Fayette County

Conflict of interest on convention center project leads chairman to recuse himself

Renderings show a proposed new exterior for the Lexington Convention Center and Rupp Arena. This image shows the entrance from Main Street.
Renderings show a proposed new exterior for the Lexington Convention Center and Rupp Arena. This image shows the entrance from Main Street. Rendering provided by NBBJ and EOP

The chairman of the Lexington Center Corporation board has recused himself from selecting a construction company for the proposed $230 million overhaul of the Lexington convention center because he has a business relationship with one of the companies bidding on the project.

Craig Turner told the board during a Thursday meeting that he will no longer lead or be a member of a subcommittee that oversees the proposed convention center expansion project and will not vote when the construction contract is awarded. The Lexington Center oversees the convention center, Rupp Arena and the Lexington Opera House.

Turner, who is a developer, is a partner with D.W. Wilburn on a new state office building in downtown Frankfort. Wilburn is one of five contractors who were selected to bid on the construction of the convention center. The other four contractors are Hunt Construction, Messer Construction, Turner Construction and Whiting-Turner Construction Co.

Craig Turner does not have any relationships with either Turner or Whiting-Turner construction companies.

Turner left the room during Thursday’s board meeting when the board discussed the selection of the five companies and his conflict of interest.

Turner said prior to Thursday’s meeting that he felt he should no longer sit on the subcommittee or be involved with the bid process to avoid the appearance of impropriety or favoritism.

“I talked to legal and we felt that this is the right thing for me to do,” Turner said.

John Rhorer, the board’s lawyer, said Turner had disclosed his business relationship with Wilburn as required by the board’s conflict of interest policy.

“This is in accordance with our policy,” Rhorer said. “He has done what he’s supposed to do under our conflict of interest policy.”

Board member Patrick Madden, who developed Hamburg Place, will now chair the convention center subcommittee.

Madden and Holly Wiedemann, both board members and members of the subcommittee, are also developers. Madden and Wiedemann said they have had prior business relationships with some of the contractors who have been selected to bid on the project.

Madden and Turner were partners in a hotel project where D.W. Wilburn was the contractor. Madden said he also used Messer Construction on another project.

Rhorer said because Madden and Wiedemann have no current business relationships with those contractors it does not violate the board’s conflict of interest policy.

“This is a competitive bid and the contractor with the sharpest pencil is going to win the bid,” said Thomas Gaines, a board member.

Lexington-Fayette Urban County Councilman Kevin Stinnett said during Thursday’s meeting the board must be careful to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

“Any perception of anything nefarious or a conflict needs to be avoided at all costs,” Stinnett said. “I think we have done that by this board policy.”

The proposed expansion includes 100,841 square feet of exhibition space, 25,080 square feet of ballroom space and 14 meeting rooms.

Bill Owen, president and CEO of the Lexington Center, said the goal is to award a construction bid sometime in early July, with construction hopefully starting soon after. The overhaul will be done in phases so the convention center can remain open during the 24- to 30-month process.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall