Op-Ed

Go back to drawing board

We are concerned about the financial risks to the Urban County Government and the missed opportunities inherent in the CentrePointe proposal.

In the interest of common sense, we endorse Vice Mayor Jim Gray’s call for a design competition. There are many ways in which a new development could address the city’s functional needs and respond sensitively to the physical conditions surrounding the site. And a competition would open our eyes to opportunities and approaches not now envisioned. Here is one possibility:

We envision a plan that would preserve at least four buildings for adaptive reuse: the Dame building, its Main Street neighbor on the north corner of Upper Street, the Rosenberg building and its immediate neighbor on Upper. Development along Main would respect the texture and character of existing facades. The farmers market would be housed in a year-round facility along Vine Street.

Along the full length of the Limestone side, a new building would house public offices, including facilities for the Urban County Government. This mid-rise would command views of Phoenix Park and Courthouse Plaza and would complete the establishment of a vibrant physical center for civic life downtown that was initiated by construction of the library and the new courthouses.

This plan would not break up Phoenix Park to accommodate parking. Instead, it would exploit the park as a kind of frontispiece for the civic building and provide space for the police department and Fayette County Clerk’s office.

The project would accommodate commercial uses such as a grocery and a drugstore, as well as professional offices and residences, and it would incorporate a large parking garage into the interior of the site, all in a process that would be LEED certified.

To realize this plan, the city would create a public corporation to acquire and redevelop the Woolworth block in a transparent and inclusive process. Rather than committing $70 million to a scheme that reflects the needs and views of a few, the city would follow the same procedures used in the past — public corporations have been used to own and develop Blue Grass Airport, the jail and the new courthouses.

The process would start immediately. The design competition would be held this year, while the city creates the public corporation, appoints its board of directors and buys the entire Woolworth block. The public corporation, with public input, would decide which existing buildings to retain, which to demolish. It would also select architectural and engineering firms, which would begin work informed by the outcome of the design competition.

In the next two years, planning, bidding, construction and restoration would go on. Construction would be completed by Oct. 1, 2011. In January 2012, there would be a public dedication of all new and restored facilities on the former Woolworth block. The city would then demolish the existing Government Center Annex (which now houses the county clerk and police facilities) and the attached parking garage, clearing the site in preparation for its resale for the best private-sector development plan.

At the same time, the city would seek private sector proposals for the best future adaptive reuse of the Lexington-Fayette Government Center (the former Lafayette Hotel building). The city would sell or lease it to the entity with the best proposal.This scenario is only one of many possibilities. We hope for a development on the Woolworth block that truly serves the city. To make this happen, let’s have a more inclusive process.

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