Nearly three-hundred feet of Main Street is in the process of being decked over by an unfortunate interstate highway expansion that is tearing at Downtown Louisville‘s urban fabric. A block east, however, Butchertown has been offered an urban-minded, mixed-use apartment development that could bring a needed infusion of density to the area—but with strings attached.
Nashville’s Bristol Development Group has proposed a seven-story building—called Main & Clay—containing ground floor retail with hundreds of apartments above on a half-block site bounded by East Main Street, Clay Street, and Washington Street. The building aims to get urban development right, but it’s presenting Louisville’s preservation community with its latest conundrum: four buildings would be torn down and their facades reused in the new development.
The Discovery of Downtown Louisville
“A lot of our work is urban infill type development,” Bristol CEO Charles Carlisle told Broken Sidewalk. “We’re usually drawn to downtowns and near downtowns.”
Carlisle’s company is currently working on an apartment building in the New Urbanist community Norton Commons called The Veranda (for more on that project, check this Business First report), but while his team was in town scouting out that project, they also took note of Downtown. “We started spending time there and looking for opportunities there,” Carlisle said. “We were struck by the quality of the jobs that are downtown, the quality of the amenities, museums, restaurants. Places like Nulu that are near downtown, the ballpark, the waterfront park. And so the next thing we realized is that there are not very many higher-density residential developments downtown that were rental.”
He noted there had been some residential projects at the time of the economic downturn, but those were predominantly condo developments. “We felt there was a place in the market for that, and here we are,” Carlisle said.
Nashville’s Boom can be Louisville’s Boom, Too
Bristol has been at the forefront of Nashville’s urban regeneration, which has been praised repeatedly in the national press, most recently by Next City in a piece subtitled, “Warning: This Story May Make You Want to Move to Nashville.” In early November, the Wall Street Journal praised Nashville for its redevelopment in the formerly-industrial Gulch neighborhood, including Bristol’s 424-unit Icon project: “The population of downtown Nashville nearly quadrupled to 7,685 between 2000 and 2014, compared with 21 percent growth citywide to about 659,000, according to the Nashville Downtown Partnership.”
Carlisle said Louisville could be the next Nashville success story. “When Nashville started its wave that we’re in the middle of now, there were a lot of people that didn’t have the vision that were naysayers or doubters,” Carlisle said. “But there aren’t that many differences between Nashville and Louisville in terms of potential in my mind. They’re both similar size, they both have good quality jobs in the downtown core, the both have strong university presences, they both have good airports. To us, we think Louisville has that same kind of potential.”
Clay & Main Packs a Serious Density Punch
The proposed development—designed by Nashville-based Smith Gee Studio—would include 260 rental apartments, predominantly one- and two-bedroom units, with some studios and three-bedroom units. Apartments would range from 550 square feet for a studio to 1,800 square feet. Amenities include an elevated private courtyard with a pool, outdoor kitchens, a pet spa and dog run, and tenant fitness center and lounge. An underground garage accessed from Clay Street would contain 380 parking spaces.
[pull_quote_center]The Butchertown Architectural Review Committee will discuss Main & Clay on December 10 at 6:30p.m. in room 101 of 444 South 5th Street.[/pull_quote_center]
Along the sidewalk, Main & Clay would include a minimum of 2,400 square feet of retail space at the corner of Clay and Main streets. According to documents filed with Metro Louisville, “The entire first floor of the Main Street side of the building is designed to be ‘flex space’ with storefront glass, wide sidewalks, lighting, and with an elevated ceiling height (15′) so that more space can convert to retail if demand exists.” If no tenants are found for that space, though, it will be fitted out as residential space that could potentially be converted to retail later.
Bristol said the facade of the 85-foot-tall structure is meant to give the effect of weaving materials—metal panels, Hardi panels, brick, and glass—with special attention paid to the pedestrian level streetscape. “The central design concept and theme for the design of Main & Clay is to create a tapestry of old forms and new forms,” Bristol’s documents also noted. “The design intent is to build upon the directives and goals of the Butchertown Neighborhood Plan as well as the guidelines of the Butchertown Preservation District.”
The Project’s Preservation Pickle
Plans were officially revealed to the public at a meeting on November 10, where the project met with a mix of support and criticism. Carlisle said he saw two groups offering feedback: residents and area business owners who for the most part supported the development and preservationists who were concerned about demolishing the four historic buildings on the site.
