Jeff FugatePhoto by Emily Mosley
July saw progress in two major, long-talked-about downtown projects. CentrePointe gained TIF approval on the local level and was approved for the same from the state on Thursday, July 25 and an architectural firm and construction manager were named in the project to renovate the Lexington Center, including Rupp Arena and the convention center, as Lexington looks to establish an arts and entertainment district in the parking lots adjacent to the Center.
Jeff Fugate, president of the Lexington Downtown Development Authority, sees opportunities for Lexington as these projects move forward and the proposed 21c Museum Hotel approaches a point when construction might begin.
More than basketball
While much of the focus thus far on the Lexington Center project has been on Rupp itself, Fugate has had his eye on more than where UK men’s basketball coach John Calipari’s team will play.
“It’s important to never undersell the opportunities there, [including] the importance for the convention center, for changing the type of conventions we have in town and the type of visitors we have in town,” Fugate said. “[We have] the opportunity to reposition the retail so that we have an experience along Main Street and an experience along High Street that we don’t have right now.”
The needs for the building in relation to downtown have changed drastically since Rupp and the Lexington Center began construction in the mid-1970s, he said. That is particularly evident for the retail space inside the center, which is not visible to those outside the building.
“Forty years ago, it was about large civic buildings and building an office park, and at that point retail and residential had been given up on as a part of downtowns. Now we understand that we ... have to offer everything [at once] — a place to live, work and play,” he said.
New office space
One aspect of the latest incarnation of CentrePointe addresses the work component of a vibrant downtown. Though office space had not been a major consideration of previous plans for CentrePointe, the project now calls for a sizable amount of office space on the Limestone side of the multi-building development.
“There is downtown office space,” Fugate said, “but what we don’t have is large chunks of downtown office space.”
That lack of large contiguous space may have cost the city in recent years, in regard to companies looking to locate in the downtown area.
“We’ve got a great opportunity for smaller groups, but if you’ve got a large group such as Bingham [McCutchen] who needed significant square feet, there really weren’t any options that met their needs. They found a great opportunity at Coldstream, but there are some companies where that may not be what they’re looking for,” he said.
The current CentrePointe design calls for more than 150,000 square feet of office space.
If all the plans happen at once, Lexington’s skyline would be dotted with cranes, while construction sites would be busy at street level.
“It’s a good problem to have,” he said. “We’ve learned our lessons from some of the past experiences. The folks and traffic engineering and the city give it all thorough thinking.
“It shouldn’t be overly disruptive,” he said.