Lexington has selected a consultant to help determine whether the city should build or lease a new city hall.
Jones Lang LaSalle will be paid $198,500 to conduct the study in the next 90 days.
The Urban County Council is expected to take a final vote on the consulting contract in coming weeks.
But some on council raised questions about the contract during a Tuesday work session. Some questioned whether a proposal by new investors in CentrePointe to build a new city hall at the long-stalled development had been ruled out.
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Councilman Richard Moloney said he has been told by several bankers that CentrePointe's new investors have said the success of the project will depend on the city agreeing to move city hall to the downtown block that was supposed to include a hotel, apartment, retail and restaurant.
"I don't want to spend $198,000" if the city is going to move to CentrePointe, Moloney said.
But Mayor Jim Gray and Jamie Emmons, Gray's chief of staff, said the city has not made a deal with the CentrePointe developers. The new developers — who include a New York real estate company — are still putting together a proposal to take over the downtown development. The city hopes to have Jones Lang LaSalle's study completed in the next 90 days, Emmons said.
That study will help the city determine if moving to the CentrePointe block is in the city's best interest or would be too cost prohibitive, city officials said.
Moloney said he was upset the new investors have met with area business leaders and bankers but have yet to appear before council.
"I am not going to support it until we meet them," Moloney said of the $198,500 contract.
Emmons said city officials are trying to schedule a meeting between the council and the CentrePointe investors soon. The new investors — Bridgeton Holdings of New York and Matt Collins of Lexington — announced their intention to take over the project in August.
Gray said the council had already voted to set aside $750,000 to study moving city hall even before the new investors announced their intent to take over CentrePointe. "This is site selection 101. This is design 101," Gray said of the study.
The current government center on Main Street is costly to maintain — with the city spending millions of dollars on upkeep on the building that once was the Lafayette Hotel, which opened in 1920. Gray has said that one estimate shows the building needs $6 million in improvements. The building is also not very user-friendly to the public, city officials have repeatedly said.
This is not the first time in the past decade that the city has pondered and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants to determine whether to move out of the building. Former Mayor Jim Newberry originally proposed pursing a new city hall in 2006. One of the proposals at that time included building an eight-story city hall for $47.5 million. But efforts to move and build a new city hall stalled after the city's finances plummeted during the recession.
Council member Susan Lamb said Tuesday the city has already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on similar studies.
"We have done two other studies of the same nature," Lamb said. "I hope this is the last. I hope we make better use of this study."