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What's This?

Maybe we should thank you for taking the facade first.

No beating around the bush or pretending. Tear it off quick, like a Band-Aid. Expose your intent and own it. Hand it over to outside developers who have the money to reduce our history to rubble. Or, enable wealthy businesspeople to hold the keys for years until the handcrafted doors and the well-made walls buckle and gasp under the fists of neglect. Then pull the plug: “It can’t be saved; it was too far gone.” Shrug.

When you try to raze it fast, you realize how strong it was beneath the peeling paint and the cracked plaster. These old, once-beloved buildings are hard to kill, so their mangled and butchered skeletons are a bit traumatizing to see. Let this be a lesson.

Louisville, with all its Southern charm and heart of compassion will prevail. We will get dressed up for Derby and extol our virtues to visitors. Our local pride will eclipse the daily stress we endure to make this city the best it can be. Our love for our home can’t be concealed.

Be assured that, while we smile and shake your hand, friend, we will be challenging you to fix this. We will be on our best behavior as the world descends on our city in the coming weeks. But those of us who live here—those who have spent their lives creating this city and loving this city and championing this city and investing what little we have in this city—we will ask you in the quieter moments: How will you do it differently next time? With whom will you collaborate? Which local voices will you bring to the table that you’ve avoided in the past? What difficult decisions will you make that prove outside interests won’t take precedence over Louisville citizens and our shared history?

We will wait for this dust to settle. We will be ready to work when (not if) you call us together to problem solve.

My friend was visiting me this weekend. He had never been to Louisville before. He was fascinated by all the building facades around town and asked, “At least they kept those, right?”

But it’s the structure behind the face that counts.

Louisville deserves better. Prove that you agree. Your actions speak louder than your words.

Bless your heart—you made a mistake. Now let’s fix it.

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16 COMMENTS

  1. I hate “Broken Sidewalk”… Such negativity. These buildings should have been taken down a long time ago. I lived in the Barrington from 2003 to 2007 and those buildings were empty then. Just because walls are standing, don’t mean water isn’t running in the buildings. Louisville does deserve better than horrible articles written by people who seem to not even live in Louisville. The city does deserve better and is getting better… The Omni hotel = better.

  2. Douglas

    I like where you are coming from. Where are these preservationist when we stare at the same eye-sore of a building year-in and year-out? They sit there idle, with no plans or propositions to improve the forsaken block. And its funny, somehow “anonymous” donors pop-up out of nowhere to offer funds for feasibility studies and the like. Instead of feeding the machine, lets just build a new one. Take those funds and be proactive in rehabbing other buildings with historic importance. Believe me, we aren’t running out of them any time soon.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am all for taking the old and rehabbing it into something new; but these preservationists pop up out of the woodwork when any company even offers the idea of replacing the worn out buildings with new and efficient architecture. Its like they would rather look at a pile of crap for blocks, then see anything new and inventive come to the neighborhood. I think of the example in Butchertown as well. The opportunity has been there for decades now to rehabilitate the same property that is being raised for new apartments. Quit waiting for something good to happen to speak up!

    I think of Gill Holland as a great example of someone who appreciates the the historical aspect, and instead of being a red-tape yuppie, decides to get in the mud and use his resources to do good for the architecture AND the city (it can be done).

    Lastly, I am cautiously optimistic with what the Omni offers. The direct investment into the city is a plus in and of itself. Now, the question begs to be asked: how will this building will interact with the streetscape? I look over the liberty street intersection the The Marriott and I see a building that does not interact at the street level one bit. I hope the Omni finds the value in offering retail and mixed-use amenities for foot traffic. please…

    Jon C

  3. Douglas, you need to think about the bigger picture. Not your four years living downtown. Think about the past 40 years instead. Or better yet, 80 years. How do you think all those surface parking lots came to be? All those vast expanses in the name of 20th century “urban renewal”? A century or more of history tells us that to take it on good faith that the city and the Omni will just build something “better” is naivete of the highest order. Obviously whether downtown improves as a result of the whole project will ultimately boil down to the details of the Omni plan. But if this article demonstrates any bitterness or negativity, that is undoubtedly the direct result of the fact that the crushing of these facades came in the middle of negotiations with preservationists about the remaining structures on the property. The response to those preservationists was a literal wrecking ball — starting with the facades themselves. Your attitude would more likely lead to suburban-designed Wal-Marts on 3rd street. And wouldn’t that be lovely.

