Rendering of Bristol's Main & Clay development. (Courtesy Bristol Development)
Rendering of Bristol's Main & Clay development. (Courtesy Bristol Development)
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[Update: The Butchertown ARC voted Wednesday night to approve the Main & Clay development. The final tally came to four in favor, one against, with one abstention.]

Right about now, the Butchertown Architectural Review Committee (ARC) is convening at the Metro Development Center at 444 South 5th Street. The sole item on the panels agenda: Bristol Development Group’s proposed 7-story, 260-apartment Main & Clay project that needs the ARC’s approval to move forward.

We already reported all the nitty-gritty development details over here, well worth a read, but the crux of the debate about the building involves the demolition of four, two-story buildings of varying degrees of historic significance. Bristol CEO Charles Carlisle said his plan would rebuild the facades of those buildings into the base of the new building, but preservationists rightly alarmed at the growing trend of “facadification” of Downtown Louisville (think Whiskey Row, the ReSurfaced site, etc.) have opposed the project.

Carlisle has made it clear that Main & Clay likely couldn’t move forward if those buildings are kept in place. “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 told Broken Sidewalk. “That would make development of this piece of land extremely difficult if not impractical.”

Rendering of Bristol's Main & Clay development. (Courtesy Bristol Development)
Rendering of Bristol’s Main & Clay development from Washington Street. (Courtesy Bristol Development)

Butchertown is one of a handful of Landmarks districts in Louisville and the Main & Clay development falls within its boundaries, meaning the project goes against the neighborhood development guidelines. The ARC could easily oppose the project on those preservation grounds, but I hope, in this specific case, that the project moves forward.

Butchertown and Nulu seem to have answered the long-time urban development riddle: what comes first, the retail or the housing. Here, retail has been abundant along East Market Street and some side streets, but housing has been slow to trickle in. Sure, there have been a few developments over the years—notably the Fleur-de-Lis on Main or the Soho Lofts at the other end of Main—but overall the lack of dense housing has been a challenge for the continued growth of both Butchertown and Nulu.

Ironically, the lack of preservation is among the culprits for this dearth of easily rehabbed building stock that could have created more residential units. At Main & Clay, however, I believe the benefits outweigh the loss. Three buildings—two historic storefront buildings and an exceedingly rare townhouse—are the big losses here, but their placement on an awkward block next to a major highway bring challenges of their own.

Main & Clay represents an opportunity to jumpstart urban living in Louisville’s core with hundreds of rental units that are more approachable to Millennials than luxury condos nearby. It’s location where Downtown, Butchertown, and Nulu meet is also ideally suited for such a project. If this project fails, it will be years before any meaningful development occurs again on this block, and the continuity of the city’s urban fabric will be worse off for it.

I am not alone in wishing this project to move forward. The Nulu Business Association has already issued its support for the project, noting that it will “establish critically needed density” in the area. On December 3, the Butchertown Neighborhood Association (BNA) also passed a resolution in favor of Main & Clay. Here’s an excerpt from that decision:

Section 1: BNA expresses its support for the proposed development and encourages its approval by all relevant regulatory authorities, subject to the policy set forth in Section 3 below.

Section 2: BNA encourages the Butchertown Architectural Review Committee to approve the proposed development plan at its meeting of December 10, 2014.

Section 3: BNA encourages the Louisville Metro Department of Codes & Regulations to adopt policies designed to ensure that no permits authorizing the demolition of existing structures in connection with new construction projects are approved until after an applicant has identified non-contingent capital commitments sufficient to fund completion of the entire project.

Essentially, Bristol will not be able to tear anything down until financing has been secured in full, a stipulation that should have been put in place city-wide years ago. Such a rule would have saved several buildings on Main and Market streets where Jefferson Development Group once planned a pair of office towers at the site of the historically-significant former D&W Silks building.

In a perfect world, I might add two additional contingencies: that the building’s Main Street frontage is guaranteed to be retail space and that the developer consider the expense of moving the townhouse to an empty lot nearby. Overall, however, Main & Clay should move forward and I urge the Butchertown ARC to approve the development.

