Lexington City Manager Alan Carson says he didn't think much of the small plumes of smoke coming from the former Lexington Home Brands plant one night during the week before Christmas.

He was with a firefighter at the time. The fire department was summoned, and Carson went home.

But within about 25 minutes, what Carson believed was a simple silo fire had become an inferno, and a plant that had once employed thousands was in ruins.

“I couldn't believe what I was seeing,” he says. “What we had here was an iconic building that reminded us of the heyday of Lexington.”

The historic plant is not just a link back to the city's manufacturing past, but a linchpin to a different kind of future. The city bought the property for just over a million dollars in 2006 with plans to build an entertainment area known as the Depot District.

Almost all of what burned was likely headed for demolition anyway. The city was hoping to take a piecemeal approach, taking down parts of the building while working on developing other parts of the plan.

But that long-term goal now becomes a short term problem, with the city having to find the time - and money - to demolish what's left standing and haul off the debris.

”Nobody prefers having a scab ripped off,” Carson says. “But sometimes it has the ability to heal a little bit quicker and you can kind of see what it's going to look like.”

An amphitheater and Bull City Ciderworks, key pieces of the development already in place, were not damaged. Investigators have yet to determine the cause of the blaze.

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