Downtown Towers Threaten Historic Districts



Janie-Rice Brother, Environmental Review Coordinator for the Kentucky Heritage Council, contacted PA regarding the efforts of Preserve Lexington to change the design of a 40-story mixed use hotel tower that was announced last week so that it would not destroy a full block of historic buildings in downtown Lexington.

Proposed CentrePointe from main entrance on Vine Street,
downtown Lexington, KY (Lexington Herald-Leader)

Brother contacted Preservation Alliance to ask about the RiverPark Center (RPC) and how its mixture of historic buildings and new construction came about.  The historic buildings were incorporated into the RPC primarily because the city had used federal CDBG dollars to purchase the full block in the late 1980s.  Since 1982, the historic 2nd Street buildings (including the fabulous Miller Building) have been listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  Federal money plus National Register buildings were the magic formula, fortunately, and the historic buildings were incorporated into the overall complex. 

RiverPark Center's new buildings on Daviess St in
downtown Owensboro, KY (Gary A. Adams)

RiverPark Center's historic buildings on 2nd St in 
downtown Owensboro (Gary A. Adams)

Today the RPC's historic buildings house the International Bluegrass Music Museum, the Owensboro Symphony Orchestra Academy, and the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention and Visitors Bureau.  The mixture of old and new in the RPC is one of Owensboro's greatest preservation successes and, from what Brother tells me from her research, is relatively unique nationwide.  I was aware of a similar facility in Charleston, SC, that predates RPC. 

Parking Garage tucked into block across Daviess St from RPC
(Google Maps)

Another preservation success near RPC is the Downtown Parking Garage, which is tucked into the middle of the block just west of RPC.  It has a facade on Daviess St that mimics RPC and a different one on Allen St that has elements of the Bates Building.  This parking garage was a major impetus in the rehabilitation of the adjoining 2nd St blockfront that includes the McAtee's, Salm's, and Newberry-Wile buildings.

Downtown Parking Garage tucked into block across Daviess
Street from RPC (Gary A. Adams)

Newberry-Wile block of buildings on 2nd Street that adjoin
tucked-in parking garage.
(Gary A. Adams) 

The RPC and Parking Garage projects show that new developments of the appropriate scale can enhance the historic character of downtown and fit within the adopted Downtown Design Guidelines (1990).

Owensboro Tower a Threat to Bates?

There have been reports and, of course, "Deep Owensboro" talk about a possible mixed-use tower downtown on the American Legion and adjoining properties.  This project could threaten the historic Bates Building (NW corner 2nd & Allen sts), a cornerstone of the downtown historic district.

Bates Building at NW corner of 2nd & Allen streets (Gary A. Adams)

For this reason, we may want to pay particular attention to the Lexington project.  See below for Janie-Rice Brother's appeal for Preserve Lexington.  Her included links are very interesting.

Gary A. Adams, AICP
Preservation Alliance of ODC

Janie-Rice Brother's appeal for Preserve Lexington:

I am searching (desperately) for good infill examples (commercial/retail urban infill) that incorporates existing historic buildings - or infill that goes in the middle of the historic grid and the historic fabric is retained. Developers in Lexington, KY, a city of some 260,000, are proposing (with the apparent backing of the local government) to tear down a block of historic buildings (three-story mostly) and construct a 40-story tower that is not at all compatible with infill guidelines developed for the downtown, nor with any of the surrounding buildings. One project we have seen is the St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco, but would really like some more examples.

A non-profit preservation group [Preserve Lexington] promoting saving the existing buildings (and the thriving businesses in them) and building on the surface parking lot that is in the middle of the block wants to counter protests that "it can't be done" with some images and examples from other cities. Of course, time is of the essence with this request….

If you are interested in context, a rendering of the proposed building can be found at this link while photographs of the block in question can be found at (you have to scroll down and down and down...but they are there).


Janie-Rice Brother
Environmental Review Coordinator
Kentucky Heritage Council
State Historic Preservation Office
300 Washington Street
Frankfort, KY 40601
(502) 564-7005, extension 121
FAX (502) 564-5820