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8 COMMENTS

  1. It’s poor design, it’s a failure against the very guidelines Butchertown set in place to prevent this kind of 1970’s approach and monolithic presence that has no relationship to either East Market or Butchertown. Beware cheap fast easy fixes to far more delicate issues. If its so good do exactly the same with the 600-800 blocks of east market and paste on rare 1840’s facades and jumbled bits of buildings, maybe even top it with a church steeple……voila ! Facadomy…….and an overly dense (yes) self contained oasis of where the heck am I anyway, Birmingham?? Stunning views of a block long storage tank butler building and carcinogenic wafts of xway fumes . All in a sterilized exterior they can likely turn into a hotel because that’s what it looks like. The entire purpose of design review is to achieve stunning contextual infill instead of mundane, woven into the existing character of the neighborhood, and hopefully in a green, visionary, thoughtful, sustainable way. This is a sad blunder and a third rate approach. Bye local.

  2. Sorry, Broken Sidewalk, we disagree on this one. The problem extends beyond the preservation guidelines. This community is suffering under the weight of a surplus of “upscale” development (planned and extant), targeting an affluent population yet to appear in Louisville. Current market needs are not being met. Meanwhile, the locals are struggling to find “affordable” real estate for homes and small businesses. We are not talking Section 8, we are talking families and young professionals that have to work an extra job, do without essentials or coast on credit cards to afford a home. Reasonable rentals are very hard to find and much upscale space sits empty. Piece by piece, Louisville is being sold off to the highest bidders from out -of town–who are fostering the demographic separation that is the antithesis of a healthy neighborhood. Robust communities have a range of income levels and offerings that attract a diverse array of dwellers and local businesses. This will not happen with this development. All that aside, tonight the ARC, ignoring the staff recommendation and it’s own rules, voted (5-1)– strictly according to the specious claims of economic development. This is outside their purview and another blaring example of why KY ranks among the most corrupt states in the country. When a developer can counter their scale concerns by the height of nearby church steeples, when they can coast to approval by feigning respect for Butchertown’s “historic” “language” through comical façade use and the promise to re-use bricks that survive demolition…..we are indeed immersed in crony economics. We are just glad Jim Segrest, our co-founder and the major reason Butchertown is such a desirable neighborhood today, was not present to see Butchertown and what was once the East Market District cave to Nashville developers. It is a sad commentary for the work he and others did decades ago– laying the foundation for vibrant neighborhoods that are now being sacrificed to the profit agenda of speculators, rather than meeting community needs and standards.

  3. What a contrast in the above (agreeing) comments! I don’t really know enough about the project to make a strong stand, though if pressed I would probably side with preservation over what’s presented.

    To Debra’s point (a valid complaint-within-a-complaint): “Stunning views of a block long storage tank butler building and carcinogenic wafts of xway fumes” But what do you propose? The industrial buildings and expressway, it could be argued, represent lost battles and/or failures on the part of preservationists-past. And they are unrelated to opposition of this proposal. In fact, the construction and success of this project would possibly be one of the best methods of mitigating or eventually removing eyesores/obsolete zoning. Put another way, what does the current site do to challenge the status quo of the storage tank building or the highway? This project–love it or hate it (and I’m a long way from loving it!)–would plant more social capital in the area. Definitely more than its current use/condition.

    To NP&P, I agree that “Reasonable rentals are very hard to find and much upscale space sits empty. Piece by piece, Louisville is being sold off to the highest bidders from out -of town–who are fostering the demographic separation that is the antithesis of a healthy neighborhood. Robust communities have a range of income levels and offerings that attract a diverse array of dwellers and local businesses”. You don’t broach the subject so I don’t know where you stand, but I think the majority of the blame for ‘fostering demographic separation’ in the area, which I agree is unhealthy, lies at the feet of a Mr. Gill Holland. He obviously has a (demonstrated) better respect for historic preservation and makes sincere nods toward some philanthropy. But make no mistake: he targets the affluent, he is the original ‘highest bidder from out-of-town’ (hell, he kicked off the auction!), and–at least I believe–he truly began the demographic separation of this area. Which, you’re correct, leads straight to withering vibrancy. Sure, relatively affluent individual home/business owners wishing for and promoting change were present before Holland. But the scale and speed of the Holland makeover (he got naming rights for Christ’s sake!) has left us with the current state: over-eager, deep-pocketed, out-of-town developers wanting to throw up whatever they can.

    So, again, I just don’t know. I’m for progress AND preservation. This probably represents progress, albeit with questions of legitimacy and longevity. This definitely does not represent preservation. But with “economic development” embodying most of what East Market now represents, it fits in spirit at least. :-/

  4. I’m confused… Sorry for my ignorance but what are we trying to preserve here? A modern wholesale warehouse with a roll-up security door? Some run down original storefronts that have been modified and changed to death over their lifetime? The ice plant that the wind could have knocked over? I’ll buy the townhome argument but previous coverage seemed to indicate it was more than a facade preservation…

    I don’t see preservation as a viable option here. The property values are to high to justify low density mixed use plus the cost to do so would bear almost no return. So it seems to me the property stays status quo (which does that really contribute to the revitalization of the area) or it is developed with high density mixed-use and provides and economic boost to more development (including renovations).

