Lexington officials demanded Tuesday in a letter to the Webb Companies that the developers fill in the CentrePointe site because there has been little or no recent work on the long-delayed downtown project.
In the letter, city lawyers cited a December 2013 agreement signed by CentrePointe developers and the city. The agreement said that if there was no work done on the site for 60 consecutive days, the developers would fill it in.
The letter, written by Mason Miller, a lawyer for the city, said it "shall serve as written demand" that the site be "restored to its pre-existing condition."
If the developers do not fill in the site — which has been excavated for a proposed underground three-story parking garage — the Urban County Government could take out a mortgage on the property to pay for filling in the hole, which takes up a full block in the heart of the city.
Tower cranes have sat at the site — a downtown block bounded by Main, Vine and Upper streets and South Limestone — since mid-December.
The CentrePointe development is supposed to include a hotel, an apartment building, an office tower, a restaurant and retail space.
The city released the letter late Tuesday after several members of the Urban County Council voiced concerns during a work session about the future of the CentrePointe block.
Dudley Webb of the Webb Companies told the Herald-Leader after the council meeting that there has been work on the site during the past 60 days. He denied that developers were not in compliance with the December 2013 agreement.
Webb said he not seen the letter and was shocked the city had taken such a drastic step.
"We've had people working on the site just this week," he said. "We have invested $30 million in this project. No one wants this project to work more than we do. But it's a very complex project."
Webb said no city money had been spent on the block. He said bonds needed to pay for construction of the three-story underground parking garage still need to be sold. Once that happens, construction will continue in earnest.
"We have identified a bond buyer," Webb said. "We are expecting a major announcement in coming weeks."
He said he planned to talk to Lexington officials and see whether the two sides could come to an agreement.
"There must be a misunderstanding," Webb said. "They could have called us at least and we could have come down there."
Miller said in an interview that the city has been monitoring the site during the past 60 days and would not have taken the action if it did not think that work had ceased.
Buildings on that block were torn down in 2008 to make way for CentrePointe, but construction on the underground parking garage did not begin until late 2013. For years, the block looked like a pasture surrounded by horse-farm fencing. According to the 2013 agreement, the site would have to be restored to what it looked like before it was excavated: a grassy field.
The December agreement was part of the city's tax increment finance pact with the Webb Companies. Tax increment financing uses future city taxes generated by the project to help pay for infrastructure costs. In this case, the Webb Companies wanted to use the future tax revenue to make debt payments on the underground parking garage.
City officials told the Urban County Council during Tuesday's meeting that without that tax increment financing agreement, the city would have no control or say over a private development.
Many council members said Tuesday that constituents constantly ask about CentrePointe. They are tired of not knowing the status of the project, they said.
"I think it's time we get some answers," council member Richard Moloney said. "This thing has been going on for too long. Eight years? It's too long."