The Capital Plaza Tower is no more.
On Sunday, hundreds of people crowded Mero Street within view of the tower. There, at 1:28 p.m., Gov. Matt Bevin and Finance and Administration Cabinet Secretary William Landrum began counting the seconds down from 10.
Then Landrum, recalling his days as an Army colonel, shouted, “Fire!”
As the crowd stared at the abandoned state office building, the Capital Plaza Tower crackled with explosive charges, released a few last gasps of smoke from its sides and crumpled in a cloud of dust.
Some onlookers cheered. Others held back tears.
Kim Brannock, who works for the state’s Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, spent 16 years of her career working in the tower. On Sunday, she drove from her home in Lexington to say goodbye in person.
“I feel like she’s an old friend,” Brannock said. “I felt like I needed to be here.”
Bevin was less sentimental about the 46-year-old Capital Plaza complex.
Comparing the tower to a “wart,” Bevin said the state spent “way too much money” on a building that was a poorly designed and constructed. From the late 1960s into the early 1970s, the state spent seven years and nearly $50 million to assemble the complex, which also included the 5,000-seat Frankfort Convention Center and Fountain Place shops. Adjusted for inflation, that’s more than $320 million.
“A lot of people milked this state when it was being built,” Bevin told The State Journal. “A lot of corruption went on, and I’m happy to see it gone. I really am.”
In the week leading up to Sunday, Bevin auctioned off the opportunity to, in his words, “blow up bureaucracy” and push the ceremonial plunger that initiated the implosion. The winning bid of $15,000 came from Quality Care for Kids owner A.J. Stivers, who joined Bevin on stage Sunday. Proceeds from the auction will benefit First Lady Glenna Bevin’s children’s charity #WeAreKY! Inc.
Landrum, too, was less than sentimental about the Capital Plaza, which he described as an “embarrassment” and an “inefficient use of space.”
“After 14 years of talking about it, of studying about it — to use a military term — the state was no longer going to be at ‘parade rest,’ ” Landrum, referring to the time it took to settle on a redevelopment plan, told The State Journal. “We were going to move forward and take action. We did. And this is a start of a transformation for Frankfort that will probably last another 50 to 75 years.”
Those gathered near the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s building on Mero Street were just some of the many who traveled to downtown to watch the implosion. Spectators spread out across the downtown area. Some viewed the event from Kentucky Avenue, across the Kentucky River from downtown.
The tower won’t disappear completely. Marble from the tower is being repurposed to adorn the five-story office building that will rise in its place. Rubble from the tower will also be used in that new building’s foundation, developer Craig Turner, president and CEO of CRM, told onlookers Sunday.
In December, the state selected Lexington developer-contractor team CRM/D.W. Wilburn to raze a 16-acre area that included the Capital Plaza Tower, the Frankfort Convention Center, two parking garages and the elevated overpasses on Clinton and Mero Streets.
In exchange for annual lease payments from the state of $7.3 million for 30 years, CRM/D.W. Wilburn will design, build, finance and operate a 385,500-square-foot, 1,500-employee office building reminiscent of 300 Sower Boulevard, for which the firm was also responsible.
The replacement office building is set to open in 2020. At the same time, an adjacent 8-acre tract of state land, on which the Fountain Place shops and Convention Center stand, will be put back on the city’s tax rolls, Landrum has promised. State and local government officials are still determining the details of that transfer.
In December, the city and county hired urban planning consultant CityVisions to formulate a downtown redevelopment plan that encompasses that 8-acre tract.
“I have met with CityVisions,” Landrum told The State Journal. “I have not had any in-depth discussions with them. I told CityVisions that I would wait until they met with the community at large to make sure that their input is what counts. I’m not going to be directing what they’re going to be doing.”
Bevin, too, noted that the local community will decide what gets built surrounding the new office building, which he said will be good both economically and environmentally for Frankfort.
“It’ll be cleaner. It’ll be more vibrant. You’ll have more people come in here,” he told The State Journal. “A lot of good things will happen for this community.”