    I wish it was a local developer, but I’d rather have a company that actually builds something opposed to jerking around for years on end with no really backing. The company seems to have built a lot of multi-family, so I hope this is truly mixed-use and doesn’t just become the rental office on the corner, but I think this is a big win for Butchertown.

  5. @ George T

    I’d concede that the preservation argued-over in this instance is not a runaway example of classic/heritage/community-fabric against an obviously regressive project. This is not, say, tearing down the Edison House for a small parking lot. But, even though the current site may not present the best current use or a high historical/cultural bar, once it’s gone, it’s gone. Which may be the way to go if the planned replacement sets its own high bar. Some people are probably preservationists for preservation’s sake and some probably just don’t like the proposal. Personally, I hate to see any old building torn down, but I dislike characterless replacements advancing economic stratifiaction even more.

    I must say – it strikes me as too high end which I oppose for the diversity/vibrancy loss/runaway-gentrification/economic-development-over-any-sense-of-place reasons in the above comments. I think a project at that corner (even involving a good deal of destruction of the buildings) COULD be a big win for Butchertown. And history may even prove this particular one to be an overall win for Butchertown. But I am not at all convinced at this point that this one is surely a big win.

  6. @Jeremy M,
    I’m confused about your Gill Holland scenario. How is he the “highest bidder from out-of-town”? It’s my understanding that ALL of the investors involved in the transformation of East Market and Portland are local.

    And to be clear… Mr Holland was not given “naming rights” for NuLu. He thought of the name, told the East Market Business Association that they could use the name if they wanted. I know, I was there.

  7. @Gene

    I’m not so parochial as to be fundamentally opposed to investments from “out-of-town”, be they faceless corporations or individual newcomers who plant real roots in town (Holland being of the latter), so long as their motives are pure and fit with the town. With respect to the subject project, I have no objections at all that the developer is from Nashville or wherever (local would have been my preference but no one local seems to be making a pitch for that site). Likewise, I don’t care that Gill Holland wasn’t born and raised in Louisville. But to say that ALL the investors involed in the transformation of East Market and Portland are local implies that is has been organic, homegrown, and with Louisville money when in fact much of the vision, impetus, and money is due to Holland. And he is due much credit for a great deal of good work, but he IS from out-of-town. If it were just local yokels who suddenly had the idea and latent money to spiff up East Market, it wouldn’t be Nu(new)Lu. It would probably be East Market.

    And while what has been done has great appeal, is no doubt cool, and an objective improvement over what was, the hard-to-pin-down demographic/income/diversity of healthy neighborhoods alluded to by NP&P is suffering under the weight of all this investment. I’m all for progress and steady rising tides, but East Market has been a flood – and many (and not just unsavories) have been either washed away or priced-out henceforth. The overall outcome is not my beef – it is the headspinning speed with which it has been executed.

    “Naming rights” was a slight, humorous exaggeration (mostly in the hyperbolic spirit of Debra’s comment). But (I’ll always think anyway) the exaggeration is only slight.

  8. From nearly the beginning of the Holland/NuLu era on East Market, there were some claiming gentrification. As the name above the unfortunate title, there was much laid at his feet — some fairly, some unfairly. I often defended against those claims based on two ideas: The first is that there’s simply not enough pressure on the Louisville real estate market for gentrification to be a primary concern. The second was that what was happening was mostly small, locally owned businesses moving into pre-existing buildings and spaces in a neighborhood commercial area well built for that purpose. The reality over the years, though, is that most of those businesses were never particularly aimed at neighborhood residents and really haven’t served their needs well. All these years in, people who live within easy walking distance still regularly drive out of the neighborhoods to shop for daily needs. Many others drive in for entertainment purposes. It’s functionally been the opposite of sustainable; more strip mall than community center. Now that the mismatch has become more clear, the move is on not to adjust the level and types of businesses present to better fit the area or even to rearrange some of them into other neighborhoods were more basic shopping and services are badly needed, Rather, the intent is to begin fundamentally changing the residential makeup of the neighborhood to prop up retail and the like. This project is a very real step toward gentrification aimed squarely at advancing not more sustainable living but an increase in consumerism that has little to do with the neighborhood where it’s located.

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