It’s been a rough year for localism in Louisville. March witnessed the final days of Wild & Wooly Video and the selling of Louisville Slugger to Wilson Sporting Goods. Even now, at the time of writing, Humana—one of the heaviest economic anchors in the city—is considering a sale to a bevy of potential buyers, including Aetna, Cigna, and Goldman Sachs.
Next up on the butcher’s table are the city-owned remnants of the historic Water Company Block, and on that block were some of the state’s oldest and most unique structures: the Falls City Theatre Equipment Company building, the Kentucky Typewriter building, and the Morrissey Parking Garage.
In its footprint will be a 30-story Omni hotel, full of luxury apartments, high-end retail, and other amenities that will be generally inaccessible to residents currently living in the Central Business District.
With Omni footing only 51 percent of the total $300 million project cost, the corporate interests at play have taken a knee just an inch over the 50-yard line of fiscal accountability. Using buzzwords like “world-class” and “upscale,” this strategy is an attempt to obfuscate the obvious: this is a taxpayer-funded endeavor filled with promises of bright lights, tall buildings, new jobs, and good times, all at the expense of our cultural integrity and sense of place.
As early as 2014, sources reported the state of Kentucky would be contributing $90.5 million toward the project via tax rebates, with Louisville throwing in an additional $35.5 million—$17 million of which includes the value of the land.
Since then, this development has been about as transparent as the door on a bank vault, but never invisible from the public eye.
Like the West End Walmart deal, Metro Louisville allowed out-of-state developers to get exactly what they wanted, in spite of public outcry and city regulatory codes that it violated. However, unlike the West End Walmart deal, neither Omni nor Metro even bothered putting up the facade of a public forum.
In fact, when Metro officials announced the immediate destruction of the buildings, they cited inspections by Metro Louisville’s Division of Construction Review and private structural engineers. However, reports revealed that nobody—not a single engineer or city official—ever produced a full report on the structural soundness of the Morrissey Garage before the hasty demolition. Like a teenager trying desperately to cover up the damage to his parents’ car, Metro even went so far as to cover the $360,000 cost of demolition.
However, after gathering audio interviews from downtown pedestrians, the opinion of the public seems split in half. One side claims that, no matter whose fault this is, the structures were underutilized, ignored, and in a state of disrepair. The other side seems to believe that with even the slightest little bit of political will, we could have saved these buildings and recovered what little local history we have left.
So it goes.[Top image: Detail of the Morrisey Garage under demolition. Courtesy Debra Richards Harlan.]