The Lexington council heard more information Thursday about the feasibility of putting a long-stalled new government center on top of the Lextran Transit Center on Vine and High streets.
The original engineers and architects of the transit center’s two garages, which were built in the late 1980s, told the council during a special meeting Thursday the two garages were built so multistory buildings could be constructed on top of them. Either of those garages could support a 15-story new government center, engineers said.
The city had proposed building on top of the two parking garages in 2013 but abandoned the idea after some structural engineers questioned whether the — garages built in 1990 — could support the weight of a building, among other concerns. The airspace over the Lextran Transit Center garages were also once considered a possible site for a theater complex.
Lexington Facilities Director Jamshid Baradaran said crews hit much deeper rock then expected during construction. The consultants had cautioned not to move forward on a building until a more detailed and thorough analysis of the structures could be completed —which could cost between $250,000 and $500,000.
“We looked at the site three or four times; the structural issues was only one of many factors that led us to eliminate this site,” Baradaran said. “I’m not willing to invest $100 million or $150 million on the assumption that everything was built as is. We all know in the field things change.”
Chief Administrative Officer Sally Hamilton said traffic coming into the site would have to come from High Street, which is problematic. Secondly, it may be more cost-effective to tear down one of the garages and then build on the site. Furthermore, the city doesn’t own the center.
Lextran owns the transit center, which was built with $2 million in federal funds, and Lextran owns the garage. The transit center, where buses load and unload, fronts Vine street.
The council made no decisions during the Thursday meeting.
Vice Mayor Steve Kay said he will likely call a special meeting of the 15-member council sometime in January to discuss how the council wants to move forward. Three new council members will join the council in January: Jennifer Reynolds, Josh McClure and Chuck Ellinger II.
“We need to look at the larger question of how we want to proceed,” Kay said. “We need to look at all the options ... and have some agreements among ourselves as a council about what the best forward is.”
Incoming mayor Linda Gorton has said one of her top priorities when she takes office in January is to sit down with the council to hash out key issues surrounding the city government center, including how much the city is willing to spend and whether the city should build it or pursue a private-public partnership.
Thursday’s discussion comes two months after the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council voted not to pursue negotiations with a private company to lease the current Lexington Herald-Leader building on Midland Avenue for 35 years.
After that public-private partnership was scratched, the council scheduled a meeting to discuss Phoenix Park as a possible location but later canceled that meeting after adjacent property owners, including Dennis Anderson of Anderson Properties, raised concerns about putting a new government center on the small park at the corner of Main and Limestone streets.
The city has debated for decades whether to move and consolidate its operations. The city currently has five downtown buildings including the former Lafayette Hotel on Main Street, which serves as the main government center. It’s spent more than $350,000 over the past six years looking at possible sites. Those sites that have been considered and then nixed include a new government center at City Center, formerly known as CentrePointe, and revamping and expanding the downtown library.
The most recent study showed the city’s buildings have more than $22 million in deferred maintenance.