  4. It’s hard to argue that this isn’t an improvement on the site. Those former buildings truely have character, but developing the rest of the block should be an improvement. It’s far from certain that a grocery store will open at this location, but if one does it would really add to the city. I’d rather see a building on the block instead of a parking lot.

    However, it should also be said that this is crony capitalism at it’s best and is a terrible waste of resources. The city is affectively buying jobs for $500,000.00 each! If each one of those jobs pays $50,000 a year it will take the city 335 years to make that up in wage taxes. 335! There will be some additional revenue from the apartments in the building but I imagine this is project will take decades if not longer (or never) for the city to see a return on investment.

    The city is providing a massive subsidy that could have been used to make the city better than another large hotel would have. If the city really wanted residents downtown, why not build 6,000 high end townhomes in downtown and sell them to out of the area college educated people for half of what they are worth if those they sell to sign an agreement to work in Louisville for the next 15 years? That would increase the tax base and improve the city far more than this.

    For the amount of money subsidizing a corporation that’s not local, the city could build 7.1 miles of high quality, grade seperated light rail. Just to put into perspective what that would mean, the city could choose any 2 of these routes to build.

    – Downtown to Bellermine on Bardstown Road
    – Downtown to Churchill Downs
    – Portland to NULU on Main Street
    – UofL to Bardstown Road on Eastern Parkway
    – West Louisville to Bardstown Road on Broadway

    Of the city could build 11,000 miles of protected bike lanes. That’s over 50% of how many are in the entire country of the Netherlands!

    Instead the city “potentially” gets a grocery store downtown, a few high end apartments, and increased hotel beds which probably would have been built anyway (even if it wouldn’t have been “diamond”). Shows you the city’s priorities.

  5. 615-621 W Main St.

    Four old buildings that were falling down through years of neglect. Four old buildings that “nobody cared about” until they were slated to be torn down for Museum Plaza, and then those pesky Broken Sidewalk preservationists “came out of the woodwork” to complain and impede progress. Four old buildings that were finally torn down so something new and better could be built, even if we did have to throw the preservationists a bone by propping up the facades.

    Four old buildings that are gone forever, torn out for the sake of lies and broken promises, because Museum Plaza never happened.

    Doug, Jon, when this is the track record that Louisville has, why are you suprised that people push back in situations like this?

  6. Preservationists are always around. We/they don’t just come out of the woodwork when discussion about tearing down an old building arises. It’s just that when conversation about tearing down old structures ensues that the sentiment of preservationists enters public discourse.

  7. Jeff

    No doubt Museum Plaza was a colossal failure for investors and the community. No one can anticipate the events that transpired in 2008. Financing froze for everyone, and Museum Plaza felt it the worst, and here we are 6 years later with still the same baron facades. Great example of crony capitalism causing more harm then good. If a recession like 2008 were to hit tomorrow and Omni were to back out on the deal, we would certainly say it was an unfortunate mistake tearing down those buildings.

    My complaint is, why don’t the preservationist identify properties like 615-621 w Main St, properties that hold historical and architectural significance (but need a face lift), and work to be proactive in improving those buildings? That’s why I refer to Gill Holland and the Brown family in such positive light. The people behind 21c (Brown family) are also the same people behind Whiskey Row improvements. Those are two great examples of preservationist being proactive in the community, not just complaining over the next building to be torn down. But lets not forget, the people behind 21c and Whiskey Row were also the same people behind Museum Plaza. We need more people like that, the people who not only love the history of Louisville’s architecture, but want to restore, improve, and (when necessary) tear down and build new.

