[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.”
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.