Courthouse restoration wins prestigious statewide award

Lexington’s transformation of the Historic Courthouse on Main Street into a modern mixed-use office and event space earned one of the state’s most prestigious statewide historic preservation awards this week.

The annual Ida Lee Willis Memorial Foundation Historic Preservation Awards are presented in partnership with the Kentucky Heritage Council and the State Historic Preservation Office.

The Foundation said the rehabilitation of the Courthouse “required innovative financing and creative vision.” The $32 million Courthouse project was made possible by a public-private partnership partially financed through historic tax credits.

“The Courthouse is once again a centerpiece of downtown, a place we can all take pride in,” Mayor Jim Gray said. “And it’s a place that welcomes everyone.” The Courthouse was one of three preservation projects statewide to receive a Preservation Project Award.

The Foundation recognized Lexington’s efforts to “repair insensitive alterations and painstaking restoration of wood floors, ornamental plaster, copperwork and other historic features,” and praised the reintroduction of “dramatic central dome and pin lights back into one of the city’s first fully electrified buildings.”

Holly Wiedemann, development agent for the restoration, said the dome is the most “historically intact” area in the building. The building was one of the first electrified buildings in the area, and its innovative use of electric lights in the dome was groundbreaking when the building opened in 1899.

A grand opening for the dome, which had been closed to the public since a renovation project in 1960, was held in February. The dome is now called Limestone Hall and used as an event space.

VisitLEX, Lexington’s convention and visitors bureau, will cut a ribbon to officially open its new state-of-the-art Visitor Center on June 14. The Breeders’ Cup has moved into its offices.

Work continues on the other floors, where there will be a restaurant and bar. All of the space in the Courthouse is leased. The rent will cover operating and maintenance costs. Chief Administrative Officer Sally Hamilton and Administrative Officer Senior Jenifer Wuorenmaa managed the project for the City.                                   

The public will be invited to tour the building when work is complete in late summer.

The Courthouse is the fourth to stand on the block at 210 W. Main St. Fayette County’s courts were housed in the building until 2001, when new courthouses opened on Limestone Street.

The Foundation was created in 1979 and named for Ida Lee Willis, the first state historic preservation officer. It was charged with creating an annual awards program to honor her legacy. The awards are presented each May during National Historic Preservation Month.

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exterior of courthouse