A half-filled bag of toiletries for men in a homeless shelter sits on the floor under my kitchen sink, as I rustle through my other carryall bag for a plastic bag with travel toothbrush and toothpaste, before I run out the door to a sneak peek of the Omni Hotel on Liberty and Second streets. Judging by the level of anticipation, the Omni might be the second coming or merely the latest Louisville novelty. Regardless, it is this path downtown that first opened my eyes years ago to the plight of those living on the streets here, some 150 per night according to one recent statistic.
The opening of the Omni Hotel in a neighborhood otherwise bereft of glitz, glamour and groceries is the most recent illustration of the city’s exercise of selective compassion. We may welcome all privately, but roll out the compassion carpet publicly only if it serves our economic interests.
Omni — meet a neighborhood that can use the dollars you generate, but at whose expense remains to be seen.
So it is with excited angst that I rushed into this super-shiny, vast structure across from the Econo Lodge and catty-cornered by some, long-defunct entertainment center. To be sure, the lobby and first two floors do not disappoint. The long copper sculpture above the escalator is mesmerizing and makes me hopeful the space will continue to be filled with nontraditional-for-Kentucky art.
Indeed, two walls to the right by the escalator are replete with the work of Kentucky or Kentucky-ish artists, including Shohei Katayama, Leticia Quesenberry, Gibbs Rounsavall, Lynn Dunbar, Douglas Miller and Ed Hamilton.
And that’s about where the original ended for me. The remainder, although modernish, is the now familiar Kentucky bourbon tourist theme — horse portraits, bourbon hoops and barrels and bottles — all carried out through the first two floors in a cerulean, ochre, steel gray and copper.
The meeting rooms, and what appear to be ballrooms, are high-ceiling wonders fit for the some 275 galas the city’s nonprofits host each year. Hopefully, these rooms won’t eat into the money the nonprofits payout to the charities. Fiduciary responsibility meet uptown, new hotel in which the people want to party. On the other hand, if they maintain the cash bar prices to include bottled, flat water in a three-quarters-full rocks glass for $6, their bottom line should be fine at the end of the night.
But what about the neighbors? Not the ones who can afford the “curated” grocery with its smattering of local items, which my tour group was eager to find to determine who got in and how much they were charging. Picturing Econo Lodge guests wandering into the Omni for a deli snack or for a bandage or digestif made me chuckle.
There was a lot of fear about displacing long-term residents of both NuLu and Portland, when the old began to make way for the newer and shinier and those with more disposable income. Other than a few highly-outspoken friends on the subject, the gentrification of Nulu has been completed and any conversation about it muted. Case closed. Or is it?
The homeless and the mentally ill still cruise around the neighborhood and ask for money. On a few occasions they get a little too close to the partiers on the sidewalk, and the police arrive and quickly send them on their way. Derby is mere weeks away, and my money is on a clean sweep of homeless camps in the city’s attempts to beautify our surroundings. In the competition between making way for new and shiny things and intractable issues in an election year, my money is on the new and shiny. Compassion gets lip service in Louisville, but action via social programs and affordable housing really make the sun shine.
But maybe that’s a better outcome than no compassion at all. I didn’t make it up to the Omni’s spa because I chose to linger at the local art. However, I am über curious as to what products the spa uses and what brand of toiletries are in the rooms, particularly the rooms the Omni will allegedly rent for $9,000 per month. Perhaps I will find out when the hotel’s guests donate them to toiletries drives for the homeless, one of which I am doing for St. Vincent de Paul, thus the items next to my sink. If you see any extra socks or feminine hygiene products, grab them, too. The shelters and jails need them.
Selective compassion. Coming soon to a city near you.