An entire Downtown block—over 5.4 acres—sits as flat as a pancake, bounded by Witherspoon Street, Floyd Street, Washington Street, and Preston Street. A smooth sheet of asphalt gives 562 parked cars some of the best views of Louisville’s Waterfront Park and the Ohio River beyond—that is, if you can see beyond the elevated superhighway that cuts through the middle of the park.
The vast majority of the block is owned by Todd Blue‘s Cobalt Ventures, but a tiny triangular sliver of land on the block’s northern edge—the only portion not covered by the parking lot—is actually owned by the Waterfront Development Corporation (WDC), which oversees development in the area around the park. And now it wants to do something with it.
The .64 acre swath along Witherspoon Street is only 20 feet wide at its western edge on Floyd Street. It widens out to about 74 feet on its eastern side along Preston Street. But according to the Courier-Journal, the WDC’s executive director David Karem envisions a “swanky” mixed-use high rise on the site and is asking developers to put forth ideas. “You absolutely could put a high-rise development there,” Karem told the newspaper.
The agency has owned the parcel for some 20 years since Witherspoon was realigned and extended along the park’s boundary, but plans for redeveloping the grassy lot are just now being considered after a number of parties have expressed interest in the property in recent years. Later this year, the WDC will issue a formal Request for Proposals (RFP) to gauge actual interest in the site. Karem suggested that the WDC could issue a long term land lease that would help generate funds for the park’s upkeep.
It seems like a strange move to consider this awkward lot by itself when the massive block really should be considered with a larger, cohesive plan—whether by one or a number of developers. It also seems extremely doubtful that a high rise on such an oddly shaped lot could take place in Louisville’s current economy. Could a high rise fit here? Yes, developers build skyscrapers on smaller lots in New York City all the time. But in Louisville? Not likely.
Further, would we want to see a high rise here? No, not really. While it’s high time development occurred along the waterfront, building tall on this tiny parcel alone would significantly stunt the development on land to its south. With a master plan for the block, development begin tall at Washington Street and step down to mid-rise building toward the park to maintain a more appropriate view corridor through the area and spur better development all around.
Or maybe building on this single parcel isn’t exactly the point of the RFP. We hope this is a move to induce just that larger vision for the entire block, which would be no small feat given Blue’s track record in Downtown Louisville. For better or worse, though, he owns the block and will be a player in whatever plan emerges for the larger block’s future.
Cobalt Ventures’ website has listed the property for years, stating, “Cobalt Riverfront Properties is Louisville’s premiere [sic] site for a mixed-use development Corporate Headquarters. This property has been recognized as one of the most desirable site-selection opportunities for a corporate headquarters relocating in the Commonwealth of Kentucky in general, and the city of Louisville in particular.” Yet despite all that desirability, it remains a parking lot—a rather lucrative parking lot. At the $75 monthly rate for a space, a full lot would bring in over $42,000 each month. And if Blue is waiting for that consummate corporate headquarters to anchor the site, it could be a while before he budges.
And the WDC is in no hurry, either. Karem told the C-J that there’s no timeline and developing the site isn’t a top priority. “There is no real urgency to develop the site…the agency will take whatever time is needed to ensure it makes the best deal,” the newspaper reported.
But if we’re opening this site up for discussion, let’s also talk about a similarly sized parcel a block south along Washington Street, indicated in yellow below. The WDC also owns this .61 acre lot and maintenance shed that could make for a nice mixed-use project as well.
What would you like to see eventually built along the waterfront?