Goodbye to the Cranes of CentrePointe

The front page of today’s Herald-Leader proclaimed that the last crane which stood for years. The cranes (you’ll recall, there were once two massive cranes) were installed in December 2014.

The news made me recall an old post I wrote with a bit of Centrepointe poetry. Of course, the name Centrepointe gave way to City Center. But the Centrepointe will remain in my memory and in the pages of Lost Lexington.

My haiku poem was written in early 2015 as we continued to await whatever would be constructed over what had once been a historic block of commercial buildings before becoming CentrePasture and then CentrePit (the nicknames, no doubt, contributed – along with a corporate partnership agreement – to the renaming of the project to City Center).

High o’er our city

Tow’ring cranes idle they stand

What will happen here?

Well, now we know. Just look downtown and see.

Centrepointe: A Perspective from 2008 to the Present

A version of Centrepointe. EOP Architects.


I was a law clerk when I paused for a few moments to observe part of the press conference that was streaming online from the website of a local news station. Then-mayor Jim Newberry stood alongside developers, together announcing a massive development in the heart of Lexington. The proposed structure would soar high above the city and become the tallest building in the city.

I wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of losing a block of our downtown core, but I could see promise in what was being proposed. I hoped (perhaps too optimistically) that our national economic struggle would not be as prolonged as it turned out to be.

But I also wasn’t as committed to the cause of preservation then as I am today. Although I grew up in a historic house in downtown Lexington and, as I’ve often said, “history is in the genes,” I didn’t then consider the full weight of losing a block of early to mid-19th century commercial structures in the heart of the city.

Asa Chinn’s 1920 Lexington. A view of South Upper. UK Libraries

None of the buildings was individually grand. And the block was already the victim in several spots of former demolitions.

My book, Lost Lexington, bears this out. While many of the photos in the book are from my own collection, I don’t have a photologue of the pre-demolition Centrepointe block. Unfortunately, the preservation of the Centrepointe block wasn’t on my radar and/or I was blinded by the project’s promise.

As is often the case, hindsight is 20/20.

Fast forward to the following spring when I would graduate from law school. I like to tell the story of how the Kaintuckeean began: as a drive with no destination through the beautiful countryside of Kentucky. It rekindled a love of history … and of historic preservation. Studying for the bar exam was broken up with moments of relaxation: escapist drives and explorations around the Bluegrass.

And after passing the bar and being sworn in as a new lawyer, I looked forward to the future. But through all of this, Centrepointe had evolved from a block-sized hole in the ground to a summery swamp. Every walk to court during my legal career has taken me past a variant of the post-demolition Centrepointe block.

During the 2010 mayoral election of 2010, Centrepointe was a major campaign issue. The mayor that had stood by the Centrepointe developers at its onset was defeated by the vice-mayor who had opposed demolition without a strong plan to move forward and who supported design guidelines to ensure a vibrant downtown.

The promise of the World Equestrian Games, in 2010, gave us CentrePasture. And the city took advantage of the grassy knoll. With the property owners’ blessing, the city enjoyed the temporary park during festivals and for ‘Polo in the Park’.

“Progress” on the block consisted of various design proposals being provided to the public and discussions of insufficient funding to proceed. As these events unfolded and the promises were repeated, I became more wary of the story. What was once optimism was replaced by pessimism.

I had lost faith in a project that showed promise. And I felt duped that I hadn’t really stood up for the buildings that were lost in the first place … especially since there was no real plan to move forward.

In October 2014, I celebrated 5 years as a lawyer. A month later, I celebrated the launch of my book, Lost Lexington. On the cover of the book is the pit of Centrepointe in the foreground with both the historic 1898 courthouse and the Fayette National Bank Building occupying the cover’s background. If you haven’t picked up a copy, and you’ve read this far through this post … you probably ought to. Click here for details on where to find a copy!

I wrote the book to share the backstories of Lexington’s past that might be lost just like the physical places where they once occurred. The story is not just historical – it is about doing something to preserve the physical culture of a place.

With the buildings lost, I acknowledge that nothing can return the block to her historic past. Acknowledging as much in Lost Lexington, I continued to hang on to a shred of optimism about the Centrepointe project. In Chapter 2, I wrote

Earthmoving equipment dug deep, only yards away from where the Town Branch still flows, in order to create space for the proposal’s underground parking. Above the parking garage will be a collection of buildings of varying heights and modern architectural styles. Although none will possess the monolithic scale first proposed, nothing can return the block to her historic past.

