Jeff Ruby pledges to bring steakhouse to Lexington, but ‘probably not’ at CentrePointe

Cincinnati restaurateur Jeff Ruby confirmed Tuesday that plans for putting one of his eponymous steakhouses at the proposed CentrePointe development are probably dead.

But he pledged to bring a restaurant to town and said he was looking for a spot downtown.

“I owe it to the people of Lexington who have supported my restaurant since 1981,” Ruby said in an interview. “Come hell or high water — and I’m used to high water from the waterfront — I’m gonna find a place in Lexington. For them. … do I think it will be at CentrePointe? In the last 24 hours, after talking to somebody, I found out probably not.”

Ruby would not elaborate on what he learned or from whom.

Ruby took to Twitter beginning Sunday to express his unhappiness with the lack of progress on the proposed downtown development, which has been an empty pit for more than a year. The project, spearheaded by The Webb Cos., was taken over in August by a group of investors, Bridgeton Holdings and Matt Collins of Lexington, but no progress has been announced. The city is weighing plans to move city hall into the project, but it’s unclear how that might affect Ruby’s plans. A representative of the investors had no comment.

“All I want to say about CentrePointe is I signed a lease four years ago,” Ruby said Tuesday. “It has cost me $1 million; that’s what I spent on CentrePointe, with a signed lease. But more than that, it’s cost me four years of my life.

“And as Wayne Newton used to say in his closing line at every show, you know when you’ve taken a man’s money, all you have is money. But when you’ve taken his time, you’ve taken part of his life. I’ve given this thing part of my life. Four years. That’s all I want to say.”

Ruby had tweeted a sketch of what the Lexington restaurant might look like, saying, “Completely designed Jeff Ruby Steakhouse for CenterPointe looking for new downtown Lexington home. Please help.”

Tuesday he said that he had a potential second choice in mind in Lexington, but that “is not a done deal. I’m up for anything. … I gotta be downtown.”

Ruby laid the blame for the lack of activity at CentrePointe on Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, saying:

“You got the largest sinkhole in America sitting in downtown Lexington, more murders in Lexington than in Cincinnati and Louisville, you got the Rupp fiasco and now you got the mayor running for Congress. After all of these accomplishments, he’s running for Congress?” Ruby said. “I come from New Jersey. In Jersey, he wouldn’t be running for Congress; he’d be running for cover.”

Tuesday afternoon, Gray’s office released a statement:

“I’m determined to do the right thing on CentrePointe, not the easy thing,” Gray said. “Clearly, Mr. Ruby is frustrated. Everyone is frustrated with CentrePointe. It’s a private venture that most people agree never should have happened in the first place. Because it’s the very heart of our city, it’s important to make lemonade out of lemons.

“It’s obviously a difficult task for government to fix a failed private development. I’m pro-business, pro-jobs and pro-growth, but I’m not pro-compromise when it comes to doing the right thing for our city, for that block and for our citizens.”

Lexington police Chief Mark Barnard took issue with Ruby’s contention about the city’s murder rate.

“ I would never use one number to describe the safety of any city,” he said in a statement. “That’s unfair to the cities, and to law enforcement, and all that is done to keep citizens safe.

“But the facts are Lexington had 16 murders in 2015, Louisville had 81 and Cincinnati had 73. I am very proud of the relationships that our officers have built within our community. It is those relationships that help keep Lexington safe.”