Lexington city leaders pulled the plug on a celebrated and scrutinized proposal for a new city hall Thursday evening, in a vote that left many conflicted.
For weeks, local developer CRM’s plan to shift local government into an enhanced Lexington Herald-Leader building appeared on track to break an impasse that’s dogged previous administrations and councils, many of whom have agreed on the need for a new home for city operations.
But after a sampling of mostly positive public comments last night, a surprise reversal from Vice Mayor and project supporter Steve Kay signaled trouble for the much-debated proposal.
"Though I worked for and hoped for a better outcome, I will vote no," he said, after explaining that – despite his efforts to rally support among skeptical colleagues – a "broad consensus" couldn't be reached.
Elaborating with reporters afterward, Kay said that some council members "were willing to consider moving forward and I had really been lobbying people to do that, but at the end my concern was that it was not solid support." And that tentative backing meant that any final offer from CRM was likely headed for rejection, Kay predicted.
The announcement prompted a round of public handwringing and soul-searching, as council members grappled with the significance of shelving another city hall proposal. At-Large Councilman Kevin Stinnett said the looming vote was "shortsighted and really lacks leadership" while others wondered aloud if the council was aiming for the impossible.
"I'm not sure we're ever going to get a location or a plan or a new city hall where 15 people say unequivocally I'm in," said Amanda Mays Beldsoe, who represents the 10th district.
Last minute pleas from a handful of project backers failed to sway the majority, and Mayor Jim Gray capped off the debate with an acknowledgement that the project hadn't won the kind of consensus he said it deserved.
"And I have to recognize that it would be unfair to the next administration to, in a sense, constrain that administration on an issue as signficant as this one is," he added.
The resolution went down on a 7-5 vote.
Yet discussion about other options soon followed, with the 4th district’s Susan Lamb successfully passing a motion calling on the council to examine properties in the Phoenix Park area near, but not including, the Central Library.
"It's the city's property to begin with and I wanted to make sure we didn't lose the momentum of moving forward," she later told reporters.
That meeting is set for September 27th.