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'Giving this iconic property a new life': Historic Louisville property to be redeveloped

The Louisville Gardens has had a thrilling history, marked with big names, big speeches and big moments before sitting dormant for nearly two decades.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Big changes are on the way to the historic Louisville Gardens in downtown Louisville. 

On Friday, Louisville Metro Government and River City Entertainment Group (RCEG) announced plans to redevelop the arena at 6th and Muhammad Ali Boulevard.

The plans will further Louisville's creative arts and entertainment industry by transforming the historic building into sound stages for music, film and digital productions. 

According to the mayor's office, the proposed project will include:

  • Restoring the façade of the Louisville Gardens back to the original design of the Louisville Armory.
  • Restoring the balance of the exterior, the offices and upstairs black box theatre.
  • Redeveloping the internal structure to construct sound stages, retail space and a public museum.
Credit: WHAS11 News

Officials say the next step is to negotiate the terms of a development agreement with the RCEG and reach an agreement within the next 180 days.

"While the property has garnered interest from multiple investment groups and developers over the years," Mayor Greg Fischer said. "It was always important that the end use be something that will create a long-term economic benefit for the community."

Metro Government's letter of intent also includes plans for the building behind the Louisville Gardens on Cedar Street. 

That space would become an educational facility allowing local universities to use it while providing vocational and management level training for careers in the film industry.

A thrilling history

The year was 1956 and the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, was in Louisville wowing fans at the Jefferson County Armory. His name in big, bright letters on the front marquee -- thousands lined up and shuffled in.

The historic building, which takes up an entire city block, first opened in 1905 as an armory and drill hall, but by 1923, public events had taken over the space and it was transformed into an entertainment venue.

A young Cassius Clay, later known as Muhammad Ali, fought there in the 1950s as part of the Louisville Golden Gloves Boxing tournament.

It was even home to the Kentucky Colonels basketball team.

The Louisville Gardens has had a thrilling history, marked with big names, big speeches and big moments -- and then nothing.

According to Louisville Forward, the last concert was held in the building in 2006 when the band My Morning Jacket performed. After that, the building sat vacant.

"It was something that needed attention," Tony Guanci, with RCEG, said. "All the bones in this building are incredible."

Nearly two decades later and now officials think they've found it: Metro Government announcing their plans to redevelop the building to highlight the significant moments of the Louisville Gardens' past.

"We're looking at plans from over 100 years ago," Scott Hodgkins, also with RCEG, said. "There's a lot of restoration, renovation or enforcement that's going to need to be done to create the exterior, to re-create the exterior and interior before we start building inside."

Credit: WHAS11 News

If it works, the move could grow Louisville's film and media infrastructure by not only providing a space for local productions, but by attracting outside investments too. Something only bolstered by the revamped Kentucky film tax incentive program.

Project leaders say they researched other event spaces and studies found revenue from concerts and sporting events would not justify the cost of renovations.

"I felt that building deserved it and the city deserved to have the venue," Guanci said. "But not only did the numbers but we were going to cannibalize what's happening at the Yum Center, the fairgrounds, the amphitheater and finally we just set it aside."

It's given the community renewed hope as neither the city, nor its neighbors, want to give up on the Louisville Gardens' return to glory.

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