A new events space is taking shape in one of Lexington’s most historic buildings.
Limestone Hall, At The Historic Courthouse is taking reservations online pegged to a planned spring 2018 opening, when a major restoration on the circa-1898 old Fayette County Courthouse is set for completion.
“We are leasing the fourth-floor space, and we will own the event venue, known as Limestone Hall, At The Historic Courthouse,” said Kaelyn Query, founder and president of LexEffect, which is managing the venue. “We tossed around many names and felt that this is an iconic space that has been around for a long time. The original courthouse is made with limestone and it is still standing, which is a testament to a building built in the late-1800s that has weathered but is still tried and true. So Limestone Hall it is.”
Limestone Hall will be able to accommodate 750 people cocktail-style, fewer if they are seated.
“When you will come off the elevator on the fourth floor, you will be in a small lobby, and then you’ll walk out into a massive, gorgeous space, the east room and west room, with the rotunda right in the middle,” Query said.
The venue’s website says the east hall will rent for $2,800, the west hall for $2.650, and the rotunda, considered a third space, for $1,400. Query says she is taking reservations for 2018.
Renovation of the courthouse interior is paving the way for other public spaces. VisitLex, the city’s convention and visitors bureau, will have offices on the first floor. Also on the first floor will be another of Lexington chef Ouita Michel’s restaurants. The building’s terraces will be used for outdoor dining. The second floor will become the headquarters for Breeders’ Cup Limited Kentucky, the organization that manages the annual world championships of Thoroughbred racing.
“So far they are doing a great job bringing the building back to life, getting all the details right the way it was long ago,” she said. “It’s going to be an amazing transformation. In our space, with the massive dome, it is going to be quite the venue.”
Renovation Moves Ahead
The $30 million courthouse renewal project is being managed by AU Associates, along with CITY Properties Group in Louisville.
“Being a native Lexingtonian is why this project means so much to me,” said Holly Wiedemann, president of AU Associates, a Lexington-based historic preservation and urban infill development company. “What AU Associates does is take neglected structures and adaptively reuses them. It helps the communities in which they’re located, and it helps the people who get to interact with these buildings every day.”
Unfortunately, a 1960 “modernization” of the courthouse removed some historic features, with the restoration workers trying to reclaim whatever they can and duplicating the rest. Wiedemann credits Lexington Mayor Jim Gray and his team, as well as the Urban County Council and other community leaders with understanding what the restored courthouse will mean to the community.
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A good portion of the exterior work at the courthouse has been completed. That includes cleaning, repairing and pointing of the limestone surface of the building. Much of the scaffolding around the building is starting to come down. The bell tower on the roof has been restored and features gleaming copper. On top is a re-created copper weather vane featuring a 4-foot-long horse. Wiedemann says the result “is just absolutely beautiful.”
She said the recent goal was to make the old structure “weather-tight” so crews could begin interior work. “We’ll move inside to continue the demolition and extensive work that must be done. They’ll be able to work on that all winter long.”
The courthouse windows will be removed and replaced with modern but historically accurate reproductions that are highly energy-efficient.
“We went back to the original architectural drawings and original photographs to learn what were the proper windows from that time,” said Wiedemann.
Business Lexington editor M. David Nichols contributed to this report.