LexTran's building at Loudon Avenue and North Limestone has been deemed historically significant and is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, making it more difficult to demolish as the transit authority redevelops its property.
LexTran will need to "re-evaluate their project and see if there is a way to work with the existing building," said Vicki Birenberg, the Kentucky Heritage Council's architecture review coordinator for transportation projects.
Listing on the National Register does not prevent demolition of the two-story brick structure. But because federal transportation funds are being used in the $12 million project, LexTran may not destroy or negatively affect a cultural resource "unless there is no prudent or feasible alternative," Birenberg said.
In July, LexTran announced a $5.1 million federal grant to help build on the site of the 80-year old building that it bought several years earlier. An addition would be torn off and replaced by a structure with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, LexTran officials said at the time.
Plans call for consolidating LexTran's operations and administrative offices on one site, plus creating more room to park buses. When the project was announced, LexTran officials said they would try to retain the facade of the historic brick building.
LexTran general manager Rocky Burke was notified of the building's eligibility for the National Register in a letter last week from state historic preservation officer Mark Dennen.
For all practical purposes, eligibility "is as good as being on the register," Dennen said. It means the application process has started but not been completed.
The structure at 101 West Loudon was built in 1928 by Consolidated Coach Corp., a consolidation of six small bus lines. Before that time, railroads provided the majority of public transportation between towns. With the rise in automobile ownership and increased investment in roads, buses became a viable source of transportation, climbing to seven billion passenger miles in 1929, Dennen said.
Consolidated Coach eventually changed its name to Southeastern Greyhound Lines and became a premier regional coach line between Cincinnati and Tallahassee, Fla., said historian Ken Hixson, who wrote a history of Southeastern Greyhound.
Southeastern Greyhound was Lexington's largest private employer in the 1940s, and the first local company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange, Hixson said.
The LexTran building "contributes to the story of the rise of bus travel in Lexington and the greater surrounding region beginning in the 1920s," Dennen said.
Retaining the building's original facade is still under consideration, Burke said. But while LexTran wants to be "a good partner with the neighborhood and preservationists ... it has to be a good business decision as well," Burke said.
He spoke with reservation about keeping the structure, saying a recent feasibility study of the roof, plumbing and structural supports found the "overall condition of the building not very good."
It would cost "quite a bit more to renovate than build a new building," Burke said, but added he did not have figures.
Burke is scheduled to meet with Federal Transit Administration officials in Atlanta on Monday to talk about "where do we go from here" in light of the building's eligibility for the National Register.
Linda Carroll, president of Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation, reacted to Burke's hesitation about salvaging the building by saying, "God, will it never end — this demolition without any creative thinking? It's just such a quick and dirty solution, a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Tear the building down, it's gone forever."
Mayor Jim Gray said he has visited with Burke to express his interest in LexTran's redevelopment of the Limestone-Loudon intersection and retaining the historic structure.
"It's more than just a building and more than just an intersection. It represents a big opportunity to stimulate this emerging neighborhood," Gray said.
He described the building as "a cornerstone to the growing North Limestone community, where the historic character of the area is a real asset."
Chad Needham, who restored the former Spalding's Bakery building and owns several other historic properties on North Limestone, said combining the historic LexTran building with a contemporary structure behind it "is the trend we see now."
"You don't want to see another old building with some historic significance being torn down. We saw that with the CentrePointe block," Needham said. "With a little effort, if we could see that old LexTran building brought up to modern standards and given a new life, that would make everyone happy."
Revitalization along North Limestone from Main Street to New Circle Road has been gaining momentum for about five years, with several new businesses locating in the corridor and revitalizing historic structures.
When the North Limestone Neighborhood Association asked residents last year to name the top five attributes they valued in their neighborhood, preserving historic buildings and the neighborhood culture ranked second, said president Marty Clifford.
"If preserved correctly, the LexTran building will help further anchor and stabilize this community," Clifford said.