Ronald Reagan: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
Jim Gray: “Mr. Webb, fill in this hole!”
That historical reference, from a former colleague, is one of many quips and wisecracks I have heard since city officials notified CentrePointe developer Dudley Webb last week that they consider him in default.
Before the city gave Webb permission to excavate his long-stalled development’s underground garage, he had to pledge $4.4 million in December 2013 to restore the property to a grassy meadow if he stopped work for 60 days.
If Webb did not fill the hole, the agreement gave city officials the right to take out a mortgage on the property to pay for the work.
Although there has been no obvious progress since last summer, Webb disputes the city’s claim that work has stopped. He has demanded that city officials retract their default notice, and his attorney has threatened to sue if they don’t.
“We’ve made great progress,” Webb told the Urban County Council last Thursday. “We’re so close to getting this deal done.”
Council members listened politely but said nothing. After seven years of empty promises, Webb’s credibility is lower than the bottom of CentrePit.
If Webb and city officials can’t reach agreement, the issue will end up in court, which could make for an interesting discovery process. Who was the mysterious dead investor? Did he ever exist?
Nobody really expects the hole to be filled. That would make no sense. Lexington needs the underground garage — and a successful, tax-generating development on top of it.
The “restoration” agreement was an attempt to give the city some leverage to keep Webb on task — or force him to turn the property over to another developer if he can’t get the job done.
Until then, the fenced-off crater, where two tower cranes have stood idle since they were installed in early December, will continue hurting surrounding businesses and sucking life out of an otherwise rebounding downtown.
CentrePointe has become a Lexington joke, so we might as well have a few laughs. Here is my challenge to you: How would you fill this hole?
I will write a follow-up column Saturday based on the best of your suggestions. I’m looking for humor and creativity more than practicality.
To kick off the conversation, here are some ideas I have seen and heard:
■ Many have suggested drilling a few feet sideways into the Town Branch Creek culvert and allowing CentrePit to fill with water. Then, Webb would have a version of the Lake Lexington water feature he proposed years ago. (Drill carefully; a major sewer line runs between the pit and Town Branch.)
■ A manipulated photograph making the rounds on social media shows CentrePointe restored to its fenced-meadow state with the People’s Bank building, which must be moved from South Broadway or it will be demolished, placed there.
■ Several people have suggested putting the Noah’s Ark replica proposed for a Northern Kentucky religious theme park, which has been controversial because of tax breaks it has received and requested, in CentrePit, either to float or be buried.
■ One friend suggested a public contest to guess how many dump truck loads of soil and rock it would take to fill the hole.
■ Another friend suggested filling CentrePit with water and renting paddle boats. A pay lake for fishing might be more appropriate. Every time I think about how Lexington got into this mess, the phrase “hook, line and sinker” comes to mind.
The best solution, of course, would be for Webb to get financing and get to work — or turn the block over to someone who can. Until then, we might as well laugh about CentrePointe. Otherwise, we’ll just want to cry.