    I like the dialogue this article has got going, we need more of these…

    Jon C

  8. We are, unfortunately, engaging in an arms race with Nashville, Indy, Cincy, etc. We are willing to close our Convention Center for 2 years to add 50,000 additional contiguous square feet of space. Of course, this will not be enough 5 years from now. These are the terms of Omni–if you want us, you’ll comply to our demands.

    The downtown development taking shape–including NuLu and the riverfront–is, generally speaking, rather impressive. We are talking bourbon distilleries, Whiskey Row revival, Market St street scaping, apartment and condo towers at towhead on the river, historic (Embassy Suites) and boutique (Hilton Gardens) hôtels, etc. This is all good,and seems to have cohesion.

    It is clear that the city and surrounding area is on an upward trajectory. The key is to keep it “weird!”

  9. Far from “negativity”, Broken Sidewalk continues to bring more thought and kindness than the situation merits. “Defaced” is a nicely written article and a reasonable assessment.

    Jon C. and Doug, preservationists didn’t just pop out of the woodwork. While you were pondering “eyesores”, preservationists of every sort–local entrepreneurs, neighborhood groups, former Metro planners, advocacy organizations, architects, etc. were volunteering time and meager resources to acquire and protect vulnerable properties Metro-wide. Kevin and Matt raise the real issues: cronyism, lack of support for locals and the commitment to unsuccessful strategies-despite an appalling failure rate for 40 years. The current and past administration have demonstrated that businessmen do not understand cities will waste immense resources to circumvent the codes protecting the public. By the time the wrecking crew and press arrive, “preservationists” have written emails, been ignored by the Mayor, been ridiculed by developers and rebuffed by BOZA, the Planning Commission and Landmarks. Idle? Get real.

    To the Jeff who thinks “The people behind 21c (Brown family) are also the same people behind Whiskey Row improvements. Those are two great examples of preservationist being proactive in the community…” It was the grassroots preservationists who led the “proactive” charge on Whiskey Row–holding community meetings, sitting down with the Mayor, collecting petitions signatures on Main Street and beyond. NPP, Preservation Louisville, OPEN, members of the Louisville Historical League and many others hit the pavement long before the Browns and others arrived with resources. “Preservationists”, you see, are a more diverse, inclusive and multi-faceted tribe than you imagine.

    21C? NPP loves it! The avenue of façades? Not so much. We wholeheartedly applaud Gil Holland’s work, but preservation activity extends far beyond what most think. It was the Preservation Alliance that secured West Main Street’s future with district protection in the 1970’s. More recently, Floyd’s Fork grassroots preservationists tried to protect historic structures from “The Louisville Loop”. For some years, “preservationists” have been in the California neighborhood re-using industrial spaces and re-purposing Nelligan Hall in Portland. It was grassroots efforts that reclaimed the Bardstown Road area, Old Louisville, Butchertown and East Market Street Districts, which were nearly slums just decades ago. In 2004, it was Russell area preservationists who collected signatures to establish a preservation district– only to be challenged by Metro’s draconian fees and requirements established to deter poorer neighborhoods. About the same time, Clifton preservationists were transforming a forgotten jewel into the enclave of desirable homes and shops it is today.

    Box stores or high rises didn’t bring success. Preservation minded homesteaders & local developers and people working with little—if any Metro incentive did this. Now Metro undermines the enjoyment they rightfully deserve to court Chicago and Baltimore developers with public dollars we can ill afford to waste.

    So, to those trashing Broken Sidewalk, “anonymous donors” and preservationists, we suggest that it is too complex to fathom staring down from The Barrington. And we won’t ask –Jon or Doug—where they were while Metro blatantly committed “demolition by neglect” on 3rd street. We won’t discuss the hypocrisy of Metro fining homeowners for a missing windowpane, while allowing an entire city block to rot. How DID Metro scrounged up $380,000 dollars to destroy rather than repair or at least stabilize? We will let that go…

    This we know: after a half century of notable downtown demolitions (e.g. Wills Sales Building, The Board of Trade, The Commonwealth Bldg. the Weissinger Gaulbert, Rialto Theater, Tyler Block, etc.) to accommodate the latest “progress” initiative (e.g., 4th Street Mall, The Galleria, Fourth Street Live, Theater Square, Cordish, the new Hyatt, the new Marriott, Providian on Broadway, etc.)….Louisville has consistently lost more than it has gained.

