Lexington's period architecture and Civil War history draw tourists by the thousands. Restoration of its downtown buildings -- some dating to the 18th century -- has been going on for nearly four decades. But neglected properties still give parts of downtown an abandoned look, something for the tourists to hurry past. And limited lodging pushes tourist dollars out to the chain motels near the Interstates.

The city's biggest structure could hold the key to a wide-open downtown revival. As the luxury R.E. Lee Hotel it once hosted well-heeled visitors and genteel cotillions. Now the faded fixture on Main Street houses disabled, low-income and elderly residents. At least one local entrepreneur, with support from city officials, would like to turn the building back into a toney hotel and restaurant. But where would the money come from? Would it survive in today's economy? And what would happen to the 42 current residents with nowhere to turn?

Whither the R.E. Lee?