The old Kentucky Theater just north of the Brown Hotel on Fourth Street has been dubbed the Theater Square Marketplace for some time now, but the renovation work is winding down and a grand opening is in sight. The project is the vision of entrepreneur George Stinson and lawyer Eric Haner and when the official opening happens in June, Fourth Street will have a lively marketplace bazaar.

Renovation of the Theater Square Marketplace
Renovation of the Theater Square Marketplace. (Branden Klayko / Broken Sidewalk)

Some of the businesses have been open for a while, like Nancy’s Bagel Box (which is located in the spot where the original ticket window once stood) and Theater Square Wine & Spirits. Bikram Yoga studio has been open a couple weeks on the second floor and Haner’s law firm is in the building. Joining them will be a gourmet cafe, a market, a dessert counter, a florist, a bar, and there’s still room for another retail tenant. The cafe and market will be run by Dustin VonWheeler, formerly of Market on Market, and a large bar will feature a permanent open air pavilion behind the building.

VonWheeler explained that the group hopes to recapture the qualities of theater in the new spaces, and the businesses have been arranged around a central two-story hall to connect all the levels. The interior spaces open up as you enter the building revealing an urban theater in the round: patrons are at once the actors and the audience.

A mix of industrial and natural materials sets the stage. Tinted concrete and tile floors run through the building and smooth concrete block columns with sleek sconces hold up the second floor. Dramatic exposed duct work forms a sort of arched promenade through the space and brightly colored lights hang from the ceiling. A large glass window leading to the bar pavilion fills the hall with natural light.

The Kentucky Theater decades ago (photo via Library of Congress)
The Kentucky Theater decades ago. (Via Library of Congress)

Not too long ago the building was up for demolition. The original theater was built in 1921 and operated as a movie house for over 60 years. The Kentucky Show, now reincarnated at the Kentucky Center, played for a couple years there in the 1980s. By the mid 1990s, long vacant, the City of Louisville wanted the structure torn down. George Stinson stepped up to save the old theater and for a time leased the space for free to the Kentucky Theater Project. Now, the property has been completely renovated and will serve Downtown residents and workers as well as convention goers strolling up Fourth Street.

A new gourmet market should be similar to the old Market on Market. A range of goods ranging from a box of Cheerios to a $150 bottle of balsamic vinegar will fill the shelves. The idea is to offer the basics a Downtown resident might need for daily life while showcasing hard-to-find epicurean items. The cafe will specialize in healthy and creative “gourmet-to-go” options prepared in a full kitchen on the second floor. Tables are arranged in the central hall so patrons can dine in as well.

Original appearance of the Kentucky Theater
Original appearance of the Kentucky Theater.

At the back of the building, a round bar negotiates between the central hall and the new pavilion on the other side of a large glass window. The pavilion will be able to open large doors in warm weather to create an open-air atmosphere. It has its own HVAC system that will allow it to be fully heated in the winter. There’s also a separate wine bar that will feature a nitrogen system to keep bottles of wine on tap. This allows more obscure bottles of wine to be sold by the glass. The Theater Square Marketplace is perhaps the only place in Kentucky where you could buy packaged liquor at the front of the building and buy a glass of wine in the back.

With the vast array of retail uses found in the Theater Square Marketplace, it’s sure to offer a well rounded gourmet experience, and with many residential buildings like the Henry Clay or Crescent Center less than a block away and the Brown Hotel next door, it’s bound to fill a niche. When it opens tentatively in June, Fourth Street will be quite a bit more lively with the theater of urban life.

Branden Klayko

Founder and Editor at Broken Sidewalk
Branden is a writer and architectural designer living in Brooklyn. After graduating from the College of Architecture at Washington University in St. Louis, Branden practiced architecture in Louisville where he worked on several large LEED Certified buildings. Branden is the senior web editor at The Architect’s Newspaper, where he covers architecture, design, and urbanism. He has also written about design for Designers & Books, sustainability for Inhabitat, and architecture for the American Institute of Architects. He founded Broken Sidewalk in 2007, an online collaborative promoting architecture and urbanism in Louisville, Kentucky and the Midwest.

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