So while the earthmoving equipment dug deep into Lexington’s core and timed explosions were set off sending reverberations throughout the heart of the city, the “buildings of varying heights and modern architectural styles” remain unbuilt. Hell, the underground parking garage isn’t even a reality!

A sense that the project might finally take another step forward occurred in December 2014 when two massive cranes were installed on the block ready to begin the heavy lifting of construction.

Through Christmas the cranes sat. Then came a difficult and challenging winter during which the cranes continued to sit. April showers may bring May flowers, but they haven’t brought activity to the block.

Witnessing these idle cranes sparked my poetic side as they emerged from the depths of the earth only as idle sculpture and not as the powerful tools they are intended. I wrote

High o’er our city
tow’ring cranes idle they stand
What will happen here?

What will happen here? We now appear to be at the precipice of what could be nasty and prolonged litigation between the developers and the city. If it comes to this, undoubtedly bricks will be thrown. The people of Lexington and downtown development will be held hostage. There will be no winners from this course of action; we will all be losers.

But let’s be honest with ourselves. Lexington already lost. We lost this battle in 2008 when we allowed demolition to occur without a clear path forward. We lost in 2010 when the world came to town for the World Equestrian Games and our city’s center was little more than a blank canvas. Now the 2015 Breeders Cup will bring much attention and many first-time visitors to our city, but if they look too closely at its center they will find only a deep, deep pit.

There’s a lot of finger pointing that can be done. It’s been going on for as long as this project hasn’t. But finger pointing will accomplish even less than the litigation might.

Hopefully, the community will learn from Centrepointe. It seems like, to some extent, we have. Lexington has introduced some additional layers of protection in parts of the community while the preservation community has been rejuvenated.

This is important. And though there will continue to be physical losses in the community for a myriad of reasons, it is important that we not lose sight that “each building has a story that contributes to our human history.”

“We must understand and preserve our history in order to better understand ourselves.” From the book’s introduction, that’s basically the thesis of Lost Lexington. We failed ourselves with the demolition of the Centrepointe block, and we can only hope that the parties put Lexington first and that a highest and best use for the block, complete with an excellent design, becomes the block’s future.

Lexington’s Centrepointe in Haiku

Every now and then, I dabble in poetry. As I drove past the Centrepointe block with its idle cranes, I wondered what will happen here? And when?

A quick haiku came to mind:

High o’er our city
tow’ring cranes idle they stand
What will happen here?

[Do you have a poetic bone in your body? I’d love to read (and hopefully share with other readers) your Centrepointe poems! Please post them in the comments!]

In October 2014, headlines read that “Crane causing delay for Lexington’s CentrePointe project.” But by mid-December, the cranes were being installed.

Representatives for the developers suggested that “the next phase of construction would have to wait until the tower crane can be delivered and secured on the site” according to a Herald-Leader article. Repeat: the crane installations occurred a full three months ago. And still…

Idle they stand.

In my book, Lost Lexington, the historic block of Centrepointe block fills an entire chapter. And I’ve written about it frequently here on the Kaintuckeean. You can skim through my earlier Centrepointe posts here.

Don’t forget to leave your Centrepointe poetry in the comments!

Pearson’s Parody of Centrepointe

Happy Friday, everyone! Enjoy the afternoon and the weekend. If you are planning on watching the Super Bowl, you can read my thoughts on #deflategate here. (Go Seahawks!)

But in downtown Lexington, I’m admiring the blue skies, cool temperatures, and the stoic cranes that have stood o’er Centrepointe for weeks.

A reader recently sent me a link to his drawings and song about Centrepointe, “Trouble with Bubbles.” Published in May 2014, the song is about “urban development in a southern town.”

With that, enjoy Rolf Pearson’s “Trouble with Bubbles” …

Lexington’s Centrepointe Design Almost a Reality? Feels like it.

Proposed Design of Centrepointe Block – Lexington, Ky.

After last night’s public meeting, I am convinced that 2012 will be the year that ground is broken on the Centrepointe project. With the likes of Marriott, Urban Active, Jeff Ruby’s, Saul Good and others being (repeatedly and publicly) linked to the project, it is hard to comprehend that the developers would not be nearing shovel readiness. Yes, ink must be dried, permits and governmental authorizations attained … but by and large, I think we are ready to move forward.

And that will be a good thing. I’ve commented on the Centrepointe saga several times before (hereherehere, and here among others) and I’ve only been a small voice. But the collective voice of many has improved the design of the property from its earliest forms to what we see today.

E pluribus unum. Out of many, one.

Great credit should be given to the property owners for opening up a dialogue about the design of the property even though they have received great criticism. Public comment continued last night at a forum while email comment is being continuously accepted at [email protected].

