Fayette County

Baseball stadium, hotel proposed for parking lot near Rupp Arena

A baseball stadium is part of the concept for High Street development in what is now the Rupp Arena parking lot.
A baseball stadium is part of the concept for High Street development in what is now the Rupp Arena parking lot. Omni Architects

A new downtown baseball stadium for the Lexington Legends is among the proposals submitted for a nearly 20-acre parking lot across from Rupp Arena, the Lexington Center Corp. board learned Thursday.

The stadium is part of a $200 million project that would also include a hotel, three parking garages and mixed-use developments with retail stores on the first floors and residential units on the upper floors, said Lexington developer Phil Holoubek. The project would be built in phases over several years.

Holoubek is the master developer and principal partner in Grand Slam Development, which submitted the stadium-hotel proposal to Lexington Center Corp.

Grand Slam Development is one of five companies that submitted proposals for the High Street lot across from Rupp. Lexington Center Corp. would have have the final decision on which, if any, proposal to accept.

Other developers who submitted proposals were Langley Properties, the Webb Companies, Stark Enterprises of Cleveland and Flaherty & Collins Properties of Indianapolis. Details about their proposals were not immediately available.

Lexington Center Corp. board members Holly Wiedemann, Craig Turner and Ray Ball will conduct interviews with the developers to get more information about their specific proposals.

Holoubek said Grand Slam wants to integrate the stadium and hotel “into the fabric of the rest of downtown Lexington and surrounding neighborhoods.”

“In other words, this won’t be a development that just is plopped in there,” Holoubek said.

The stadium would be surrounded by mixed-used buildings. “Some of those buildings will look directly into the stadium so you can see the baseball games directly from your condo or apartment,” Holoubek said.

The outfield wall would be near the corner of High and Broadway, and “we’ll have a raised berm or grass hill where you can sit for concerts or watch games for a low price from that hillside,” Holoubek said.

The stadium could seat 5,400, which is slightly smaller than the 6,000 seats at Whitaker Bank Ballpark, current home of the Legends. The current stadium on North Broadway, originally called Applebee’s Park, cost $25 million to build and opened in April 2001. The new privately financed stadium would cost about $40 million, Holoubek said.

Asked what would happen with Whitaker Bank Ballpark, Holoubek said that is up for public discussion. “I know that several groups already have ideas for that site,” he said.

Andy Shea, president and CEO of the Lexington Legends, could not be immediately reached for comment.

A hotel or office building would be on the corner of Broadway and Maxwell Street, Holoubek said. The parking garages would be “wrapped” with first-floor retail and upper-floor residential units, so that the garages would not be exposed to the street. The plan calls for two parking garages in the first phase and a third in another phase.

John Farris, president of Commonwealth Economics, mentioned the stadium and other proposals during a committee meeting before Lexington Center Corp.’s full board meeting Thursday.

Commonwealth Economics advises government entities on financing and private-public partnerships.

Alan Stein, former president and CEO of the Legends, said “there has always been a desire to have a ballpark downtown. That was my plan in the 1990s.”

The Rupp Arena parking lot was considered as a site for a minor-league baseball stadium in 1996 but that idea was ruled out by then-Mayor Pam Miller.

“That’s not a feasible site in my opinion,” Miller said at the time, citing the cost to replace the lost parking spaces. “The obstacles are so great that I can’t imagine it would ever work for a stadium.”

Stein, who retired as president of the Legends in 2011, said a stadium could drive economic development downtown and would complement new businesses in the Distillery District along Manchester Street and the $250 million renovation planned for the convention center attached to Rupp Arena.

Holoubek said basketball has 20 to 22 games in winter a year. “Baseball, although it doesn’t have as many fans at a typical game, has 80 nights per year in warm weather,” he said.

Developers have expressed interest in the lot in previous years. The Lexington Center Corp. board agreed in September to issue a request for proposals to determine whether there was still interest.

Farris said a developer for the High Street project should be selected by the beginning of summer.

“We welcomed all responses,” Farris said. “We didn’t try to impose what we thought should be on the block but welcomed creative ideas.”

Farris said parking is a common concern expressed by the developers. Proposals had to address replacement parking, such as a parking garage, for the convention center, Rupp Arena and the attached Hyatt Regency Hotel.

Money from the ground lease of the High Street lot would be used to pay for the renovation of the convention center. Lexington Center Corp. oversees Rupp, the convention center and the Lexington Opera House.

The High Street lot is about 17.5 acres and is bordered by Lexington Center Drive, Maxwell Street and Poplar Alley. It is one of the largest tracts of undeveloped land in the core of downtown Lexington.

Holoubek said a TIF, or tax increment financing, district would be needed to pay for the parking garages.

Peoples Bank

In other business, Lexington Center CEO Bill Owen briefly discussed a Feb. 15 letter he sent to the Warwick Foundation in which he wrote that Lexington Center assumes that the relocation agreement for the former Peoples Bank building on South Broadway “to be terminated and of no further force and effect.”

Langley Properties, which owns the bank building, agreed to donate it to the Warwick Foundation, a nonprofit preservation group, if the building was moved. But the building hasn’t been moved, the city has asked to be repaid a portion of the $300,000 it donated to move and save the bank, and the project is in limbo.

“We’re done,” said Kevin Stinnett, a Lexington council member and a member of the Lexington Center board.