The city of Louisville and developer Todd Blue have reached an agreement that allows the local businessman to demolsih the row of historic cast-iron buildings along Main Street within 90 days.
In a consensus reached Monday, Blue has agreed to drop his federal lawsuit against Metro government while the city has said it will help investigate a way to preserve the facades of the 19th Century structures.
“I believe this is the best outcome for both parties,” Mayor Greg Fischer said in news release. “This keeps taxpayers from further litigation and removes a safety hazard and will hopefully save the facades for future generations.”
Last year, Blue filed an emergency demolition request after a private engineer told his company, Cobalt Ventures, that they posed a safety hazard and were too expensive to rehabilitate. Soon thereafter, local preservationists ignited a petition drive to save the buildings and were backed by former Mayor Jerry Abramson, who voiced his opposition to demolishing the downtown buildings.
The impasse between Blue and the Abramson administration was so serious that neither were unable to agree on exactly what has transpired at past meetings regarding the fate of the Iron Quarter. And in June 2010, the Metro Landmarks Commission gave the buildings a historic status, backing preservationists and forcing Blue, who bought the buildings in 2007, to stop demolition plans and file the lawsuit.
Fearing the legal outcome, the Fischer administration caved on several fronts after receiving advice from the Jefferson County Attorney’s office that a federal judge could order the buildings immediately demolished without any chance to preserve the facades.
However, a spokesman with the county attorney’s office said that was just one of the legal scenarios given to the mayor, including winning the suit in court.
Besides giving Blue permission to raze the Iron Quarter after a 90-day period, the city will help him investigate the best method of either preserving the existing facades or recreating ones with a similar architectural appearance in any future development.
Fischer said he will also ask the Metro Council to appropriate a minimum of $450,000 in the upcoming budget to pay Blue for the cost of keeping the facades. The administration is also acknowledging Blue’s argument that the Iron Quarter’s condition poses a legitimate public safety hazard.
“Our company has a history of preservation and a love for the heritage of this community; our projects have always exemplified this,” Blue said in a statement. “It’s great to have someone in a position of leadership like Mayor Fischer who has a desire to work and reach a compromise.”
Local preservationists, however, were surprised by today’s announcement and were unaware of about and pending discussions with Blue leading up to the agreement. For those who fought to designate the cast-iron buildings as historic, many are unsure about the mayor’s closed-door meeting and have serious questions as it develops.
“It’s a private deal without any public discussion. I have a problem with that. I don’t think this is something that the Mayor’s Office can just make a decision on without approval from the landmarks commission,” says Stephen Porter, an attorney for Open Louisville, a preservationist group. “It sounds like they’ve totally bypassed the landmarks commission and by law they’re the only government agency that has the right to consider whatever proposal Mr. Blue has.
LEO asked the county attorney’s office if the mayor has the authority to trump the commission’s decision, and a spokesman said they would have to review that ruling.
Louisville’s Main Street corridor is home to the second-largest number of cast-iron facades in the world, exceeded only by the famed Soho district in New York City. At least two of the buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“This bothers me greatly, I don’t think any preservationist group knew about this,” says Porter. “I’m deeply concerned about destroying the facades and that language about similar architecture. That rarely ever happens.”