CentrePointe dead; city must lead way now

The collapse this week of the latest — and likely most realistic — effort to develop the sunken block called CentrePointe came within just a few weeks of the eight-year anniversary of the ill-conceived, unworkable project that has caused so much destruction, distrust and debate in this city.

This should also mark the collapse of the city’s tolerance.

The city was right to turn down the proposal to place city hall on the site. The Collins family, with strong Kentucky ties and significant wealth, tried to make the numbers work with the city as a lead tenant. But the price — at least twice that of other options for a new city hall — made it a non-starter. With the city out, the developers withdrew.

From this point forward, the Urban County Government should use every legal tool at hand to wrest control of this block in the center of our downtown from those who have served this community so badly.

Mayor Jim Gray is not responsible for this failure, but the job of leading the search for a solution does fall to him. As vice mayor in 2008, Gray was one of the strongest voices questioning the advisability and viability of the project.

The blame for it can be laid up to The Webb Companies and the family of Joe Rosenberg who joined forces to assemble the block and press to destroy its historic structures.

They were vigorously supported by then-Mayor Jim Newberry and his administration in plans to build a hotel, condominium, office, retail Xanadu in the center of Lexington’s small downtown.

The $250 million price tag was to be financed through some alchemy of international investors and tax increment financing. An “aggressive schedule” was promised to get the four-star hotel ready for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in the fall of 2010.

A major recession intervened, but it passed. And other significant developments, including the $43 million 21C Museum Hotel across the street, have gone forward since.

It’s important to recount this history not to gloat, but to make clear that the Webbs and the Rosenbergs have proved they cannot attract investors to develop this property. The lofty plans, mysterious investors and aggressive schedules have now, eight years later, left Lexington with nothing but a huge hole.

In negotiations under Gray in 2013, the city got the right to demand if the project stalls (as it has) that the owners either build the planned underground parking garage or fill in the hole within 60 days.

If neither happens, as an attorney for the city wrote to the Urban County Council Thursday, the city can fill in the hole itself and send the bill to the developers or foreclose on the property. The city notified the Webb group in April that they must live up to this agreement but granted extensions to allow negotiations with the new developers.

Now, with that deal dead, the city must move quickly and forcefully to protect this community from the blight at its center.