Whiskey Row is coming back to life. Brown-Forman announced today that it will renovate two buildings on Louisville’s Whiskey Row section of West Main Street, which was nearly demolished just a few years ago. Two brick and cast-iron former bourbon warehouses built in the 1850s at 117–119 West Main Street will be converted into a $30 million visitors center and an active distillery for Old Forester bourbon.
The distillery will be designed by local architecture firm, Bravura, located just around the corner on Washington and First streets. It will include fermentation, distilling, barrel making, filling and dumping, and bottling operations at the Main Street site, and is expected to allow for a doubling of current Old Forester production capacity. The visitors experience—representing the Old Forester brand with tasting rooms, exhibits, and events spaces—will be designed by Imagination design firm. The facility will cover some 55,000 square feet with a sidewalk frontage of over 50 feet.
Brown-Forman is no stranger to good design. In the 1970s, the company brought in renowned Chicago architect, Harry Weese, to design their Dixie Highway headquarters inside another bourbon warehouse, and more recently, hired Robert A.M. Stern to design offices at West Main and Seventh streets. Last year, a group of investors, including Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson who stepped up to save the buildings, brought New York–based Deborah Berke Architects—the designers of Brown and Wilson’s growing 21c franchise—in to tour the Whiskey Row properties. Berke’s office said they are not working on any project along Whiskey Row at the moment.
Whiskey Row gets its name from an estimated 19 distilleries and related trades that were active in the area in the late 19th century. Brown-Forman actually occupied 117 West Main Street for two decades at the beginning of the 20th century. Old Forester is billed as the nation’s first bottled bourbon, dating back 140 years, and is the spirits company’s founding brand.
Brown-Forman is expected to receive a variety of tax incentives to build the facility, including $1.3 million from the state. The facility is expected to open in the fall of 2016 and create 20 new jobs.