In the early 19th century, Lexington was one of the largest and wealthiest towns west of the Allegheny Mountains, according to the National Register of Historic places. Founded in 1775, it was dubbed the “Athens of the West” by 1820 due to its culturally rich surroundings and population. Today, the city’s population of 310,000 makes it the second-largest in Kentucky, with a vibrant, walkable downtown, craft bourbon distilleries, local breweries, beautiful horse farms, great restaurants and upscale shopping. And many believe the best is yet to come.
According to a 2013 study by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Lexington’s cost of living is 7.8% lower than the national average and average household salaries adjusted for cost of living are above the national average. And in 2015, Forbes magazine rated Lexington as #16 on their list of Best Places for Business and Careers, saying that, “Household incomes are expected to grow 5th fastest in the US in Lexington over the next three years.”
But you don’t have to do much research to know that Lexington’s a growing city. All you have to do is look around. New developments are in progress just about everywhere, and residents love to talk and speculate about what’s coming to town and when.
We caught up with a number of city officials, business owners, and developers to bring you updates on the latest and greatest projects in our fair city.
The best things in life are always worth the wait, and while the CentrePointe project has experienced a number of different delays,
Dudley Webb of the Webb Companies is excited to announce that the project is finally moving forward, and this time, there should be nothing in the way. Webb and CEO Ronald Tritschler recently sat down with TOPS and discussed the past, present and future of the project.
When asked how much longer the public can expect to wait, Webb said that he anticipates the parking garage to be completed in six to eight months, and the entire CentrePointe complex to be open to the public in sixteen to eighteen months.
Webb first and foremost, would like to offer his apologies to the public for the delay. “I’m sorry it took so long,” he said. “The timing was terrible in the beginning because we were ready to go and we couldn’t. But now we are focused on the positive and moving forward with the project.”
While some of the events that have held up construction for the past eight years have been within Webb’s control, many have not. When the project first began in 2008, one of the chief investors, a wealthy German citizen who was living in Switzerland, passed away. Webb was unable to offer more details about the man’s identity (or any of the other previous investors), but said that since the investor passed away early in the process, the other investor group backed out of the project as well.
Since this occurred shortly after the 2008 stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Recession, Webb knew he had to rethink his approach. He spent the next few years trying to secure new stakeholders and resume construction on CentrePointe.
In 2014, Webb finally “got control of the project again”, but was soon faced with a new roadblock: The city of Lexington declined to issue the bonds the Webb Companies required to build the underground parking structure –which serves as the foundation of the entire complex.
“It was frustrating,” he said, “because we had the office buildings leased, the hotels ready to go, the parking garage construction was ready to begin, but we needed the bonds from the city to begin work on the parking garage. The city declined to issue the bonds, without giving a reason. As a result, we had to start all over.”
About a year ago, they were able to find another interested party who signed an executive contract with the Webb Companies, meaning they would be the sole investor and handle the construction as well. This party also agreed to work with the city to secure the bonds. “At the time, this was not publicly addressed, but after a year, this person came back to us and said they were unable to come to terms with the city,” explained Webb. “So the project was back in our hands again.”
So Webb and his team, determined not to give up, continued their search for investing parties and ways to secure the necessary bonds for the parking garage. The bonds were finally issued to the Webb Companies, but not by the city of Lexington. Tritschler said that the Kentucky League of Cities or KLC, issued the bonds. The KLC is a nonprofit membership association that provides Kentucky cities and municipal agencies with a number of services including financing options, legislative advocacy, legal services, policy development and research. “Bonds for construction have to be issued through a government entity, but the government is not responsible for the bonds in any way, shape or form,” Tritschler explained. “It’s just a standard procedure.” With the legal requirements finally out of the way, construction on CentrePointe site is underway again, and this time, Webb declares, there should be no further delays.
The Webb Companies are working with a long-time partner, the Indianapolis-based company Hunt Construction. Hunt has a long history in Lexington, dating back to 1970s. The firm is responsible for the construction of Rupp Arena, The Hyatt Regency Hotel, Lexington Center, and is currently working on the Rupp Arena renovation.
The CentrePointe Complex will be comprised of three major components, as well as an underground parking structure. Webb said the 700-car lot will be open to the public and parking prices will be comparable to other garages in the area. The first tower will be a 21-story structure. It will feature a Mariott hotel, which will face Vine Street and offer 232 guest rooms and 17 high-end penthouse apartments on the upper levels. The second tower will be 18 stories tall and face the 21c hotel on Main Street. This building will house a Residence Inn, which will offer well-appointed rooms for extended stays, plus an additional 64 apartments. The third and final component will be a 10-story office tower, with the major tenant being the local restaurant chain, Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse. Both the Mariott hotel and Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse will feature rooftop patio bars, offering spectacular city views.
Tritschler added, “Part of the rationale for the location of the hotel was having it in closer proximity to the Convention Center. It’s all about convenience.” Tritschler also mentioned that according to a recent study by the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau (on which he is a board member), it is estimated that another 300 hotel rooms are needed in the downtown area. Without a doubt, the complex will deliver more options for permanent and temporary housing to the downtown area.
When asked how the CentrePoint complex will add value to the city and make it a unique cultural destination, Webb said, “We’ve been doing this a long time. My brother Donald and I started this company in the 80s, and we completed a lot of what you see downtown — (the original) Victorian Square, the Community Trust building, the existing Hilton, the Woodlands on East Main and much more. We try to bring the best ideas from around the world. That’s what we’re trying to do (with CentrePoint), and we think it’s what the city wants.”
He also explained that while the Webb Companies strive to build iconic structures, they do not want them to appear dated years later. “We don’t want people to come back in ten years and say, ‘What were they smoking?’” Ultimately, they strive to be conservative in their approach but deliver as much class and elegance as possible to each structure.
An example of global ideas and trends, Webb says, is the fact that the CentrePointe complex is a mixed-use building. “We hope that it will address many of the city’s needs,” he said. “For instance, we feel that we need additional housing here, but the limitations we have in Lexington are both good and bad. We have a downtown that is surrounded by historic buildings, and we have one linear strip on which we can build contemporary structures. In the last five years, we have decided to go up, not out, and that decision has been reaffirmed. None of us want to invade the green belt, so we have to find ways to utilize what we have.”
Webb is confident that the delays have actually made the project better in the end. “The original proposal was to do one tall building, and there was some pushback on that, so we came back with a design that was low- to mid-rise in scale. The key is to get density into the complex, and also to bring 24-hour living downtown. So we tried to incorporate residential, both with the housing and the apartments, as well as the hotel element because tourism is a major industry here.”
It’s no secret that in the last ten years or so, Lexington has grown slowly but surely, and downtown has begun to see a healthy amount of revitalization. Webb maintains that the key to smart development is controlled, steady growth. “Someone once said, maybe it was my brother, that Lexington is the world’s largest private national park. People have no idea of the quality of life we have here. And Lexington is the playground for outlying communities as well. That’s why there is a tremendous need for downtown housing—people want to be here again.”
According to Webb, if we want young people to stay here and raise their families here, we have to focus on building a strong economy and aligning Lexington with other major cities. To that end, he mentioned that in his estimation, about 35 full-time jobs were lost when the block that made way for CentrePointe was demolished, but the complex will bring over 1,200 new jobs to the city.
“People want to come here to work, play and stay,” Webb said. “Lexington is alive, and we want to keep it alive. And a large part of that is creating a vibrant streetscape. We are open for business, and we believe the best is yet to come.”