Urban County Council reacts to latest proposal for Lexington City Hall renovations

Brandi Peacher said she is the type of person who believes there are a hundred solutions to every design.

The mindset came in handy Thursday as the Lexington Urban County Council met in a workshop to discuss the next steps for a new city hall after the rejection of proposals weeks prior.

Peacher, director of project management in the mayor’s office, and her team presented the concept for a step forward in an attempt to solve the decades-long problem.

The plan would see the demolition of the government center’s parking garage; construction of a new addition built on the existing 200 E Main St. location; public-facing improvements to the government center and the Phoenix Building, and would intend to exit the Switow building.

“We think this is our next best option,” Mayor Linda Gorton said.

Peacher said her team “would intentionally and efficiently allocate space” and look at how departments could be placed more efficiently.

“One thing that we think is very critical as we move forward, and we discussed this with our RFP (request for proposal) process, is consolidating community-facing and customer-serving areas to the ground floors for better access and security,” Peacher said.

Peacher emphasized the rough outlines of the plan, saying the city could take concrete steps toward the idea by hiring consultants and obtaining a feasibility study. The estimated cost would be $115 million split into three separate phases, according to the presentation.

“What we’re looking for at this point is to see if there’s buy-in in this approach so that we can pursue that consulting team,” Peacher said.

Council reacts to the proposal

Multiple city counselors expressed concerns over the concept.

Councilman James Brown, at-large, called for a pause on the city hall discussions, saying he would need a more flushed-out plan before the council could commit to moving forward. He added it would be in the best interest of the council to push the discussions, or spending on a consultant, to a later date.

“This is a financial decision that we are going to make, or being asked to consider,” Brown said. “I would almost rather us have this conversation and make that consideration on the other side of the current budget we’re going through right now because I think it does impact our decision-making going forward.”

Councilman Preston Worley, 7th District, said he imagined that the financial estimates were lower than what it could actually cost for that kind of plan, and that renovations might not fix all of the problems facing the current buildings. Ultimately, he emphasized the building’s original history as a hotel, not an office space, would always be a pitfall.

“You’ve got moderate modifications and at the end of the day, we end up with a building that’s not suitable,” he said. “I am not necessarily opposed to some moderate spending of continued feasibility so we always understand what this option looks like.”

While there was a lack of “full steam ahead” enthusiasm for the concept, the council was able to come to a relative conclusion on how the city could move forward with the city hall dilemma.

The council ended the meeting by asking Peacher and her team to determine the cost of what a consultant and feasibility study would be, asking for a better scope of the plan’s financial demands before deciding to spend money on it.

“This was the first meeting since rejecting the bid. It’s not surprising that there were differing opinions,” Gorton said via email after the meeting. “The council is still united behind the idea that we need improved government offices.”

If this council is to do anything with city hall in the future, Gorton encouraged them to sit on the $42 million they have ($6 million dedicated to city hall and $36 million in capital), which received mixed responses from the members present.

“We cannot absorb, in our budget, starting from scratch with the money we have regularly,” she said. “We’ve got to have a chunk of money to get us started. ... We’ve got to get real. If we really want a city hall anywhere, it’s going to cost a chunk of money.”