Fayette County

Search for new Lexington city hall begins next week

The search for the site of a potential new Urban County Government Center begins next week.

The city will issue a request for proposals from firms that want to oversee the search process for a new city hall. The request could be issued as early as Monday.

The consultant would lead the search for a suitable site and conduct a space utilization study. If the city moves forward from there, the consultant would also design the building and oversee construction.

Vice Mayor Jim Gray said he favored issuing the request because it won't cost the city any money. The city will decide whether it wants to hire a consultant to do the work based on cost estimates.

"It all depends on where we are financially, whether or not we can afford it," said Gray, chairman of the task force that drafted the request. "Even in bad times you've got to plan for the future."

Firms will be given six weeks to respond to the request. When bids come back in early May, the Urban County Council will be deep in the budget process for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The city faces a projected $27 million budget shortfall in the next fiscal year.

Gray said there is no question that a new government center is needed. The "maintenance costs on the current building are overwhelming, and they're being held together with baling wire," he said. "But still, there's a big question as to when we can afford it."

Mayor Jim Newberry said Thursday that the time is right to build a new government center, noting that interest rates and construction costs have dropped considerably in recent months.

"Although we need to be thoughtful and deliberate in making decisions about this building, we also all need to understand that there is significant cost to either doing nothing, or to delaying a decision to do something," Newberry said in a statement.

The city has discussed the possibility of a new government center since last May, after the release of a downtown facilities study which found that, each year, the city spends $668,000 more than the national average to operate and maintain its downtown facilities.

The city has been in the current government center since 1982, when it bought and renovated the former Lafayette Hotel on East Main Street. The hotel was built in the 1920s.

FM Solutions, a Phoenix-based facilities management services firm, determined it would be more cost-effective for the city to build a new government center than to continue repairing its various downtown buildings. The company suggested that the city should sell its current city hall, noting that it might make a great hotel.

FM Solutions recommended constructing a new eight-story city hall in downtown Lexington. That new building would be built on the current site of the Government Center Annex, the annex garage, police headquarters and the Phoenix Garage. Last May, the price tag for a new government center and new offices for police and the Fayette County Clerk's Office was estimated at $47.6 million.

Council members have generally agreed that the city needs to build a new government center rather than continuing to repair its current buildings. Deciding where that new building should be has been more controversial.

Potential locations identified by consultants must have enough space to construct 240,000 square feet of office space in either one building or multiple buildings. There must also be space for 782 parking spaces in a garage or multiple garages.

The consultants are being asked to determine whether all city functions should be downtown or whether some should be in the suburbs.

The city is asking for a comprehensive list of pros and cons for each recommended site, as well as artist renderings of at least two options.

The consultant will also be asked to recommend new uses for the city's existing buildings.