by Andrew Wyllie
It almost always comes down to money, pure and simple.
Everyday the CenterPointe lot sits vacant the city loses close to ten thousand dollars in tax revenue. According to the LFUCG property valuations website, the CentrePointe lot is currently worth about $20 million. Assuming a tax rate of 0.36% the Webbs will pay about $70,000 in taxes per year on the empty lot. According to the Webbs’ consultants C.H. Johnson Consulting Inc., once built, the property will bring in about $4.24 million a year. That’s a substantial amount of money compared to its current tax value and this is why the line of questioning from Vice Mayor Gray is so important. The lot has sat empty for almost a year with no noticeable progress. So why is it that some city council members feel it’s okay that Webbs have not got their financing in order yet, even though they claimed to have it in order over a year ago. Why is it okay that they apparently have not hired structural engineers yet when everyone who lives in Lexington knows full well that building on a karst topography (limestone with caves) can be difficult and time consuming. Why is it okay that the Webbs have not applied for their building permits yet which will take another six months to process.
The City Council is the equivalent to the board of directors for a company and among other things it’s their responsibility to make sure the city remains economically solvent. For a city council member to take sides with this developer is a disservice to the city at a price of about 3.5 million dollars a year.
Webb’s complaint that his project is not being treated fairly compared to other stalled projects in the city is just not valid. Indeed the city council should be dragging all of these property owners in to figure out what their future plans are. Lexington Mall is just as much a blighted area as the pit in the center of the city. The problem with Webb’s argument is that his project is in an absolute critical block of the city. It’s the most expensive real estate in downtown and cannot remain in its blighted condition. Council member Lane’s comment that “even though it’s just a raw site I think our downtown looks better” should be enough to remove him from the council. It’s a big hole and it’s an embarrassment to the city that’s currently sting the city a lot of money. Whether the development on the parking garage is completed is not a major issue. The parking garage is not blight, it’s not an embarrassment to the city and it’s not as big a project as the grand, multi use, hotel/condo project promised by the Webbs.
Yes, it is a privately owned project and being privately financed. This DOES NOT mean that the owners can do whatever they please. There are city zoning restrictions as well as public health, safety and welfare issues associated with owning any property. The community has â€œpolice powerâ€ which gives the community the right to regulate the activities of private land owners. In fact, the city can take this currently blighted property and transfer it to another developer (a developer with all of the financing in place) which may be enough of a threat to encourage the Webbs to send the estimated $300K (their estimate â€“ I should also mention that you could also buy a very thin sheet of gold that would cover the entire property for about $300K) to fix the sidewalks and put in some grass until they are ready to move forward on their project. If the Webbs don’t move forward, I’m sure there are some other developers that would be more than happy to get a chance to pull the rug out from under the Webbs with a project that is a bit more in line with what the people in Lexington would like to see in the downtown area.
Finally, I put the blame for the failure of this project squarely on the Mayor and the Council. Allowing Lexington’s most expensive real estate to remain blighted for a over a year and then apologizing to the owner/developer when some members of the council start demanding a progress report should be grounds for dismissal. Council members Beard, Myers and Lane should remember that it’s the people that elected them to the council who are bearing the cost of this delay both in pride for their city and tax dollars. Mayor Newberry should also take notice that no company, creative class or other, will want to relocate to a city with this kind of incompetence at the city government level.