Louisville’s Wayside Christian Mission is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Amid the celebration are plans to expand its East Market Street campus and build a new center for homeless women and families. But, as WFPL’s Stephanie Sanders reports, the project is being met with opposition from neighborhood leaders.
Before there were art galleries and antique dealers and a Mayan restaurant on East Market Street, there was Wayside Christian Mission. It first opened in the 800 block in 1973 and by the 1990’s its leaders realized they needed more space.
By this point, the East Downtown Business Association, or EDBA, had been established, with members involved in guiding the neighborhood’s aesthetics and long-range planning.
Wayside administrator Nina Moseley says after several rounds of negotiations with the EDBA in 2000, the two sides agreed on a plan under which Wayside would demolish three 19th century buildings it occupies on East Market to make way for its women and families facility.
Moseley says in 2005, Wayside presented its architectural plans to the business association, which asked the mission to preserve the facades of the old buildings. Wayside agreed.
“They applauded our efforts, they thanked us for working with them so closely, they thanked us for preserving the facades, we didn’t hear one objection to those plans, not one, anywhere.”
Moseley says Wayside then launched a campaign to raise $4 million for the project, and last month posted a notice of demolition on the property. That’s when, according to Moseley, the EDBA balked.
Bill Marzian has been president of the EDBA since 2005, when the agreement to save the facades was reached. He says there was always the expectation of more discussion about keeping two of the buildings.
“We were hopeful at that time, but by the time we got to the final version of how they planned to expand in that neighborhood, that we would sit down and have a final dialogue.”
The EDBA has now applied for landmark status for the buildings and wants Wayside to agree to a 60-day moratorium on the demolition while the two sides further discuss the matter.
Wayside’s Nina Moseley says she and other mission administrators are frustrated because they thought everyone was on the same page and everything was in place for the project to move forward. She says the buildings are not in good shape and Wayside can’t afford to renovate them.
“If this had come up years ago, before we were sitting here with 400-thousand dollars worth of architectural plans, we maybe could have looked at it, but now we’re down this road.”
EDBA president Bill Marzian says the association isn’t trying to kill the project, they just want to talk about alternatives to demolition.
Business owner Pat Giddings was a member of the EDBA from the mid 90’s to 2005. He says Wayside’s plan to include the original facades is ‘spectacular,’ and the association’s claim of maintaining the area’s historic fabric is a smoke screen.
“This push toward preservation… excuse me? It may be old, but not everything that’s old is worth preserving, and in this instance, those two buildings aren’t worth preserving.”
Bill Marzian flatly denies that the association is trying to run the homeless shelter out of the neighborhood, and says business owners there are proud to have Wayside alongside them.
But Pat Giddings says the latest turn of events is disappointing.
“What the association is doing now is a huge disservice to the area and a definite slap in the face to Wayside.”
Wayside’s board of directors has an emergency meeting set for Wednesday to decide how to proceed. Barring a legal challenge, they can start demolition on June 30th.