[pull_quote_right]The community has got to make a value decision whether this kind of urban residential development is needed and would override what I call ‘pure preservation,’ which means keeping these buildings fully intact.[/pull_quote_right]
“That’s a legitimate issue,” Carlisle told Broken Sidewalk. “We have worked really hard with the neighborhood, with the city, with other people we’ve talked to in the community to be respectful of the buildings that are currently on the site that are contributing structures. We’ve tried to be respectful of those [buildings] yet be able to accomplish what we think is a badly needed residential component in the near downtown area.”
“As I said at that meeting, the community has got to make a value decision whether this kind of urban residential development is needed and would override what I call ‘pure preservation,’ which means keeping these buildings fully intact,” Carlisle said. “That would make development of this piece of land extremely difficult if not impractical.”
The Main & Clay proposal calls for rebuilding three of the four existing facades into the new building and preserving the fourth facade in place. This technique is called “facadectomy” by many preservationists and is generally frowned upon as a last resort effort to save a structure. That approach is also discouraged by city guidelines. “What I have on my desk in front of me right now shows that four historic buildings will be demolished,” Robert Keesaer, Metro Louisville Urban Design Administrator, said. “That’s in conflict with the design guidelines.”
Carlisle said his company originally brought “a fairly typical urban mixed-use building” to the city before learning about the historic preservation guidelines in Butchertown. “In the early meetings with the city and community sources we learned we needed to be more mindful of these contributing structures,” Carlisle said.
“Essentially at street level, the first two stories would look much like the street looks today in terms of these building facades,” Carlisle said. “They step out prominently from the face of the taller building, at least four feet, and would be incorporated as entryways into our building.”
Carlisle said three of the four buildings have been substantially modified over the years and that his plan would restore the facades to how they looked in their prime. “On one, the facade was replaced with cinder block that was painted purple, which clearly doesn’t match,” he noted.
Community groups are drawing lines in the sand
Among the projects supporters is the Nulu Business Association, which sent a letter in favor of the project to the Butchertown Architectural Review Committee. According to Insider Louisville, the association said “the development will ‘establish critically needed density’ and ‘re-establish residential dwellings’ and a ‘retail foothold’ in the area. It commends Bristol for taking ‘into account the historic nature of Butchertown with its design and facade preservation.'”
Preservation Louisville Director Marianne Zickuhr was at the public meeting and told Broken Sidewalk in an email that she witnessed many strong opinions. “I went away wondering why Bristol Development kept speaking of preservation when they clearly planned to demolish four contributing structures to the Butchertown Preservation District,” Zickuhr wrote. She offered the following official statement from her organization:
Preservation Louisville is excited that Bristol Development has an interest in the Butchertown Preservation District for their project. We would like to see the project comply with the Metro Louisville Preservation Ordinance and the Butchertown Guidelines. The Butchertown neighborhood is great example of mixed use, and with the rich character of the neighborhood and its residents, is ripe for redevelopment. We hope Bristol Development listened to the many public concerns and revises their project with some creative approaches.
Butchertown Neighborhood Association president Andrew Cornelius declined to comment to Broken Sidewalk in advance of planned neighborhood meetings, but he told WDRB, “We hope this will be a catalyst for Main Street to go back to more commercial and residential instead of that sort-of light industrial use” currently on the site. He said the seven-story scale could present an obstacle for the project, but that underground parking could win some supporters.
We’ll know more soon
Carlisle said he will release more descriptive renderings of the project soon, so the public can get a better idea of the detail in the building’s facade. The only visuals released so far are elevations that give the building a flat and monolithic appearance. “The skin of the primary building does move in and out, and we have balconies in places, so it’s not just a plain one-dimensional building face,” Carlisle said.
On Wednesday, December 3, the Butchertown Neighborhood Association will meet to vote on a resolution whether or not to support the project, Cornelius told Broken Sidewalk. Later on December 10, the Butchertown Architectural Review Committee will officially gather to determine whether the project meets the neighborhood’s preservation guidelines. The ARC has historically taken a liberal stance compared to other preservation districts in Louisville as to what constitutes an appropriate addition to a historic neighborhood with approvals for several small modern infill projects such as the Franklin Flats. The Butchertown ARC meeting will take place on December 10 at 6:30p.m. in room 101 of 444 South 5th Street.