Webbs Squander Goodwill (and the only hole they’re digging…)

Webbs Squander Goodwill (and the only hole they’re digging…)

Over the past few months, the Webbs have tried to get real friendly. They tried to invest in good will. They tried to change their tune. They tried to do good, be open. They tried to listen. They tried to learn.

And it seems they’ve given up instead of continuing to pursue good.

A shame. There was so much promise. That was our only hope.

The Webbs dismissed Jeanne Gang, the architect who breathed the first sign of life into the Webbs’ dead block. Brought on at the suggestion of Mayor Gray, Gang revolutionized the Webbs’ worldview — or seemed to — opening up their process and their thinking, holding public meetings and welcoming in local architects, local thinking, local suggestions, local needs.

All that is over, and we’re back to a cement block with no way to fund it.

Let’s pick apart what we know now from Beverly Fortune’s Herald-Leader report:

“She completed her work. She sent her final invoice, and it has been paid,” [Dudley] said. Webb could not recall the exact date but said that occurred several weeks ago.

Could not recall the exact date, huh? That’s funny. He never could recall the exact date. Every time his imaginary funding fell through either, his memory failed. When did the dead guy die? Not sure! When did the other mystery investors back out? Not sure! How long have you known about your lack of architectural talent? Not exactly sure.

Reached by phone Thursday night, Gang said, “I’m very disappointed. Dudley wanted to proceed without our involvement.”

Who’s the genius now? The woman who’s been named one (MacArthur Foundation) or the developer who’d rather have a cement mixer design his building?

“Jeanne Gang’s inspiration resurrected the project in the hearts and minds of Lexington’s citizens, changing fear to hope,” [Mayor] Gray said in a statement.

“The city should ensure what’s done is consistent with her vision. This is the center of our city. The center of our economic future. It must not be compromised.”

What a difference a mayor makes! While the news from Dudley is, indeed, disappointing, the only way any of this could have happened is due to the work of Mayor Jim Gray. He opened up the dialogue, he got the Webbs to wake up — if only for a few months — and he guided them to an architect with vision.

The very notion that the city should “ensure” anything — quality, vision, transparency, etc. — was unimaginable under the old Mayor, and the old Mayor lost because of it.

So… in the coming weeks and months as the Webbs suggest more-of-their-same concrete blocks, it will be interesting to see how the city responds and what the Webbs will be allowed to pretend to get away with. Because for the past three years, all the Webbs have done is play pretend and it’s unclear if they can remember the way out of their own imagination (which must be torture — a drab, gray place with cement walls towering around them and no people anywhere).

Webb said he and Gang both talked with the owners of 21C Museum Hotel in Louisville, trying to recruit them to open a hotel in Lexington.

“When that didn’t work, … we went back to our original design for a convention hotel, which is much larger,” he said. Webb said the hotel would be a J.W. Marriott. “The design with the bundles wouldn’t work.”

So Dudley asked one hotel group if they’d be interested in a boutique hotel and then he threw his hands up?

There were no other boutiques to ask? No way to make that work?

No, not according to Dudley Webb. [More on this later.]

Asked whether Gang was given an opportunity to design a larger hotel, Webb said that Marriott “only deals with architects who have done convention hotels in the past, so consequently, we were at a dead end on that one.”

For now, let’s accept that is true [and more on that too, later]. Doesn’t that call into question the judgment (and, already, the ultimately proposed product) of an international chain — that it wouldn’t leap at the chance to put a mark on the industry by partnering with one of the brightest young stars of architecture?

And further… it just returns us to the ridiculous economics of the Webbs original proposal, a massive luxury hotel in a town that doesn’t need one, with nightly rates twice that of its nearby competitors and with occupancy rates twice that of the competition, too. If the Hyatt and Radisson are at 50-60%, is the obvious conclusion that there are more people who want to stay in hotels in Lexington but they don’t because the rooms don’t cost enough?

Or is the actual economic situation of the country, and the actual geographic reality of Lexington, such that this project has no place, has no need. If the Webbs build it, will all that change? Will ghosts emerge from the Bluegrass, rollerbags in hand and wads of cash bursting from their pockets?

Is that a fantasy? No way, not for Dudley! It’s a yet-to-be-based-on-a-true-story true story. People will come, Gray. People will come. For its money they have and peace they like.

Like that fallen mayor, Dudley Webb has vision.

The hotel design will have to change, [EOP Architect’s] Ekhoff said. “Tubes worked well for a boutique hotel, but because of the needs of a J.W. Marriott, tubes didn’t work well,” he said. “We have to comply with J.W.’s very strict requirements in terms of use needs.”

Rooms will have to be larger, and there will be a 10,000-square-foot ballroom, he said.

Webb said Marriott architects “are going to come in and bless the room size, the lobby, the ballroom, the interior space of the hotel.”

Yeah, and they blessed the previous three monstrosities, too. So that’s heartening.

Webb has been trying to arrange financing since then. He said Thursday that two banks have expressed interest in financing the project once the design is complete.

They are still standing by,” he said.

You know what? This one’s actually worth believing.

On its surface, its just yet another in a long line of misrepresentations by Dudley. There’s money, he always tells us and, always, it’s from some murky unnamed source. The dead guy was first and then there was his family and then there were these other investors and then there were a whole slew of them, an A plan and a B plan and a C plan and on and on. If you believe Dudley Webb, he’s always had the money.

But it never ever comes through. And then he says it’s because of the financial environment.

Which is true. The economy is not well. Which is why Gang’s smaller scale project made more sense (or, that was one reason). But the economy’s no better and the scale of this project will be just as daunting as the three numbskull plans that preceded it.

But… all Dudley is saying is that there are two banks that have expressed interest in financing the project once the design is complete.

That’s what banks do. In fact, that’s just the friendly way of anyone in business.

When one guy in a suit goes and talks to another guy in a suit and says, “I’ve got this great project that’s going to make you a lot of money,” then the other suit isn’t going to say, “Oh, I don’t want to make a lot of money. I’m not interested.”

Of course Dudley can find two banks that might express interest in a fictional project. They have nothing to lose in expressing interest. If they actually believed in it, they’d tell Dudley to come right out and name them. The head of the bank would lend vocal support. And even then, even still, that would mean absolutely nothing. There would still be no financial obligation on the part of the bank. Ultimately, any investor will entertain most any idea until they actually see its details and run the math only to find it’s a money loser.

So, sure, Dudley. Maybe a couple of anonymous banks have expressed interest. Maybe. Shouldn’t we give you the benefit of the doubt?

There’s much more on all this, and we’ll dig into that in the coming days. For now one thing is crystal clear. Whatever ill will the Webbs had amassed during the past three years, it will be back tenfold.

Whatever mistrust and disbelief they had wrapped themselves in is now magnified. They were right to invite the public into the project, to open the process up and present a truly great vision. But now they’ve yanked that away and they aren’t just back to the sad place they started at the beginning of this year… they’ve actually managed to dig themselves deeper into a hole.

It’s a shame that that’s the only ground they’re likely to be breaking any time soon.


Dead Financier Intended to Reassure CentrePointe skeptics?

Substitute Financier for Parrot. 4.9.2009