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An Artful Rejuvenation For Downtown Lexington

Lexington leaders were part of the welcoming crew for the city’s new 21c Museum Hotel Monday.

For the more than century-old Lexington First National Bank building at the corner of Main and Upper, Monday marked a rebirth.

The brainchild of Louisville art lovers and philanthropists Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown, 21c Museum Hotels – of which Lexington’s is the fifth – combine a modern gallery experience with high-end hotel accommodations. And while the art on display rotates between locations, each spot is unique thanks to the surrounding architecture.

"The only other option for a building like this was decay and decline and eventually the possibility of demolition, so... taking this opportunity was an extraordinary event for us here in Lexington," says Mayor Jim Gray, often credited as the key driver behind bringing the $43 million dollar project to fruition.

Visitors can browse for free, have lunch at the Lockbox restaurant, or opt for a stay in one of the location’s 88 rooms that run from about $200 to $700 a night. Richard Griessman, a local photographer perusing the airy second floor gallery space, is blown away by the quality – even if he doubts many Lexingtonians will be packing their bags any time soon.

"I think not many of us will necessarily stay here, but to have a place that has public access to an art gallery of this magnitude and multivenues, so it's constantly being replenished, is pretty cool," he says. 

A New York City transplant, Griessman says he’s eager to show his friends from the Big Apple around. Wilson and company hope to hear more of that as the attraction looks to expand its appeal with public programming and local partnerships.

Funding for the project came in the form of a $6 million dollar federal HUD grant, a $1 million dollar grant from the city, and a combination of tax credits and incentives.

Josh James / WUKY
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Josh James / WUKY
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Josh James / WUKY
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Josh james / WUKY
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Copyright 2016 WUKY

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now known as Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and Program Director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.