Great credit should be given to the architects involved – all of them – who have listened to and, as appropriate, incorporated suggestions from the public.

From last night’s public meeting, I did glean a few details about the overall project that were not known last month when the initial renderings of the EOP (the primary architectural firm involved) were released. (See Another Round in the Centrepointe Saga, Feb. 16, 2012) But mostly, these were small details.

In my earlier post, I saw inspiration for the building at Vine and Limestone as being a bird’s nest a la the Beijing Olympic Stadium. Apparently, I was wrong. The building was inspired by a Kentucky forest with its trees strongly reaching upward. The rooftop garden completes the canopy. Okay!?

Anyway, the main thing from yesterday was seeing all the renderings. And there were a lot of them! Here is some of what I saw:

Centrepointe Rendering - Lexington, Ky. Centrepointe Rendering - Lexington, Ky. Centrepointe Rendering - Lexington, Ky. Centrepointe Rendering - Lexington, Ky. Centrepointe Rendering - Lexington, Ky. Centrepointe Rendering - Lexington, Ky. Centrepointe Rendering - Lexington, Ky. Centrepointe Rendering - Lexington, Ky.
All great! Two notes from these photos. In the second to last, we see a pedway over Upper Street that likely won’t survive the CADRB and I understand that the exact schematics of the pedway are yet to be finalized. We’ll see. More importantly, in the last photo I’m concerned about the vehicular traffic flow into the hotel. It seems that there are some very dangerous points with the up/down ramps as traffic comes in off Vine Street; also, I’m afraid traffic would become congested on Vine as many people arrive for a conference, etc. Just my two cents.

And now for my funny observation of the evening: the schematics indicate that most of downtown is being overrun by either Transy or UK. The Student Center is EVERYWHERE!
Centrepointe Rendering - Lexington, Ky. Centrepointe Rendering - Lexington, Ky. Centrepointe Rendering - Lexington, Ky.

Another Round in the Centrepointe Saga

Architect Rendering of Centrepointe from Limestone & Vine
(Photo: EOP Architects)

After the adjournment of yesterday’s Courthouse Area Design Review Board Meeting, the agenda called for a preliminary presentation of the future of the Centrepointe block. With no application previously filed, I think this presentation slipped by everyone (except H-L’s Bev Fortune). This was probably the intent all along: to get feedback from the board prior to having too much information in public hands to be criticized in what has already been a four-year bout among different community stakeholders.

But as a result of this “surprise” presentation, we now have an idea of what is the latest proposal for the block bounded in downtown Lexington by Main, Upper, Vine, and Limestone streets. We will call it, “Centrepointe, version 5.0.”

(Photo: EOP Architects)

The first two proposals by owner and developer the Webb Companies involved a monolithic structure taking the form of either phallus or tombstone. From my perspective, these proposals contained no architectural interest and seemed out-of-scale for downtown Lexington. Later, Webb hired Jeanne Gang from Chicago to create a vision for what could be done with the block. In a disappointing turn of events, Gang was released from the project last October. At that time, Webb announced that EOP Architects of Lexington would take over architectural design.

EOP and Webb incorporated many of Gang’s suggestions and recommendations. Among them is the block’s overall layout, which Gang devised using light and shadow tables: smaller buildings along Main Street, an 8-10 story office tower at Main and Limestone, and the large skyscraper at Upper and Vine.

Kept is the diagonal cut at Main and Limestone into the shorter tower which was intended to create better lines of sight for both pedestrians and drivers. A new feature is the proposed structure at Vine and Limestone: slightly larger than anything under Gang’s proposal, the 3-4 story office building is reminiscent of a more rigid and less natural adaptation of Beijing’s National Stadium (aka, the birds nest). Also retained is the expensive but necessary underground parking.

(Photo: EOP Architects)
Back are Webb’s favorite mode of transportation: the pedway. And as for the big tower: it isn’t very interesting. It looks like something that would be in a larger city. The entrance on Vine Street isn’t very exciting. But Gang’s “tube” design – which I liked – apparently didn’t fit Marriott’s large hotel design model plans. And even if information about project financing has been varied throughout this process, Webb has reminded us for the duration of Marriott’s commitment. If we are to get another large hotel as is sought by the Visitor’s Bureau, we need to work with the hotel to meet their needs, too. 
From what I’ve seen, this design may be the most workable yet. To be certain, there will and should be some modifications. And a public meeting is in the works. 
What do you think?

kernel: CentrePointe is Now Leasing

Downtown Lexington can rejoice in the progress being made by Gang and gang with the empty block in its core. And now this:

Prestonsburg, Ky.
Centrepointe Property for Lease – Prestonsburg, Ky.

