A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Downtown’s Fayette National Bank building
will find new life as 21c Museum Hotel

The historic 15-story Fayette National Bank Building, which has graced Lexington’s downtown skyline for a century, is slated to find new life as a 21c Museum Hotel.

Steve Wilson, chief operating executive of 21c Museum Hotels, announced today the company intends to come to Lexington, specifically to what is now called the old First National Bank building at the corner of Main and Upper streets and the three-story building adjacent to it. The hotel is expected to employ 150.

21c is known for hotels that are an innovative union of Southern hospitality, thoughtful design, culinary creativity and rotating exhibitions of world class contemporary art by emerging and internationally acclaimed artists.

The announcement came at a Tuesday morning news conference. In attendance were councilmembers, representatives of downtown stakeholders and the preservation community.

“We have looked at Lexington for a number of years and feel that this is the right time to build a 21c Museum Hotel in this city,” Wilson said. “Lexington has entered a new era with visionary leadership. The city’s historic downtown and the Rupp District represent remarkably inspired imagination and promise for Lexington and the entire state. They strengthen Lexington’s position as one of the state’s primary growth engines.”

He also notes, 21c is a company experiencing robust growth. “Our Louisville hotel was named the #1 Hotel in America by the readers of Condé Nast Traveler magazine two years in a row and we have new properties under construction in Bentonville, Arkansas and Cincinnati, Ohio.”

Mayor Jim Gray said many who are familiar with the 21c model call it a “game-changer” for downtown. “It stimulates and activates. It connects the dots among many of the investments we’ve been making in our downtown,” Gray said. “Yesterday, Dudley Webb, who is developing Centrepointe just across the street, said ‘It’s a great project that lifts our spirits; it’s a tide that raises all boats.’”

Gray and Wilson stressed that the $38 million project depends on city and state approval of financing incentives. “Financing for a project like this is tough,” Gray said. “It won’t work without the incentives. Fortunately, the project is entirely consistent with our history of supporting public-private partnerships for growth,” Gray said.

21c is asking the city to:

* Facilitate a $6 million loan through the HUD Section 108 Loan program, a federal program designed to support projects that create new permanent jobs for low- and moderate-income individuals. The company anticipates the new hotel will create 150 new permanent jobs, plus construction jobs.

* Support a $2 million UDAG loan, another federal program designed for projects like the 21c Museum Hotel. The city has used UDAG loans to support other downtown rehabilitation projects, including Victorian Square.

*Create a tax increment financing district to fund public infrastructure.

The company will also apply for traditional state incentive programs, including historic tax credits.

Gray said he believes councilmembers will support the incentive package. “This is a win for preservation and for growth, for preserving the rural landscape by creating a dynamic downtown and urban center,” Gray said. “The 21c brand announces to the nation, ‘Lexington is a Great American City.’”

The building’s history is particularly important and interesting, Gray said. “When Fayette National Bank announced plans to build a 15-story building 100 years ago this month, it was a sensation. The bank hired New York architects McKim, Mead and White, considered one of the best architectural firms in the world at the turn of the 20th Century.” They were known for their work all over the country, but especially in New York City. Their work included Pennsylvania Station, the Washington Square Arch, Tiffany’s, additions to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Brooklyn Museum. The firm also designed the Boston Public Library, among many other public projects.

As president of the Fayette National Bank, the late James Edward Bassett oversaw the building’s design and construction. His grandson, James E. “Ted” Bassett, led the Keeneland Association for 44 years. Former Mayor Foster Pettit, who once owned the building, filed the documents in 1980 to put it on the National Register of Historic Places.

Just as great architecture was important to Fayette National Bank, it is important to 21c as well, Wilson said. Design Architect for 21c hotels is Deborah Berke, whose firm, Deborah Berke & Partners Architects, practices all over the world.

Michael Speaks, Dean of the University of Kentucky College of Design, said Berke is among the most sought-after American architects working today. “A professor of architecture at Yale University, Berke’s designs, including numerous award-winning residential projects, institutional buildings, art galleries and hotels, are subtle yet distinctive and are always connected to place,” he said.

Story from LFUCG. Photo by Peter Brackney. For more on the National Bank Building, read Brackney’s feature, “walkLex: Fayette National Bank Building is Lexington’s very first skyscraper.”

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