Long-term lease will make the city whole from expenses associated with purchase, interest and demolition of Cundiff Square property
SOMERSET, KENTUCKY (April 12, 2021) — The Somerset City Council voted 10-1 Monday to approve a resolution allowing Mayor Alan Keck to negotiate a lease between the city and the University of Somerset for the Cundiff Square property.
According to the resolution, the long-term lease will seek to “fairly and substantially” compensate the city for all costs associated with the property’s acquisition, interest and demolition — which to date have totaled just more than $1.3 million.
“From the beginning, I have promised that the city will be made whole with any lease agreement with the university on this property, and this resolution gets us on our way to making that a reality,” Keck said.
Keck said he plans to propose terms of $1.4 million over 30 years, at which point the university would own the property.
The city announced its intention to purchase Cundiff Square in February 2020 and redevelop it, seeing an opportunity to revitalize the nine-acre area that was once the site of the Old Town Spring, where Somerset was founded. Demolition of commercial and apartment buildings there is currently underway, an expense the city planned when purchasing the property.
The University of Somerset board of directors seeks to build the university’s campus at this location. Announced in October, the university is a privately funded, non-profit research institution that will offer a variety of four-year undergraduate programs and select master’s and doctoral degrees. The board is currently seeking accreditation and raising funds, with the first classes expected to begin in three to five years.
Keck, who is one of the university’s founders and serves as board chairman, said the University of Somerset is an ideal redevelopment purpose for Cundiff Square — bringing to life an institution that has been discussed in the community for more than three decades and boosting economic, educational and cultural development in the city.
“My greatest desire as mayor is to make a generational impact in Somerset and we are well on our way,” Keck said. “Our downtown is vibrant; our revitalization efforts are working. But we can’t just focus on repairing the past. We have to look to the future. We have to make sure we are creating opportunities for the residents that succeed us. That doesn’t just mean recruiting jobs of the future – it means teaching them too. That’s what the University of Somerset will provide in our community and that’s why it is of true public interest.”
Keck also pointed to the broad benefit of the university — it is expected to generate more than $100 million annually in economic activity and create 1,000 jobs.
If the proposed terms are approved by the university board, the lease will be final and a matter of public record.
Several council members spoke in favor of the university and its impact on the community.
“I had my daughters leave Somerset and not come back, because of the education they received and where they ended up,” council member Robin Daughetee said. “There was nothing for them, so obviously work-wise they chose not to come back here.
“Had a four-year university been here and been an option for my daughters, would they still be in the Somerset area? I can’t answer that,” Daughetee continued. “But it might create opportunities for people in the future to remain and to be involved and be a viable part of our community, being it a private or public university.”
Council member Jerry Girdler was absent from Monday’s meeting. Council member Amanda Bullock voted no on the measure.