Fayette County

Funeral procession circles lost block

Mourners are not part of the usual high-spirited festivities that mark the Lexington Farmers Market on Saturday mornings.

But a procession of about a dozen black-clad mourners marched solemnly three times around the block Saturday where the proposed CentrePointe high rise will be built to grieve the demolition of 14 historic buildings and the entertainment venues they held.

Piles of rubble from the buildings were on the construction site Saturday, which is still lined weekly with farmers selling goods.

"I'm doing this to give Lexington a chance to express its grief and sadness," said Jenny O'Neill, who organized the event.

First time around the block, O'Neill told the mourners to shout, cry or shake their fists. Second time around they marched in silence. Third time around, musicians marched and played music.

"Music is to help us move from grief into life, whether we like it or not," O'Neill said. Circling the block was symbolic of going through "the three elements of grief."

The mourners marched without a city event permit, which requires organizers to have insurance. Lexington police offered to escort the marchers across the street to the opposite side of the Farmers Market for $600. O'Neill declined both to buy insurance or seek police presence.

"I thought, 'To hell with that. This is not a big deal,'" she said.

Shoppers at the Farmers Market stepped aside to let the mourners pass.

Harrodsburg farmer Pat Isaman said she didn't think anyone was inconvenienced.

"It was just a curiosity," she said. "I'm not sure most people were that aware of what was going on."

One of the mourners, Katrina Weber, 28, an English teacher at Tates Creek High School, took part "because so much of the lovely aesthetics of downtown are gone.

"You can no longer sit and enjoy the beauty of Lexington with a lot of people on the sidewalk at night," Weber said. "A skyscraper is going to ruin that."

The 35-story CentrePointe, a project of The Webb Companies, will include a hotel, condominiums, retail and office space. It will take up the block bounded by West Main, South Upper, West Vine and South Limestone.

Historic preservationists opposed razing 14 structures that were on the site. Some of the buildings housed dance clubs, bars, restaurants and music venues that attracted college students and young professionals.

"This is not a protest. This is a funeral," said O'Neill, an English and creative writing teacher at Tates Creek High School. "Today we grieve that so much has died, and it is a sad occasion."

O'Neill is writing a novel based on the 1833 cholera epidemic and said she was stunned at the demolition of the Rosenberg jewelry building, built in 1826, the city's oldest commercial building.

Bruce Burris, project director of the ELandF Gallery, came up with the idea of public mourning. It gives people a chance "to do something in a physical way to share our grief and disgust for a process that went so awry," he said.

Several mourners hung hand-lettered signs around their necks. One read, "I mourn the greed." Another said "I mourn the loss of civic input" and "I mourn the loss of music."

Joseph Anthony, a faculty member at the Blue Grass Community & Technical College, showed up to mourn as much out of anger as grief, he said. "I'm angry at the mayor. He knew about this for two years. But he was hidden during the public protest and the meetings," Anthony said.

Mayor Jim Newberry has said that he does not consider CentrePointe to be a "perfect" development, but that he believes it will benefit the city with more jobs, increased property taxes and the removal of a group of blighted buildings from Main Street.

Saturday's march followed an '80s dance party Friday night in Cheapside Park that organizers said drew 500 people to express sadness over the loss of The Dame, a popular music club that was torn down.

Dance party organizer Brittany Clark, 23, said people came up to her throughout the night and asked to have a similar party every week. Several made donations. "I was overwhelmed," she said.