers Market in Cheapside Park and another on a block behind the old courthouse. ”Everything is fuzzy about Farmers Market,“ he said.

Joe Kelly, the city's senior management adviser, called it ”premature“ to explore whether the owners of the vacant Short Street property would sell. One of the property owners, Gordon W. Moss, said he and business partner Wayne L. Lollis were not trying to market the property, now a parking lot.

”I don't think the city could justify spending what that property is worth to put a farmers market in there,“ Moss said.

Farmers Market manager Jeff Dabbelt said the core of the market could fit in Cheapside Park and Cheapside street, if a proposal to close the street between April 15 and Nov. 1 is successful. The additional property on Short Street could provide overflow space as the market grew.

Vice Mayor Jim Gray, a critic of CentrePointe, has insisted the city should not partner with developers Dudley and Woodford Webb until they say how the project will be financed.

Gray was not at Wednesday's meeting. Reached afterward, he said the developers have not answered fundamental business questions. ”I'm opposed to moving this process forward until they provide full disclosure and explain the financial viability of the project,“ he said.

At next week's task force meeting, Barry McNees will present details about his proposed Distillery District on Manchester Street, also a TIF project. He wants city and state approval by the end of the year.