$4.8 Million Deal Will Save Whiskey Row Buildings

by Gabe Bullard on May 9, 2011

A deal has been made to save the Whiskey Row buildings in downtown Louisville.

Through a previous agreement between Mayor Greg Fischer and owner Todd Blue, the seven buildings were slated to be demolished to make room for a parking lot, then a new development. Preservationists fought to salvage the buildings, and Metro Government then sought investors to buy them from Blue.

Those investors have been found in a team organized by the Downtown Development Corporation. Developers of the 21C Museum-Hotel Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown, along with several anonymous investors will purchase four of the buildings for $4.8 million. Blue will donate an additional building and retain two for himself.

Wilson says he’s not sure what the buildings will be used for, but five will remain standing.

“We have 60 days to close and we’ll begin studying right away,” he says. “The first task at hand is stabilizing the building and once we feel comfortable about that, we’ll turn our attention to the purposes and uses of the buildings.”

The facades of the two buildings Blue will keep will remain standing, and Blue plans to build a new development behind them. He will also receive an adjoining parking lot for one dollar.

Metro Government and Blue previously contended that the buildings were not structurally sound. Attorney Steve Porter—who led the legal challenges to save Whiskey Row—says the fact that the buildings will be saved vindicates preservationists’ efforts.

“We thought all along that none of the seven buildings were so dangerous that they were going to fall down and kill anybody, and that was the basis for the emergency demolition order, and we thought that was a fallacy all along,” he says.

A study recently commissioned by the city shows that five of the buildings can be kept standing.

The deal now hinges on the Metro Council approving a $1.5 million expenditure to stabilize the buildings while planning for new developments is underway.

Council President Jim King expects the council to approve the grant this week.

“It’s an economic development project. It’s synchronicity with the arena and it preserves and important part of our city,” he says.

If approved, the money will come from the unspent accounts set up for capital projects from previous years that have been completed. Council members Tina Ward-Pugh and David Tandy have introduced an ordinance sponsoring the expenditure.

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