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Mayor unveils inventory of downtown buildings

Citizens got their first look Tuesday at a comprehensive inventory of 300 downtown buildings and an assessment of the buildings' architectural and historical significance, but the inventory does nothing to protect the structures from demolition.

The survey of a 34-block area was conducted by the city's Division of Historic Preservation at the direction of Mayor Jim Newberry after 14 buildings, most deemed historic by the Kentucky Heritage Council, were razed last summer to make way for the CentrePointe development.

At a public hearing Tuesday night at the Central Library, Newberry said the inventory "is for information only" at this point. About 50 people attended the hearing.

The inventory will be on the city's Web site Monday for citizens to make suggestions about which buildings are noteworthy and should be preserved.

Comments can also be e-mailed or mailed to the city. After a 60-day comment period, the inventory will be modified to reflect the feedback, Newberry said. At that point another public meeting will be held.

The mayor said the final document will be forwarded to the Historic Preservation Commission for it to adopt.

"The end result is for the whole community to come to some agreement about the buildings we ought to value and try to save," Newberry said.

The mayor announced at the hearing that code enforcement will do a "sweep" of the buildings in the study area to look for code violations. He said this was in response to criticism last summer about "demolition by neglect" of buildings on the CentrePointe block.

The Webb Companies, developers of CentrePointe, said the buildings were in such poor condition that it was not economically feasible to fix them.

CentrePointe developer Dudley Webb attended Tuesday night's public hearing. He sat in the back and left as soon as the meeting ended.

Several people wanted to know what was the purpose of the survey if not to save historic buildings.

Newberry said he thought it was healthy to characterize the buildings now "instead of in the heat of battle" when a development looms, emotions run high and there is little time to determine a structure's significance.

One individual said some cities have a program to preserve historic buildings similar to Lexington's purchase of development rights to preserve farmland.

Newberry said he had not given the idea any thought, but added, "It is a good idea."

Arne Bathke was one of several who expressed disappointment at the purpose of the survey: "We're putting together another survey without teeth. It doesn't mean anything."

A similar inventory was done in 1994 by the city and its historic preservation office, said Bill Johnston, president of the Historic Western Suburb neighborhood. "Yet last summer the Downtown Development Authority said it didn't know which of the buildings in the CentrePointe block were historic," he said. Johnston, too, questioned the value of the survey unless some mechanism was included to give protection.

Also at the hearing were several members of Urban County Council, including Vice Mayor Jim Gray, Diane Lawless and Tom Blues, plus Harold Tate, president of the DDA.

After the meeting, Gray said the city needs to consider what legal and administrative measures can be taken "to encourage responsible new development and preserve the character, history and charm of our historic downtown."

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