The settlement between the city of Louisville and developer Todd Blue allows the local businessman to use Whiskey Row as a surface parking lot for up to five years before any new development takes place, according to legal documents obtained by LEO Weekly.
Last week, Mayor Greg Fischer announced the city and Blue had reached an agreement that allows the Louisville businessman to demolish a row of 19th-century buildings along Main Street in order to construct the Iron Quarter, an ambitious development project that involves razing seven historic structures along the city’s downtown corridor.
The Mayor’s Office, however, did not mention what the paperwork filed in U.S. federal court last Friday outlines. According to the settlement, the city has given Blue’s Cobalt Ventures permission to use the properties as a parking lot for an interim period of five years once the demolition is complete. The usage is subject to approval by the Waterfront Review Overlay District, which Metro officials have agreed to advocate for at any hearing on behalf of Blue.
In 2007, Blue purchased the long-vacant buildings for $4.3 million with plans for a $50 million development. But the recession stalled the project, and the buildings have remained an eyesore. Asked how quickly construction could begin if demolition takes place as early as May, Blue says it would take time before the Iron Quarter is complete.
“We’ve got discussions ongoing with our banks, our partners and our hotel company at this point,” he says. “You got at least 15 months to draw it and then another 18 to 24 months to construct it. We’re talking three to five years. By the way that’s not unusual. How long has Museum Plaza been talking about what they’re doing?”
Under the terms of the deal, the city will issue Blue an emergency demolition order after a 90-day period while helping investigate ways to either preserve the facades or recreate new ones with a similar architectural appearance. Fischer plans to ask Metro Council to appropriate a minimum of $450,000 in the upcoming budget to help cover the cost of preserving the structures’ facades.
However, Blue told LEO Weekly that his company has no intention of saving the facades because it would be “cost-prohibitive.”
From Iron (Quarter) Man:
“Our proposed plan is recreating the architectural images of those facades in exactly the way they are today,” Blue says. “With today’s technology, you can recreate exactly what’s there. We can show you where the paint’s chipping off. It’s done around the country and is celebrated. We’d love to do that.”
Local preservationists — who have criticized Fischer’s deal with the developer — compare the plan to the controversial Centrepointe deal in Lexington, where former Mayor Jim Newberry allowed a company to raze 12 historic downtown buildings to build a proposed hotel complex.
Since then, the failed project has remained an empty grassy lot, which Louisville preservationists fear could happen at Whiskey Row.
“We have a city full of empty lots that have started with a promise of development and now are parking lots and mud holes,” says Martina Kunnecke, president of Neighborhood Planning and Preservation, a group dedicated to saving local monuments. “This new information is very distressing, and that the Fischer administration has paved the way for Mr. Blue to bring those buildings down without any guarantee to build anything is disturbing. People are not happy, and we’re not going down without making a lot of noise.”
Several preservationist organizations have contacted the Mayor’s Office in an effort to meet with Fischer and are mulling over what steps to take next as details of the agreement become available.
Others have already planned a “Save Whiskey Row” rally scheduled for Thursday at the corner of First and Main Streets.