An UnderMain InvitatIon ~
For quite some time – years – there has been a lot of talk about the fate of the old Fayette County courthouse. What we’ve heard has varied on the theme that it’s a real shame to have this big, shuttered and unoccupied edifice brooding in silence as so much energy goes on all around in a recently revitalized downtown Lexington.
It has issues. Big ones. Asbestos. Mold. There’s that space created in its once open dome to house HVAC equipment. And over the years, there have been many other suffocating renovations of convenience. Mayor Gray said in his State of the City speech that “In 2014 the city shored up the critical needs of the foundation, this year we will be taking steps to save the building.”
It’s a good way to start a new year. Something new, potentially exciting and actually achievable for us to consider. The question is, what?
There’s a ton of history concentrated in that spot, smack dab in the center of our city. Important history. A lot of it is pretty awful. And there may some fairly painful and spirited debate over whether that history should be formally recognized, the legacies of slave auction victims remembered, versus whether the time has come to try to move beyond that ugly passage in Lexington’s story. Maybe some of both.
But one thing is not debatable: with a 21c Hotel taking shape directly to its east while all sorts of eateries and bars thrive to its north and west, the Old Courthouse must either be fixed up and given new purpose, or it should be torn down to make way for something artfully designed, appropriate to the site and useful. Something we can all be proud of.
Leaving it indefinitely as-is cannot be an appropriate option for a city that is seeing so much positive change.
Posting in a thread on Facebook, Foster Ockerman, Jr., President of the Courthouse Square Foundation, said results are expected soon of a study into what needs to be done to restore the building. Ockerman reminds us that the UrbanCounty Council last November approved funding to move the results of this study to the schematic drawings stage. And he notes that a small group, chaired by longtime Lexington real estate sales and leasing professional Frank Mattone and assisted by Lexington Downtown Development Authority President and COO Jeff Fugate, has been looking at potential uses for over a year.
With Mayor Gray setting the tone by placing the building’s future high on his agenda, UnderMain would like to host a community conversation that revolves around the questions: should the old courthouse be renovated? If so, what should be its purpose? How much would that cost? Or should it be demolished? If so, what should take its place? And at what cost to taxpayers?
Breathing new life into an old structure is an expensive matter. If you favor the building’s renovation, would you also support financing the cost with a penny sales tax (meaning, you would favor the passage by the 2015 General Assembly a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow us to vote on whether to permit Kentucky’s cities and towns to ask their voting citizens whether or not they would approve such a tax for such a purpose)?
Also up for consideration in Frankfort during the ’15 legisative session is something called “P3” – it stands for Public, Private Partnerships. While P3s have advantages and disadvantages, the concept does offer another way to pay for an old courthouse makeover.
So please join our Facebook discussion. We’re sure there are many more questions inspired by the prospect of doing something – one way or another – about the old Fayette County Courthouse. If you have them, please feel welcome to raise them. If you have ideas about what the building might become, let’s hear them.