With a demolition deadline looming, WHAS11 News has learned that the owner of seven historical buildings on East Main Street's "Whiskey Row" has reached a deal to sell five of those buildings to a group of investors who intend to save them from the wrecking ball, according to people familiar with the agreement.
Under a previous agreement reached with the city, developer Todd Blue had the right to demolish the buildings if a deal had not been reached within a 90 day window, which expired on Sunday.
Blue plans on developing a hotel where the two easternmost buildings now stand between First and Second Streets on East Main Street, just east of the KFC Yum Center and the Clark Memorial Bridge. Previously, Blue had planned on "The Iron Quarter," a development of the entire row of buildings with the hotel, restaurants and other businesses. The name is derived from the distinctive iron facades.
A coalition of preservationist groups had joined the legal proceedings between Blue and Louisville Metro.
Mayor Greg Fischer's office issued the following news release Monday morning:
Mayor Fischer Announces Plans To Preserve Historic Whiskey Row
Group headed by Steve Wilson, Laura Lee Brown and assembled by Downtown Development Corporation to buy buildings; All facades and most buildings saved
LOUISVILLE (May 9, 2011) -- Standing before West Main Street’s historic Whiskey Row, Mayor Greg Fischer announced today that the block once slated for demolition will be saved and renovated, thanks to an agreement between the city and local developers and preservation leaders.
The deal saves five of the seven westernmost buildings while allowing Todd Blue to demolish the two easternmost buildings -- however, the facades of those two structures will be preserved to protect the architectural heritage and integrity of the block.
“These architectural treasures, once the center of Louisville’s historic bourbon industry, are now saved for future generations,” Fischer said. “This is a very good day for our city -- and a very good day for Louisville’s historic fabric.”
A group headed by Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown have agreed to purchase four buildings from Blue. Blue will donate a fifth building to the Louisville Downtown Development Corporation which, in turn, will donate it to the investment group.
The investment group, which was created by the Downtown Development Corp. and includes the Brown-Forman Corp and several civic-minded partners who wish to remain anonymous, is paying $4.85 million for the properties. Brown and Wilson will be the developers and plans for the buildings are still to be determined.
The Agreement in Principle, finalized over Derby Weekend, is still subject to several closing conditions and public approvals, but the parties are all working together in good faith and with haste to close this transaction as soon as possible.
Pending Metro Council approval, the city will provide a $1.5 million grant to help stabilize and preserve the facades, Fischer said, and that work will begin as quickly as possible. The money will come from unspent funds of completed capital projects from previous years.
The city also agrees to sell Blue a vacant lot near Floyd and Main streets for $1 that adjoins property his company already owns. And, to assist in his hotel development, the city will lease his company 50 parking spaces in the First and Main garage owned and operated by the Parking Authority of River City.
Council President Jim King along with Councilman David Tandy, who represents downtown, and Councilwoman Tina Ward-Pugh will today introduce an ordinance authorizing the expenditure.
“There was a determination from everyone – seller and buyers – to do right for our city today – and for future generations,” Fischer continued. “There was a shared, intense drive to maintain the authenticity that Whiskey Row provides. Louisville is blessed to have such a unique architectural collection of cast iron facades that stretch down Main Street.”
Wilson and Brown -- farmers, preservationists and owners and developers of 21C Museum Hotel -- said the Main Street buildings’ beauty and history, along with the strong involvement and leadership of Mayor Fischer, convinced them that they needed to save the structures.
“They simply were too important for our city to lose -- and we are honored to give these old buildings new life,” Wilson said.
Brown-Forman, which in the early 1900s had operations in the Whiskey Row block, will receive naming rights to one of the buildings.
Fischer and a team of advisors spent the last three months working to find buyers and to broker a deal that was fair to the taxpayers, Blue, and to the new owners. Fischer said the involvement of the Downtown Development Corporation, headed by Alan DeLisle, was critical in structuring the deal.
Fischer also complimented Blue for his flexibility and willingness to consider options to demolition – and he noted that Blue has been a leading downtown developer whose projects have included historic preservation, such as the former Schiller Hardware property and The Mercantile Gallery Lofts.
“Though some people have in recent months criticized Todd, he helped seal the deal and by donating one of the properties he is showing his dedication to preservation,” Fischer said.
“I commend Mayor Fischer for making Metro Louisville a solutions-oriented city. For over 12 years we have worked tirelessly to develop downtown Louisville. From the many preservation projects we have developed, to our commitment to build a downtown arena our track record demonstrates a love for downtown Louisville,” Blue said.
“Our company’s goal for the past four years has been to make sure that this 100 block got developed. I am proud to be a part of a group of individuals who will make this happen with today’s announcement.”
Ultimately, it was Mayor Fischer's open-minded approach to the entire matter that enabled a pathway (with the 90 Day Settlement agreement) to create this arrangement, Blue said.
“Our team remained publically quiet the last 90 days because we were confident that this settlement agreement would create a solution to get this block developed and it did just that,” Blue said.
DeLisle said the agreement “not only will enhance the vitality of downtown, but it will also make a significant contribution to economic growth and job creation.”
“Many people made this deal happen,” Fischer said. “But I want to say a special thanks to Steve and Laura Lee, Brown-Forman and the many investment partners. Their dedication to our city and to its history is inspiring.”
“The renovation and new construction that will occur here represents the best of preserving our past and building our future,” the Mayor said. “Buildings are not just things. They are places where experiences happen and potential comes alive. With the vibrancy of the YUM Center and this entire area, Whiskey Row will be one of our city’s magical places.”