    Heck, at certain times, many Louisvillians aren’t allowed entry to 4th Street because it “belongs to Cordish”. We won’t broach THAT for now, but, please don’t declare an improved downtown based on foot traffic en route to alcohol and chain restaurants.

    This is what we do have: an oppressively bland convention center that now requires remodeling, no downtown shopping,& local businesses– like Rodes– forced out. Empty office/retail/residential spaces abound—along with minimum wage jobs and parking. This is shallow recompense for Metro taxpayers who have footed the bill for every downtown development craze since the 70’s. Sigh…..

    Gentlemen, you ask where preservationist have been? Clearly, in places you were not. We respectfully modify the equation The Omni=Better with The Omni= More of the Same: a few profit greatly, but Louisville overall loses again.

  10. I have been around long enough to remember that the “original” agreement with Fourth Street Live was that the street would remain open to traffic and public pass-through unless there was a “special event” – that quickly morphed into Cordish controlling it every night. I still believe that is illegal – unless the street is legally closed – and as far as I know, it has not been – Cordish should have to separately justify and permit EVERY TIME it wants to deny access. As for the condition of the building in question – even taking the cluster on Third Street out of the equation, no one can argue with a straight face that the PARC building isn’t a perfectly good, maintained, fairly recent renovated and unique structure – that shouldn’t be torn down simply for convenience. I want to know, who SIGNED this “development agreement” that requires the demolition of all structures on the entire site? Whose name is at the bottom of the document?

  11. Just so we can be clear on how much the tax[auers are on the hook for this project: From the louisvileky.gov website: “Fischer said the project is a public-private partnership with Omni paying 52% of the development costs ($150 million) and the city and state providing 48% ($139 million), which includes a rebate of taxes generated by the project, $17 million for a parking garage to be constructed and owned by the Parking Authority of River City (PARC) and $17 million, the value of the land.”

    Personally, I think that a financial commitment like this should be put to a referendum… see if it gets funded if we actually get to vote on it.

  12. @ NPP

    Thanks for all the info. You are right, I did not know all of those great things going on. But please, know I do a support preservationism, but I wish we could find a way to be proactive about it (myself included). It would be great to have more centralized support that allows those of us “out of the loop” to get more involved.

    Jon c

  13. Keith Runyon weighs in on “100% Corner.” This particular corner retains 3/4 of its historically and architecturally significant structures. A draw for many to this area seems to be the stability lent by the preservation and adaptive reuse of the architectural assets already present, not a slash and burn program that levels anything older than 50 years. http://wfpl.org/resurgence-fourth-muhammad-ali/

  14. Dialogue! Damn it. I skimmed some of the discussion within this thread, focused on some of the other contributions. I am really trying to conceptualize all of the amazing feedback yet received on Louisville’s most encompassing urban design dot com forum. So glad that Broken Sidewalk is back.

  15. Thanks for the insightful and respectful comments, everyone! A couple of opportunities to let your voice be heard about this project:
    > Sign this petition requesting that Omni preserve the Odd Fellows Hall and Water Company Buildings: http://chn.ge/1DG50xi
    > Attend tomorrow’s Project Outreach and Information Session hosted by Omni: http://bit.ly/1aMcMv5 (5:30-7:30p at the Downtown Marriott)
    Please share!

  16. I understand some buildings have to go, the thing is- I’ve said it before, they are trying to stuff whatever they can in to the small space, that is the city. Honestly.the city itself, could probably be expanded west a few blocks, and what would be nice is some underground parking, the lots are useless, the structures just aren’t enough. I didn’t like them tearing Morrisey down, for who knows what, the space is so small, unless whatever they build looks like Wayside School, whats gonna fit?

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