Looks like we just dodged two development bullets on one of Louisville’s most important underutilized urban properties. The old Bader’s Food Mart and gas station at the corner of Broadway and Baxter Avenue has been vacant and the land it sits on is for lease, according to a Courier-Journal report. The three-quarter-acre property at 1244 East Broadway—owned by Kennie and Patricia Combs—has had interest from a drug store chain and a fast food restaurant, both of which wanted to build auto-centric developments on this very urban site.
CVS turned down the site, the newspaper reported, when it figured it couldn’t fit a drive through there, and another suburban fast food fried chicken restaurant called Raising Cane stepped away after not wanting to to abide by Louisville development rules encouraging buildings on Broadway to build up to the sidewalk.
The site is an incredibly prominent one and has the potential to be a strong node connecting the Highlands to Louisville’s core neighborhoods. Until now, the gas station has presented a pedestrian obstacle, confused the already complicated intersection with extra curb cuts, and generally provided an eyesore across from one of Louisville’s grandest landmarks: the entrance to Cave Hill Cemetery. By its very nature, this site demands a strong development proposal.
The Original Highlands neighborhood, in which the site sits, is watching the site closely, the C-J reported. Neighborhood association president Matt Blair told the newspaper he wanted to see a new two- or three-story mixed use building on the site. We say that should just be the start. A few years ago, we published an ambitious proposal by Nick Seivers to remake the intersection of Broadway and Baxter Avenue with a mix of dense development framing a roundabout. Blair said the roundabout proposal has received “positive support” from the neighborhood.
Since Nick’s proposal was published, we asked him to revisit the concept in light of community feedback. We’ve published the article with his new comments here. He even took the idea to Metro Louisville’s Move Louisville initiative, which estimated the roundabout would cost about $950,000 to implement. As Nick wrote in his update, “This isn’t just an intersection of roads, streets, and driveways, it is a place.” Nick’s concept utilizes the block across the street predominantly occupied by Phoenix Hill Tavern to build up the area into a real center.
Looking at the site historically, the odd shape of the parcels that make up the now-larger property made for some wonky development. It appears even a century ago, cookie-cutter development was the norm as historic photos show a two-story commercial building (that was clearly not designed for a corner) jammed onto the irregular site. According to an insurance map from 1905 (see below), the site included a couple houses on Broadway, a two-story mixed-use building on the corner, and a few wooden houses on Baxter Avenue. All of that is now gone, of course.
Clearly, this is one site that Louisville has never gotten quite right. And it appears there’s a chance we could correct that this time around. In our opinion, a building with three to five stories, perhaps with setbacks, would fit nicely on this site and give it a density and massing to make it a true urban center. As Nick’s proposal suggests, we should also take a close look at the intersection design in the process before we cement another bad decision in place. What would you like to see on the corner?
[Historic photos courtesy UL Photographic Archives – URL.]