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June 12, 2013

Why I divorced Cordish

I don’t like dress codes, discrimination, greedy profiteers or nontransparent public-private partnerships.

It stands to reason, therefore, that I don’t like Fourth Street Live or its owner, the Baltimore-based Cordish Cos. Disgust with decade-long claims of racism against the developer reached a critical mass in early May, after former U of L basketball star Jason Osborne, 38, and his girlfriend, a Humana Vitality executive, were arrested in the downtown epicenter of non-local bar and restaurant tenants.

Indignant black elected leaders converged at Osborne’s arraignment. State Rep. Darryl Owens, D-43, told WHAS-11, “I’m having difficulty understanding why an African-American would go to Fourth Street Live at 6 in the evening” to face likely disrespect or arrest. That case is pending. A civil suit regarding an incident last August was dismissed in March but prompted alternet.org to question whether Maker’s Mark Bourbon House and Lounge is “The Most Racist Restaurant in America?” The author urged a boycott of the venue and the brand. Amid a bitter Twitterstorm, Maker’s Chairman Emeritus Bill Samuels Jr. clarified that the lounge is owned by Cordish Operating Ventures, which was conditionally permitted to use the trademark free of charge.

“The allegations in the complaint are extremely serious and, if true, reflect behavior that is abhorrent and unacceptable,” Maker’s said in a statement.

The plaintiff claimed that blacks were denied entrance to a public event at the lounge. It has a familiar ring; for years, Fourth Street Live gatekeepers have been accused of unequal treatment of blacks and whites. So much for mixed-use development.

The entertainment district’s dress code has stirred controversy from the outset. But in a June 2004 WAVE-3 newscast, Metro Councilman Dan Johnson, D-21, defended it. “I think they should have strict, strict dress codes there,” he said, because “they don’t want a certain element of people doing things there.” When WAVE asked a Cordish hen “what Fourth Street Live operators have against jerseys,” she replied, “It’s just, you know, when you go out at night to a first-class environment — it’s certainly not a race issue — it’s just not appropriate attire …”

In the same story, an aggrieved New Orleans mother in Louisville for a Christian youth conference rebutted, “I don’t understand how Kentucky can let these people come in here and dictate their tourism. According to Christ, we’re dressed right.”

Prodded by the ACLU and other social-justice activists, Cordish relaxed the policy in February. But sexist restrictions persist. “Sleeveless shirts on men” and “exposed undergarments on men (including undershirts)” are forbidden. (Nerds who wear T-shirts beneath their button-downs beware.)

The “profanity on clothing” ban needs more detail after U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth’s recent observation that “Mitch McConnell sucks.” I propose that pithy political speech (including my own “Go filibuster yourself, Mitch” and “Indict the mother-bugger”) be permitted.

Profanity is difficult to define. I’m sure the dress-code police will know it when they see who’s wearing it. Needless to say, indecent exposure remains verboten, which brings us to the allowance of baggy pants. I’m conflicted on pants falling down. While it presents a safety hazard for someone fleeing a fire, it might slow a purse-snatcher sufficiently to effect his capture.

“Smart casual attire is recommended: clothing that is fitted, neat and appropriate” — as outlined on Fourth Street Live’s website — seems suitable for an illusion of urban security.

It’s what we expect from the anti-Christ of transparency. Which brings me to the reason I divorced Cordish. Four years ago, Cordish received nearly a million tax dollars to redevelop the Sports and Social Club. Few believe it cost nearly that much. Hiding behind proprietary secrecy, it stonewalled efforts to provide a full public accounting and fueled rumors of impropriety that haunt the previous (Abramson) administration to this day. The Courier-Journal’s quest for financial clarity drew this response from Cordish: “Considering our massive investment in Louisville in what was a bankrupt, vacated mall” and that “we have transformed a failed bowling alley into a first-class entertainment venue, we would have expected a more favorable response …”

In other words, “Taxpayers, piss off.”

My true love is local bars and restaurants that don’t discriminate. But the city remains wedded to a corporate whore with an insatiable appetite for tax dollars. It can divorce McConnell, but it’s stuck with Cordish.