Fayette County

Peoples Bank project in peril; city of Lexington wants its money back

The former Peoples Bank building, 343 South Broadway in Lexington, is wedged between a condo and apartment tower and a parking garage beside the Rupp Arena parking lot. It is most recognizable for its blue tile walls and distinctive sawtooth roof.
The former Peoples Bank building, 343 South Broadway in Lexington, is wedged between a condo and apartment tower and a parking garage beside the Rupp Arena parking lot. It is most recognizable for its blue tile walls and distinctive sawtooth roof. cbertram@herald-leader.com

A nonprofit foundation overseeing the move and preservation of a mid-20th-century bank building in downtown Lexington has decided to back out of the project — and the city of Lexington wants its money back.

The city announced Tuesday that it has asked to be repaid a portion of more than $300,000 it had donated to move and save the former Peoples Bank on South Broadway near Rupp Arena.

Mayor Jim Gray said the cost of moving and preserving the building has continued to escalate.

“We know this project carried good intentions. And we appreciate those good intentions. But that’s not always enough,” Gray said. “We now know moving the Peoples Bank comes with a price tag that far exceeds initial estimates, among other challenges. We appreciate everyone who has contributed to this effort. Ending the city’s involvement now gives us the opportunity to save a significant portion of the city’s original investment.”

The bank building — which has been vacant since the early 1990s — is one of the few commercial mid-century buildings left in Lexington. Facebook and other social media helped spur efforts to raise money to save the building after it was announced that the building would be razed to make room for a new theater complex on the same block of South Broadway.

Langley Properties, which owns the building, agreed to donate it to the Warwick Foundation, a nonprofit preservation group, if the building was moved. Langley also donated $75,000 and in-kind services toward the project.

Krikorian Premiere Theatres, which proposed a 12-screen theater complex at High Street and South Broadway in 2015, is moving forward with the project despite repeated delays, said Harold Tate, who is representing Krikorian. Tate said more details about the project will probably be announced in the next 30 to 60 days. But the bank building would not have to be moved immediately, Tate said.

Warwick had spearheaded efforts for more than two years to save the Peoples Bank building, with its distinct zig-zag roof and turquoise bricks. But when the Atlanta-based company hired to move the building failed to meet deadlines in early September to move it a short distance to its proposed new home, the project was in limbo.

“The only way to continue the project with another moving contractor would require raising up to $500,000 in additional funding. At this point, Warwick has given the project all that it can both financially and organizationally,” said Paul Holbrook, president of Warwick.

Laurel Catto, chairwoman of the Warwick Foundation board, said the city’s contract with Warwick allows the city to receive a portion of whatever money has not been spent. That means the city won’t get all of the $300,000 back but will probably get most of it.

“It contributed $300,000 and its refund is estimated at $287,000,” Catto said. That figure includes $50,000 in historic preservation funds that had been given to the project through an agreement with the Blue Grass Trust. If the project did not materialize, that $50,000 was to be returned to the city.

Catto cautioned that the total amount of the refund to the city will depend on how much money is left. Warwick expects to spend some money to remove steel left on the property and may have other costs.

“We were aware from the start that the project was very risky and might not succeed at the end of the day. The Warwick board addressed that possibility by adopting a detailed refund policy,” Catto said. “The foundation fully stands by that policy now.”

Meanwhile, a group that includes architect Harding Dowell and Lucy Jones has formed a new nonprofit —The Peoples Corporation — and intend to take over the project. Both Dowell and Jones have worked with Warwick to save the building from demolition for more than a year.

Dowell and Jones are in the process of getting consent from Warwick’s funding sources to transfer that money to the Peoples Corporation.

According to a written release from Dowell and Jones, donors who choose not to consent to the transition to the Peoples Corporation will have their contributions refunded depending on the donor’s contracts with Warwick. Individual donors who gave less than $1,000 are entitled to a full refund, Catto said.

“We hope that renewed energy and focus can bring this project to fruition,” Dowell said. “We’ve had some setbacks but feel confident that this iconic building can still be a place where our city comes together and grows stronger.”

The building has been prepared for the move but is still at its original location on South Broadway.

Preliminary work began this week on the complicated and delicate process of moving the 20th mid-century Peoples Bank on South Broadway to a new site on West High Street. The move is a culmination of months of efforts to save the building from demo

Dowell said the group was working to find a new moving contractor. It was also looking for some new tenants. Under the Warwick proposal, the building would have been used as the Peoples Portal, which would have hosted community events focusing on inclusion and diversity. The building would also have been available to be rented for parties and weddings. Rental fees would have covered the cost of upkeep.

In addition to raising more money, a new site to move the building also must be secured. The Lexington Center Corporation, which owns Rupp Arena, the convention center and the High Street parking lot, agreed to allow the bank to be moved to a portion of the High Street lot. But that agreement expired this fall.

The bank had to be moved by early fall because Rupp Arena and the convention center needed the High Street parking lot for events, including the University of Kentucky men’s basketball games.

The convention center is about to undergo a major renovation. The Lexington Center board recently announced it was seeking developers for the High Street parking lot. The development of the lot could be a potential revenue source to repay loans associated with the more than $200 million convention center expansion and renovation that could begin later this year.

Dowell said the group will wait for Lexington Center to decide whether to move forward with developing High Street before discussing an alternative site. Once a site is found, a new round of fundraising will begin, he said.

The Lexington Center board has not discussed the Peoples Bank project at its last few board meetings. It will next meet in early March.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall