Receiving additional assurances from Mayor Greg Fischer’s administration, the Louisville Metro Council approved an emergency ordinance that allocates $1.5 million to help preserve a strip of 19th Century buildings downtown.
Earlier this week, the mayor brokered a deal with local developers Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown to purchase four of the seven historic Whiskey Row buildings along Main Street from businessman Todd Blue for $4.8 million.
On Thursday morning, the mayor’s office provided city lawmakers with an outline of a financial plan to save the historic block, however, council Republicans hesitated before agreeing to waive council rules to approve the emergency measure.
Initially, Metro Government agreed to use a city grant to salvage the structures, but Council President Jim King, D-10, proposed making the expenditure a loan that would forgive $100,000 in taxpayer dollars for every $1 million of private money invested in the project.
Members of the Fischer administration then met with the GOP caucus to explain additional details of the agreement, saying investors may back out of the deal if a vote wasn’t made by Thursday.
In the end, council Republicans agreed to support the measure in a bipartisan 19-to-1 vote despite their earlier misgivings about the process.
“I believe that it does rise to the level of an emergency,” says Councilman Kevin Kramer, R-11. “There are a lot of different parties involved in this discussion. A lot of folks are willing and interested in committing their dollars and their time and their energy. They just want to be certain that Louisville takes this seriously as well.”
A pair of amendments were introduced by Republican members that outlined the specific purpose of the forgivable loan and that funding cannot be used for anything besides the Whiskey Row project.
Councilwoman Brent Ackerson, D-26, discouraged support for those amendments, saying lawmakers were hurting the mayor’s attempt to save a part of the city’s heritage by muddying up the negotiations.
“All this discussion tonight reminds me of the adage ‘there are too many cooks in the kitchen’,” Ackerson said. “The more that we have language added trying to be contract writers the more we take a chance of potentially endangering this project. It’s too important to take that chance…We have faith in our mayor—Mayor Fischer—until he’s proven otherwise, I say we roll with this.”