Wednesday, January 10, 2001

Neighborhood residents battle plans for state office building

The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT, Ky. — A group of residents of the Old State House Historic District is fighting plans for a new state Transportation Cabinet building in the neighborhood.

        The six-story, $115 million building — as yet unnamed — will be the largest state government building erected in 25 years and will put 1,325 employees of the state Transportation Cabinet under one roof.

        Opponents say the building's sleek facade, with a swooping colonnade at the top, will overpower the scale and charm of the historic neighborhood, which has homes no taller than 2 1/2 stories.

        But architects say they specifically took the Old State House Historic District into account when designing the building.

        Architect Jamie Wigglesworth defends the north Frankfort neighborhood where he lives and works. He's against the plans for an office building.

        “Everybody thinks that it's really run-down and awful-looking, but it's not,” he said. “Some people want a brand new Chevrolet, but this is a neighborhood of old BMWs. It's really diverse. They're really beautiful houses on the inside.”

        Mr. Wigglesworth was one of about a dozen people who met last week at the Salvation Army in Frankfort to discuss everything from filing a lawsuit to contacting state legislators as a means to get their message across.

        “Putting something this huge in downtown Frankfort, what are we after here?” said Diana Looney, a member of a local group called Citizens for Open Government. “Do we want an office park or do we want an historic town?”

        Architects strongly disagree with Mr. Wigglesworth's contention that they ignored the recommendations from the Kentucky Heritage Council, the state's historic-preservation office, on how to preserve historic character.

        “That is absolutely not true,” said Richard Polk Jr., a principal in Ekhoff, Ochenkoski & Polk, the Lexington architectural firm that designed the building. “We had the guidelines in hand the whole time and paid attention to them.”

        Mr. Polk said designers made significant changes to the building because of those guidelines and because of meetings with representatives of the Kentucky Heritage Council.

        “Every aspect of this building was designed for this site,” said Richard Ekhoff, another principal in the firm.

        No public hearings have been held on the building because the state is exempt from holding such hearings, Mr. Wigglesworth said.

        No federal money is involved in the building's construction, either, so none of the federal laws that require political bodies to consult with residents is in effect, said Frankfort resident Trudy Laing, another opponent.

        Just because the building is going up in a federal historic district doesn't prevent it from being constructed there or keep structures from being demolished, Mr. Polk said.

        An effort within the past two years to designate the Old State House Historic District as a city historic district would have made it more difficult to demolish buildings. But the Frankfort City Commission rebuffed the idea.


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