Dead man balking

Humiliation abounds on the block bounded by Main, Upper, Vine and Limestone.

That's where Lexington's earliest commercial history was destroyed last summer to make way for a $250 million development that a compliant mayor and an easy-talking developer assured us would transform and invigorate our downtown.

In the smoke and mirrors world of CentrePointe we were asked to take a lot on faith: a business plan so fantastic as to be silly and a secret investor who just happened to have tens of millions he was willing to dump into an outsized uninspiring project in the middle of a small downtown.

Lexington bought it. The result is not a shining tower rising in our midst but a muddy, empty lot surrounded by construction fencing and, now, a secret, apparently foreign and definitely dead investor who left no will.

Faith rewarded with humiliation.

There's one big lesson here. While faith is important in many human endeavors, urban planning shouldn't be one of them. Inspiration, vision, yes, but when someone wants to tear out the historic heart of a community we need more than a vague promise to set the wrecking ball free.

Other communities have learned from similar debacles. In Charleston, S.C., for example, a demolition permit isn't issued until a construction permit has been obtained.

In Delray Beach, Fla., an ordinance says demolition in historic districts "shall not occur until a building permit has been issued" for the proposed replacement.

In Des Moines, the city required the developer pre-sell a certain number of units in a proposed condominium building before a demolition permit would be issued to clear the site.

Over a year later the units hadn't been sold and the old houses on the property remained standing.

A lot more than historic buildings has been lost in the CentrePointe farce.

The city had to walk away from the recent, visionary Downtown Lexington Masterplan to even contemplate the 35-story mixed-use tower.

The stiff-armed response to an outpouring of concern from young Lexingtonians squandered an opportunity to engage creative young people in our community.

The eyesore of a huge vacant lot at the heart of downtown further depresses a struggling urban real estate environment.

For all this loss, Lexington should get something. The council should begin today creating an ordinance that will protect us from similar humiliation in the future.