A couple years ago, walking down Washington Street in Butchertown led you past unkempt empty lots, a handful of historic structures, and a blank warehouses, and a metal scrapyard filled to the brim with garbage. You still get that same look today, with one major change.
Enter Melanie Miller and Casey Hyland, owners of Hyland Glass. The couple purchased the scrap yard property at 721 East Washington and converted it into a glass blowing studio and gallery space. Their previous home on Main Street was being demolished to make way for a large-scale apartment complex, the Main & Clay.
After thoroughly cleaning up the site, architect Jeff Rawlins of nearby Architectural Artisans designed a new basketweave facade for an existing metal warehouse. It’s been a prize for the neighborhood since it opened in fall of 2015.
But as they’ve settles in, Miller and Hyland have been pondering what to do with a grassy front yard in front of their building. “We thought we would build a house there and live in it,” Miller told Broken Sidewalk. “That’s every artist’s dream.”
Rawlins drew up a modern home that was convertible to other uses over time. “We could live in it as our house if we wanted or it was easily converted into a commercial office,” Miller said. “It was already approved and it’s ready to go if we want.”
But as time passed and the idea grew more real in their minds, Miller and Hyland began to get serious about how their property could support the arts in Butchertown. “We’re sitting on this pretty awesome piece of property in Butchertown,” Miller said. “We decided it should be an income generator to be able to continue as artists.”
“A lot of the reason we’re able to sustain [our business] is that we own our building,” Miller said. “Somehow we were fortunate enough to land this piece of property. A revenue stream would be great. If we could develop the site respectfully and have great tenants that support the arts, then yes, of course, we’d like to see that.”
“We learned there’s a shortage of commercial office space in the Butchertown / Nulu area,” she continued. With the house on hold, Miller and Hyland looked to the larger, eastern side of their yard as a building site. They envision a new structure with a small retail store and offices on upper floors.
Miller said the current zoning allows them to build up to four stories on the front lot. “We’re the only section on eastern side that’s [zoned] commercial,” she explained.
“We are in this commercial weird world,” Miller said. There’s a couple rowhouses to the west of the site split up into apartments and the Thomas Edison House is across a parking lot to the east. But on the south side, parking lots and faceless modern warehouses dominate the streetscape. And with Main & Clay quickly rising, the scale of the area is changing as well.
“We want it to facilitate a walkable neighborhood,” Miller said. That means finding the right tenants for the space. That means there could be a gallery, a professional office, a shop, or even a juice bar. “It could even be a laundromat. I’d love to have a laundromat near here,” Miller said. But Miller was adamant that a restaurant wouldn’t work. Butchertown’s floodwall cuts off alley access and trash and grease from such an operation would litter the sidewalk.
There has been interest and support for the project, but Miller noted that everyone knows this is still in the conceptual phase. Ideas generated so far include a holistic doctors office, an space for private music lessons, and offices for a digital agency. “Nothing concrete,” she said. “Most people are just interested in the project moving forward. The neighborhood seems to want it.”
Miller and Hyland haven’t begun work with an architect, but are deep into brainstorming what their building could look like. (Hyland holds an a degree in architecture from Washington University in St. Louis.) “We’re definitely going to keep the building as historically sensitive as possible,” Miller said. “That means brick, of course.” Any new structure, she said, would also conform to the existing street setback of the houses on the block. Miller noted how she loves the historic storefronts in the neighborhood.
The couple is also considering the possibility of moving a threatened farmhouse on Wolf Pen Branch Road to the smaller western lot. The Kentucky Trust for Historic Preservation is seeking a new site for the circa-1870 Hoke House being displaced by a subdivision. And based on our crude to-scale map overlay, it looks like it could fit on the site.
“A townhouse form, this house was built in an Italianate style of the period, though adapted in a vernacular farm house form,” the Kentucky Trust wrote of the Hoke House on its website. “Originally four rooms, a later kitchen addition was added to the main house. Though uninhabited for many years, the house is in good shape.”
“Within the next year we want to capitalize on the property,” Miller said. She and Hyland are awaiting the opening of the Main & Clay apartments at the corner to open up to see how the neighborhood dynamic changes. “In a perfect world, I’d love this time next year to be breaking ground,” she said.
But like all real estate projects, the Hyland Glass expansion will come down to financing. “For us, it’s going to come to getting back to the bank to see if we have enough money,” Miller said. Right now, they’re trying to drum up interest and find out if their project is viable.
But Miller is optimistic that Butchertown is ready. “There seems to be a lot going on and time is right,” she said. “The whole neighborhood is just moving pretty quickly.”