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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 Waterfront Development Corporation's parcel shown in red. (Courtesy Bing)
The Waterfront Development Corporation’s parcel shown in red. (Courtesy Bing)

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?

The Waterfront Development Corporation's parcel shown in red, and another WDC-owned site in yellow. (Courtesy Bing)
The Waterfront Development Corporation’s parcel shown in red, and another WDC-owned site in yellow. (Courtesy Bing)
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Branden Klayko

Branden Klayko

Founder and Editor at Broken Sidewalk
Branden founded Broken Sidewalk in 2008 while practicing architecture in Louisville. He continued the site for seven years while living in New York City, returning to Louisville in 2016. Branden is a graduate of the College of Architecture at Washington University in St. Louis, and has covered architecture, design, and urbanism for The Architect's Newspaper, Designers & Books, Inhabitat, and the American Institute of Architects.
Branden Klayko

9 COMMENTS

  1. I really dislike that parking lot, if i was Mr. blue, I would put a soccer specific stadium for Louisville City FC there. Great idea, never gunna happen. we dream…

  2. Great piece. I was scratching my head in bewilderment when I read the Courier article as I tried to figure out exactly what piece of land they were describing. Thanks for the illustration and for the commentary.

    Any idea what used to stand there? Or was it part of the scrap yard? I’m also wondering how much closer I-64 will be to Witherspoon Street with the Bridges Project (assuming it will widen)?

  3. A tall building here could be fantastic. The entire block to the south is still in the sunshine. . .if it’s about maintaining views through the park mid-block, well, you can’t build much above grade either way.

  4. It would be pretty cool if we could get a google map showing who owns which parcels of land all over the downtown area.

  5. This plan for the Museum Plaza site didn’t pass muster for some reason. It appears to be thin, and maybe it could be configured for this site:

    http://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/local/2014/04/17/latest-plan-museum-plaza-site-dies/7837539/

    What I’d like to see is high-rise apartment towers on both of the sites and a Walmart Marketplace on half of the Blue’s parking lot. There wouldn’t be any problem with parking lot setbacks like on 18th and Broadway because the whole thing is a parking lot already!

  6. “It would be pretty cool if we could get a google map showing who owns which parcels of land all over the downtown area.”

    Such a map DOES exist!

    http://ags2.lojic.org/lojiconline/

    Just zoom in, down to street level to where you can see the property lines and outlines of buildings. Click on a piece of property and then click on parcel report. You can see things like the address, owner, assessed value, and size in acres.

    For instance, the property in question in this article is (of course) owned by the Waterfront Development Corp., it’s address is 399 E WIitherspoon St., has an assessed value of $2,231,990.00, and is 0.64200 acres.

  7. I would like to see a market place similar to Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall in Boston. or even something like the farmer’s market in downtown Lexington

  8. I didn’t realize that Todd Blue owned that parking lot, too. Now I’m even more enraged – but it all makes sense now as to why absolutely nothing has happened with it. Mr. Mayor needs to take the bull by the horns and get something done here. Is Blue planning to ever do anything with this prime real estate, or just collect 5 bucks a car for the rest of his life? Houston, we have a problem.
    (see what I did there?)

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