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Kentucky GOP: PAC Supporting Jim Gray ‘Kicking Back’ For Hotel Deal

21c Hotel

The Republican Party of Kentucky says a super PAC is inappropriately supporting Democratic Senate candidate Jim Gray because one of the organization’s leaders benefited from a city development initiative during Gray’s time as mayor of Lexington.

Kentucky Moving Forward released its first television ad criticizing Gray’s opponent, first term Sen. Rand Paul, on Tuesday. The commercial features a clip of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump saying that Paul “shouldn’t even be on this stage” during a debate earlier this year and criticizes Paul for having a $300,000 campaign debt.

The treasurer of the organization is Steve Wilson who is also the co-founder and CEO of 21c Museum Hotels, which opened a hotel in downtown Lexington earlier this year. The company received a $6 million Housing and Urban Development loan and a $1 million loan from the city, both of which had to be approved by the Lexington City Council.

Tres Watson, spokesman for the Republican Party of Kentucky, said that Gray was getting a “well-earned back scratch” from Wilson, the hotel’s founder.

“Mayor Gray is clearly benefiting [sic] from a shady business deal stamped in government ink,” Watson said. “This crony deal is the definition of what’s wrong with this rigged system and Mayor Gray should be disqualified from holding office for his part in this kickback scheme.”

Watson also accused Gray of stalling the completion of the long-delayed CentrePointe hotel development in downtown Lexington, which he said is in “direct competition” to the 21c Hotel.

21c founders Wilson and Laura Lee Brown bought the historic First National Bank building in downtown Lexington for $3.1 million in 2012 to serve as the company’s newest installment — it already had locations in Louisville and Lexington.

Cathy Lindsey, Gray’s campaign spokeswoman, called the accusations from the Republican party “absurd.”

“The 21C project in Lexington brought life to an historic building in the heart of downtown and created hundreds of good jobs,” Lindsey said. “Mayor Gray is proud of his record of bringing good jobs to Lexington.”

The Lexington City Council approved a $1 million loan to the company later in 2012 to help it convert the building into a 90-room hotel. In 2014, the council voted to let Gray execute a $6 million loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the 21c project.

Lexington City Councilman Bill Farmer, a Republican, also criticized the state Republican Party’s accusations.

“The City Council was proud to support the 21c Hotel project that brought jobs and much needed activity to one of Lexington’s most historic properties,” Farmer said. “Mayor Gray draws support from many quarters and his record of encouraging quality job creation is clear. To say that he treated this win-win project differently is both absurd and untrue.”

Kentucky Moving Forward did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

Gray and Paul are scheduled to square off in a televised debate on October 31 on KET.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.

Email Ryland at
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