Lexington’s City Hall Faces Major Overhaul – Can They Finally Get It Over the Finish Line?

Lexington, Ky. – A recent study conducted by Ernst & Young and Kersey and Kersey has revealed that the Lexington government requires significantly less office space than its current occupancy across three downtown buildings. In an article by Beth Musgrave in the Lexington Herald-Leader, the findings of this study shed light on the city’s pressing need to address space constraints and explore alternative options.

According to the study, the city currently occupies 248,000 square feet of space spread across the main government center at 200 E. Main St., the Switow building at 212 E. Main St., and the Phoenix building at 101 E. Vine St. However, the consultants have determined that the existing space is not being utilized efficiently and includes numerous constraints. Musgrave notes that most city employees have individual offices, occupying excessive space, despite a significant portion rarely working on-site, as highlighted by Catherine von Seggern, an engagement executive with Ernst & Young.

The study recommends that the city downsizes its office space by approximately 40%, amounting to around 160,000 square feet. The consultants also emphasized the need for improved functionality and user-friendliness for citizens, which includes the addition of break rooms for employees and larger meeting rooms.

To address these issues, the study presents several potential options and preliminary cost estimates. These options include demolishing the parking garage behind the 200 E. Main St. building and renovating the main government building and Phoenix while leaving the Switow building, which would cost between $78 million to $107 million. Another option is to demolish the parking garage and construct an extension at the back of city hall, exiting both Phoenix and Switow, with an estimated cost of $94 million to $135 million. The study also suggests the possibility of purchasing an existing office space and renovating it, which could range from $69 million to $107 million, or building a completely new structure at an estimated cost of $89 million to $139 million.

Mayor Linda Gorton, who has witnessed several failed attempts to secure a new city hall over the past 25 years, acknowledges the challenges faced by the city. Gorton emphasizes the importance of finding a solution that garners the support of the 15-member council, as previous proposals have faltered due to a lack of consensus. Musgrave credits Mayor Gorton’s tenure on the council, which spans 20 years, adding depth to the analysis.

The article also highlights the changing dynamics brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote work options have proven effective, leading to a decreased need for physical office space. Additionally, citizens now expect increased online interaction for various services, such as bill payments and permit applications. This shift in demand further underscores the necessity for the city to reassess its space requirements.

Musgrave highlights the significant maintenance costs associated with the current government buildings, estimated to be upwards of $20 million. The former Lafayette Hotel, the main government building, has undergone costly modifications to enhance its usability, but navigation remains challenging, particularly for individuals with mobility issues. The city spent over $5 million in 2019 solely on exterior renovations for safety reasons.

Moving forward, Chief Administrative Officer Sally Hamilton suggests hiring a commercial real estate broker to explore the availability of suitable and sufficiently large commercial buildings within downtown. If such options are not viable, the focus will shift to modifying the current location to better meet the city’s needs.

Mayor Gorton’s proposed $505 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year includes an allocation of $6 million to initiate the process of establishing a new city government center. These funds could be utilized for design services. The city council will commence deliberations on Gorton’s budget proposal starting next Tuesday.

As the city embarks on this critical decision-making process, the report by Beth Musgrave sheds light on the key considerations and challenges faced in finding a new city hall. By analyzing the study’s findings, assessing past failures, and incorporating expert opinions, Musgrave’s reporting provides valuable insights into the ongoing search for a viable solution.