Op-Ed

It’s not politics to seek fair review of a better city hall plan

Cowgill Partners proposed building a 180,000 square-foot city government building at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Corral Street.
Cowgill Partners proposed building a 180,000 square-foot city government building at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Corral Street. Morris Workshop Architects

For whatever reason, columnist Tom Eblen seems to want to turn my proposal for the new city hall project into a political cause, which could not be further from the truth. He alleges that I want to change the rules when, in fact, I simply want everyone to play by the same rules.

I believe the heart of downtown, with close proximity to state and federal courthouses and access to services, seems to be the most logical place to locate our future city hall. There is nothing political about that and I feel it’s important to set the record straight and to demonstrate that there are two schools of thought on the current proposal.

Eblen has never called, emailed, texted or visited me or my office for an interview, a comment or anything about our project. Clearly, this tells me he did not want to hear my thoughts or opinions.

I was born and raised in Lexington; my wife and I raised three daughters here. Our whole focus has always been what is best for Lexington.

I have spent my professional lifetime acquiring, renovating and building apartments, condominiums and office buildings. I have taken a company public and sold another to a regional company. I am always looking for opportunities to redevelop property that is underutilized or abandoned.

Approximately four years ago, I started accumulating property on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Corral Street with the thought of building a new apartment complex. At some point, I began hearing conversations about a proposed new city hall building and where it should be located. I started showing friends, and eventually council members, the property I had acquired, which is virtually a block from the current city hall.

I received nothing but positive feedback at that time. I also spoke to the mayor about this site at that same time. I wanted to do something good for my city.

When the request for proposals for the project came out, I gathered a group of experts to assist me in submitting a response. We presented our proposal to a select committee, chosen by the current administration. There were no council members, no members of the public, no real estate experts, no traffic engineers and no environmental consultants on this select committee.

Ultimately, the committee chose another company to recommend to the council for approval to construct the project. I was advised that a protest of this recommendation was required to be filed within three days of selection. I instructed my team to take all actions necessary to lodge the protest and they complied.

We have been told by the administration that we will not have our grievances heard until after the council acts with regard to the proposal before them for the Herald-Leader building. We have been informed the council can only accept or reject the current proposal; all others cannot and will not be considered.

Our concerns about the recommended response to the RFP were many, but our main concern is the fact that our bid was lower than the winner’s and is proposed at a downtown location with adequate public parking already available.

As set forth in my proposal, the city’s savings over the life of the proposed lease term would be approximately $30 million. Additionally, there is no need or cost to build an 800-car garage, given our project’s proximity to existing garages, where government employees currently park. I proposed a 200-car parking garage to accommodate the general public and selected administrative staff and council members.

I want what is best for Lexington — a building built efficiently with the intended use in mind, not another retrofitted building, much like the current city hall. City hall should be in the heart of downtown, and not the “gateway to downtown.”

A true downtown location would take into account socio-economic factors, offer enhanced walkability and parking.

This is the other school of thought we have been trying to have heard for the past many months.

Norwood Cowgill Jr. is the principal of Cowgill Partners.

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