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Mark your calendars! This Wednesday, July 15 at 8:30a.m., the Downtown Development Review Overlay (DDRO) will take up the issue of the planned Omni Hotel & Residences (the original July 1 meeting was postponed). This important public meeting is free and takes place at the Old Jail building at 514 West Liberty Street. Please attend to help make the development the best it can be for Louisville—this is the best venue to show your support for a well-designed city!

The meeting will consider the development plan, with likely revisions to be presented by the Omni design and development team. Approval from the committee is required for the project to move forward, and later further approvals from the Planning Commission and the Board of Zoning Adjustments (BOZA) will also be required.

Rendering of the overall Omni showing the corner of Second and Liberty streets. (Courtesy HKS)
Rendering of the overall Omni showing the corner of Second and Liberty streets. (Courtesy HKS)

Last week, Bob Keesaer of the city’s planning staff recommended approving the Omni plans with minor conditions:

  • Add public art to help break down “the scale and magnitude of the proposed project.”
  • On the Third Street elevation, “staff recommends that the applicant further explore additional animated design elements and facade materials that would relate better to the pedestrian scale along street wall.”
  • “Garage doors with glass window panels should be utilized to secure the parking garage and to further provide a storefront appearance and animated activity along 3rd Street.”

According to Metro Louisville, the DDRO’s “specific task is to preserve, conserve and protect the ‘historical, cultural, architectural, aesthetic or other distinctive areas’ of Downtown by reviewing proposed developments in accordance with established principles and guidelines addressing elements such as ‘building setbacks along streets, open space, off-street parking, landscaping, paving, lighting and streetscape furnishings, fences and walls, signage and public amenities and, in addition, elements of urban design such as building and street wall character, and building mass and form.'”

The Third Street facade needs work. (Courtesy HKS)
The Third Street facade needs work. (Courtesy HKS)

Last week, we took an in-depth look at the pros and cons of the Omni development, but at over 3,000 words, the analysis might be a little too much to handle in prepping for the DDRO meeting. To be sure, there’s a lot of good coming with the Omni, but there are some aspects of the project’s design that could stand for some improvement. We culled the most important design and urbanism points into a handy cheat-sheet list below so you can take it with you to the meeting.

  1. The sidewalk matters: The scale and massing of the Omni should respond to the pedestrian scale, adding activity to the sidewalk level and refined visual interest, either through public art as planning staff suggest, or tweaks to massing, materiality, and setbacks.
  2. The project should add trees to Downtown: Louisville has a problem with trees, and the Omni should help to improve the situation rather than removing even more trees from the city’s streets. The plan should ensure that a substantial net gain in urban trees is created by the project.
  3. We don’t want just another slab building: The design of convention hotels is often formulaic, and there are nearly identical massing designs built or being planned in cities like Kansas City, Los Angeles, and Nashville. Take steps to go beyond the most efficient cookie-cutter plan to make Louisville’s design unique—especially on the tower facade, which, with its standard square grid of windows, could backtrack to the base design of the Marriott across the street.
  4. Third Street must be redesigned: The Omni design currently treats Third Street as an automobile expressway, devoid of any sidewalk level activity or design to make the street environment pleasant. Significant changes should be made to activate the building along Third Street and to improve its design and materiality.
  5. A real urban market doesn’t have a giant parking lot: It’s exciting that Louisville is getting a grocery store, but let’s make sure that’s not at the expense of the city’s urban setting. Eliminating all or most of the 40 parking spaces for the market should be considered.
  6. Preserve the Water Company Headquarters: Mayor Fischer has challenged the community to come up with ideas to move and reuse the old 1910 Water Company Building, slated to be demolished for the Omni project. The community responded. Now let’s challenge the Mayor and developers to follow through and keep Louisville’s heritage intact.
  7. Keep the Liberty Street road diet in place: One of the best features of the Omni is how it attempts to create better pedestrian accessibility by narrowing Liberty Street. This component of the project should be further detailed and released to the public to ensure the best streetscape design possible.
  8. Address the health of the city: Overall, the Omni should improve more than just Louisville’s competitiveness as a convention city—it should improve the health of the city overall. Whether that’s through adding trees, improving walkability, adding vibrancy to the street, building green roofs, or creating environments that improve occupants health, the Omni should improve Louisville in multiple ways. With such a substantial public commitment to the development (currently $139 million), Louisville citizens deserve the best project available.

Don’t forget to attend the DDRO’s public meeting—and please tell your friends!—for the Omni Hotel & Residences. Again, the meeting takes place Wednesday at 8:30a.m. at 514 West Liberty Street. This is the best chance you’ll have to make yourself heard.

Please also consider sending an email or letter to Mayor Greg Fischer or Louisville Forward Chief Mary Ellen Wiederwohl c/o Metro Hall, 527 W. Jefferson Street, Louisville, Ky., 40202 to tell them the design of the Omni and Louisville’s heritage matters to you.

Read through the longer version of this article here, and be sure not to miss our look at work to preserve the old Water Company Headquarters, which sits on the Omni site and our interview with Jim Lindberg, who is heading up a three-year study of preservation in Louisville.

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Branden Klayko

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