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[quote_center]“So it goes.”
—Kurt Vonnegut[/quote_center]

It’s been a rough year for localism in Louisville. March witnessed the final days of Wild & Wooly Video and the selling of Louisville Slugger to Wilson Sporting Goods. Even now, at the time of writing, Humana—one of the heaviest economic anchors in the city—is considering a sale to a bevy of potential buyers, including Aetna, Cigna, and Goldman Sachs.

(Diane Deaton Street)
(Diane Deaton Street)

Next up on the butcher’s table are the city-owned remnants of the historic Water Company Block, and on that block were some of the state’s oldest and most unique structures: the Falls City Theatre Equipment Company building, the Kentucky Typewriter building, and the Morrissey Parking Garage.

In its footprint will be a 30-story Omni hotel, full of luxury apartments, high-end retail, and other amenities that will be generally inaccessible to residents currently living in the Central Business District.

With Omni footing only 51 percent of the total $300 million project cost, the corporate interests at play have taken a knee just an inch over the 50-yard line of fiscal accountability. Using buzzwords like “world-class” and “upscale,” this strategy is an attempt to obfuscate the obvious: this is a taxpayer-funded endeavor filled with promises of bright lights, tall buildings, new jobs, and good times, all at the expense of our cultural integrity and sense of place.

As early as 2014, sources reported the state of Kentucky would be contributing $90.5 million toward the project via tax rebates, with Louisville throwing in an additional $35.5 million—$17 million of which includes the value of the land.

Since then, this development has been about as transparent as the door on a bank vault, but never invisible from the public eye.

(Courtesy UL Archives - Reference)
(Courtesy UL Archives – Reference)

Like the West End Walmart deal, Metro Louisville allowed out-of-state developers to get exactly what they wanted, in spite of public outcry and city regulatory codes that it violated. However, unlike the West End Walmart deal, neither Omni nor Metro even bothered putting up the facade of a public forum.

In fact, when Metro officials announced the immediate destruction of the buildings, they cited inspections by Metro Louisville’s Division of Construction Review and private structural engineers. However, reports revealed that nobody—not a single engineer or city official—ever produced a full report on the structural soundness of the Morrissey Garage before the hasty demolition. Like a teenager trying desperately to cover up the damage to his parents’ car, Metro even went so far as to cover the $360,000 cost of demolition.

(Courtesy UL Archives - Reference)
The old Water Company Building could still be saved. (Courtesy UL Archives – Reference)

It wasn’t until after the Morrissey Garage was completely leveled that Mayor Greg Fischer publicly announced his plans to salvage some, if not all, of the Water Company building on Third Street.

However, after gathering audio interviews from downtown pedestrians, the opinion of the public seems split in half. One side claims that, no matter whose fault this is, the structures were underutilized, ignored, and in a state of disrepair. The other side seems to believe that with even the slightest little bit of political will, we could have saved these buildings and recovered what little local history we have left.

So it goes.

[Top image: Detail of the Morrisey Garage under demolition. Courtesy Debra Richards Harlan.]
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Elijah McKenzie

Elijah McKenzie

Elijah has called Louisville his home since moving here in 2006. He earned a BA degree in Communication and Anthropology from the University of Louisville, and has since worked as a filmmaker, teacher, gardener, journalist, and graphic designer. His hobbies include not owning a car and camping. Follow him on the Twitter dot com at @hulloweliyah.
Elijah McKenzie

2 COMMENTS

  1. Once again Metro government has done what they wanted to do instead of what’s in the best interest of the taxpayers! They have in the past and continue to operate on the basis of its better to ask forgiveness later than permission first. This is an especially good method for them considering it without forgiveness they don’t get in trouble.

    The mayors proposal for moving the water company building is a complete joke! The million dollars the city is contributing is a proverbial drop in the bucket compared to what it would take to move the building. The city can give the Omni project $132 million of taxpayers money without blinking an eye when in reality the developers can well afford to pay for the entire project out of their pockets. Anyone who is interested in moving the water company building is not going to have the resources available to them to undertake the project especially in the short timeframe that is being allowed.

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