The block of Third Street between Muhammad Ali Boulevard and Guthrie Street in Downtown Louisville is a challenging one. On the east side, truly mixed-use cityscape presents itself a series of storefronts below offices and apartments. There’s even the Urban Design Studio on the block, anchoring the sidewalk-level tenants.
But on the other side of the street it’s a different story. On the west side, there’s no retail at all. In fact, two-thirds of the frontage is surface-level parking lots. The other third is a parking garage.
This wasn’t always the case, however. Decades ago, several unique two- and three-story structures lined the block, with this Chicago School–style building anchoring the corner of Third Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard, then Walnut Street (check out another historic view here). It was a simple, clean edifice that served its urban purpose well. An impressively tall first floor that would have allowed natural light to flood the interior spaces. These old photos show that among the retail on the block was Leeds Drug Store.
We don’t know all that much about the building’s history other than the architectural style suggests it was built in the 1920s or 1930s. If you have any additional info, please share it in the comments below.
After the building was demolished, it became a surface-level parking lot—a very pedestrian unfriendly parking lot. The paved surface was built right to the sidewalk edge with no separation, allowing cars to pull right up over the sidewalk to access parking spaces. The lot was recently repaved as part of the Embassy Suites conversion at the corner of Fourth Street and Muhammad Ali, and this curb jumping issue has been corrected by adding a landscaped buffer between the sidewalk and the lot.
A new problem emerges, however, as an access ramp to the underground parking at the Embassy Suites cuts right through the middle of the lot, seemingly cementing its future as an underutilized flat lot for decades to come by bisecting the small lot and making it difficult to build something there in the future.
In the spirit of Tactical Urbanism, however, I have always thought the parking lot could be used in the interim as a feed truck and food cart venue. The new lot still includes double-stacked parking spaces (two spaces lined up in a row so one car has to move to let the other get out). What if the landscaped buffer included pervious pavers, benches, and picnic tables while those landlocked parking spots closest to the sidewalk could be rented to food carts. You could fit a good density of food options on this tiny block and still maintain much of the existing parking. The proposal would also likely increase the revenue generated from the lot.
The idea comes from similar surface-level parking lot treatments I saw in Portland, Oregon (below). As you can see, the parking lot is completely masked by the foot carts and an impromptu urban edge is formed along what would otherwise be a void in Downtown. It also provides quite a bit of affordable retailing. Consider it a sort of food incubator where entrepreneurs can affordably test out their ideas before going full brick and mortar.