After giving Louisville businessman Todd Blue permission to destroy a row of historic downtown buildings, Mayor Greg Fischer is trying to find a buyer to salvage Whiskey Row before the 90-day agreement expires.
The Mayor’s Office confirms with LEO Weekly that a city agency is searching for a buyer for five of the seven 19th-century buildings along Main Street.
“The mayor has asked the Downtown Development Corp. to take the lead on this. That’s the reason the mayor wrote in the 90-day cooling-off period,” says Chris Poynter, a mayoral spokesman. “This parallel negotiation has been going on since the beginning, even if the media is just now finding out about it. You know it’s very difficult to negotiate in public, real estate deals especially.”
In February, the city made an agreement that allows Blue to raze the historic structures and use the properties as a surface parking lot for up to five years before any new development takes place.
Under the terms of the agreement, demolition could start as early as May 9, according to the county attorney’s office. The Fischer administration contends that’s enough time for the city to come up with an alternative solution.
Last week, Blue appeared on WFPL’s afternoon news program “State of Affairs” to weigh in on his proposed Iron Quarter development. During the panel discussion, Blue defended his plans and challenged critics to “actually do a project for once” instead of signing petitions and picketing his project.
“I want to reiterate again: These are our buildings, it’s our property, (and) this is our project,” he said. “I’m not sitting here like Donald Trump saying I’m not listening and wouldn’t accept any other thing other than what I want to do. I’m saying my project is my project, and I’m excited about it.”
Asked what it would take to save the buildings, Blue responded bluntly: money. He has said a buyer would have to offer a minimum of $1.5 million for each of the seven buildings.
“I already have millions of my own (money) into it and will have millions more into it and signed for any development we do,” Blue told WFPL. “I’m fully confident in the investment we’ve made in the city and continue to make and not in any way bashful about that.”
With less than 60 days left, there has been little movement by Fischer to involve the Metro Council. Last month, the mayor asked city lawmakers to appropriate a minimum of $450,000 in the upcoming budget to help cover the cost of preserving the structures’ facades. According to the head of the budget committee, however, council members still haven’t seen the details of the city’s deal with Blue, and they are unable to form a solid position until they do.
“I assume the clock is ticking,” says Councilwoman Marianne Butler, D-15. “We know what was reported in the news and that is it. We have received nothing from the administration yet. I think there’s a consensus that at the bare minimum, the facades should be preserved.”
In a continued effort to improve his district, Councilman David James, D-6, announced the creation of the Oak Street Task Force, which is dedicated to revitalizing the corridor in the Old Louisville neighborhood.
The goal is to enhance Oak Street as an important economic and cultural engine. The 16-member group will be charged with finding ways to balance local business, infrastructure improvements and public safety along the thoroughfare. The panel is particularly focused on vacant properties and redevelopment spanning from Floyd to Seventh Street.
“We have gathered some creative and dedicated people to revitalize Oak Street as one of many main thoroughfares in Old Louisville,” James said in a statement. “The focus of this group is to find a way to blend businesses needs (and) neighborhood revitalization while keeping the public safe in transforming Oak Street.”
“I am excited,” says Don Driskell, president of the Old Louisville Chamber of Commerce and a task force member. “The Oak Street corridor is a vital component to the success of Old Louisville, and this task force will allow the necessary economic development needed to redevelop and sustain our neighborhood.”
The task force is made up of two committees — one dealing with development, the other with infrastructure and public safety.
The development committee will primarily focus on private property, particularly the redevelopment of vacant and unused buildings.
The infrastructure and public safety committee is charged with working with city agencies to coordinate and plan improvements in areas such as right of way, sidewalk repair and street paving. The committee also will address TARC improvements and the potential for street-scaping.
The public safety component will collaborate with Louisville Metro Police, neighborhood associations and various block watch groups in an effort to curb crime and increase safety along the corridor.
“We have a good group of concerned people who are ready to get to work,” James says. “The challenge ahead is to make sure Oak Street, like many other prominent corridors in Metro Louisville, is a place where everyone wants to live and do business.”
The creation of the task force is the second initiative led by James to revitalize local businesses in recent months. In February, the freshman councilman introduced a resolution that would legalize live entertainment in the Old Louisville and Limerick neighborhoods in an effort to promote economic development. The non-binding measure passed and is headed to the city’s planning commission for further consideration.
Since 2002, the city has prohibited live music in the area due to its designation as a traditional neighborhood-zoning district. James says the prohibition has forced some businesses out of the district and kept others away.