Space that could be redeveloped for retail use. Photo courtesy of the LDDA
Lexington, KY – Mayor Jim Gray has announced a plan that would allow for private redevelopment of current city buildings, including the Government Center, originally opened as a hotel in 1920.
“A public private partnership just makes good business sense. We’re looking to the private sector rather than asking taxpayers to foot the bill,” Mayor Jim Gray said in a release from his office. “This can be a win for taxpayers and a win for our awakened downtown.”
The city will release a request for qualifications tomorrow for real estate developers. Lexington is exploring options that could bring prime retail locations that flank the Kentucky Theatre to market rather than using it for city office space.
“Main Street is a place for business, not necessarily government,” Lexington Downtown Development Authority President Jeff Fugate said in the release.
In a phone interview, Fugate said it made more sense for there to be street-level options in the downtown rather than publicly controlled office space like currently exists at the Government Center and the Switow Building which surround the Kentucky Theatre along Main Street.
In addition, the Phoenix building on the corner of Vine and Limestone could be repurposed as a part of this proposal.
The end goal of this proposal would be to combine city offices into a central location above the Transit Center Garage, an oft talked about site for development along High and Vine Streets. Previous plans had looked at a mixed-use development including a movie theater for the site, an earlier plan explored condos.
This is the very beginning of the discussion, according to Gray.
“There’s a lot of moving parts to consider,” Gray said in the release. “But we know it doesn’t make good business sense to operate in the current facility. The status quo is too expensive… we are leaking money, wasting more than a half million dollars a year in operating costs. A smart business would find a more efficient, less expensive solution.”
A plan along these lines was first called for under Mayor Jim Newberry who cited sky-high maintenance costs for the city’s buildings.
In the FY2010 budget, Newberry requested $4 million for a study about a new building and $60 million to be issued the following year to construct it (national economic woes put the breaks on that). But the study, according to Gray’s office, found it would be more cost effective for the city to build a new government center than to “continue operating and repairing its downtown buildings.”
Currently, Gray’s office said the Government Center is in need of $6.3 million in repairs that would not improve functionality of the hotel turned city hall.
“The city has underutilized buildings,” Fugate said. “There are many successful examples of public-private partnerships in Kentucky and we can look to them for solutions.”