OK. So this sign isn’t at Centrepasture — it is by the highway near Prestonsburg, Ky. But when I saw the sign, I couldn’t help but laugh (and pull over and take the picture). Hopefully, we’ll see a sign like this in Lexington soon!

walkLEX: Centrepointe v. 4.0

I already told you about the meeting unveiling the new Centrepointe design. Today, I’ll show you.

Centrepointe v. 4.0
Fmr Vice Mayor Isabel Yates examines the proposal
Centrepointe v. 4.0

NRK and I discussed the project before the unveiling on Thursday. NRK declared his immediate reaction was dislike followed by the knowledge that I would love it. He was right. And I think that came through in yesterday morning’s post. NRK’s biggest criticism was that he didn’t feel that the project’s featured tower was “sufficiently Kentucky.” Gang discussed the poetic connection between Kentucky’s equine-based economy and the limestone soil that provides calcium-rich bluegrass for strong horses. With limestone as her inspiration, she discussed the stalactites and stalagmites of Mammoth Cave and the outcroppings of limestone along the Kentucky River Palisades before discussing the microbiology of marine life in the limestone – all of this pointed to the tubes which comprise the main feature of the project.

Rendering of proposed project and Lexington skyline.
Problem is, this picture is totally inaccurate (see below)

One flaw in the Gang presentation was the use of the picture immediately above – it’s completely inaccurate! The view is from the northwest based on the positioning of the landmarks photographed. Which means that the verdant forest next to the old courthouse is where the Fifth Third Bank Pavilion is located (as well as Cheapside, etc.). Any other eagle eyes out there spot any other mistakes?

Check out all my pictures from the presentation here on flickr.

kernel: Centrepointe update

Artist Rendering of the new “Centrepointe” Image: Studio Gang

Bounded by Main-Upper-Vine-Limestone, the Centrepointe block in downtown Lexington has been a lightning rod since demolition plans were announced a few years ago. Much has been written about the various incarnations of the Centrepointe tower proposal.

I’ve stayed away from the bru-ha-ha as much as possible, only making small reference to Centrepointe on this site. I’ve never been impressed with the designs as they all looked like something that would have emerged in one of the tall-building-clusters that ring Atlanta on I-285. And though I’ve grown quite fond of Centrepasture, it is not the best use for the site. 
There are a number of hurdles yet to be accomplished, but a huge step forward was made when the developers hired Jeanne Gang’s Studio Gang Architects out of Chicago. I missed the meeting earlier this summer when Gang came to the Lexington History Museum to share a number of visions. Now, the plan has been refined and the plans will be unveiled today at the Kentucky Theatre at 4 pm. I hope to attend and, if I do, I’ll live-tweet the presentation @kaintuckeean.
From the two images we’ve seen so far, I like this new proposal. I love how the historical buildings are pictured above – the first skyscraper (Fayette National Bank Building) and the Old Courthouse – nestled between two modern structures as viewed from Vine Street, though I realize that the structures to be built on Main will obstruct this view.
Remember: Kentucky Theatre, today at 4 pm. Follow me on twitter @kaintuckeean. Oh… and can we PLEASE come up with a new name other than Centrepointe?

walkLEX: Centrepointe Proposal 2.0

Rendering of Proposed Centrepointe, Lexington, Ky.

Yesterday, Dudley Webb unveiled his modified proposal for the Centrepointe development (47 page PDF). The modification includes several major changes. Most notably, the “peak and spire” design is gone being replaced with a flat top roof and a 60-foot flag poll. The original proposal was to be about 500 feet tall (35 stories); the modified structure just under 290 feet (23 stories). BizLex has a good summary of the differences in the two proposals, but Herald-Leader columnist Tom Eblen points out the obvious: with the economy in its current state, he doesn’t “expect to see it rise out of the pasture anytime soon.”

The proposal emphasizes the incorporation of and reinterpretation of historical architectural styles. The proposed structure is immensely better than the original proposal, but I’m still not entirely certain how the structure will complement the rest of downtown or how it will be uniquely Lexington. Although the tower doesn’t rise adjacent to the sidewalk, it is close to the Main Street side questioning what shadows it might cast.

Plus, I’ve posted before on my growing fondness of the downtown horse fence. It truly would be a great area for a 1.7 acre downtown park (a real park, with trails, etc.). That said, the proposal does offer the site for use by Spotlight Lexington and other downtown festivities associated with the World Equestrian Games.

Rendering from as modified from the Centrepointe Application.