Council Receives ‘Fact Sheet’ on Whiskey Row Deal

by admin on May 12, 2011

Hours before the Louisville Metro Council meets to vote on an emergency ordinance to preserve a strip of 19th Century buildings downtown, the mayor’s office has provided members with an outline of the financial plan to save the historic block. But Republican members say they are still unwilling to support waiving council rules to approve an emergency ordinance until more details are made available.

On Monday, Mayor Greg Fischer announced that local developers Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown, along with several anonymous investors, would purchase four of the seven buildings from businessman Todd Blue for $4.8 million.

Initially, Metro Government agreed to put up a $1.5 million grant to salvage the structures, but Council President Jim King, D-10, proposed making the expenditure a forgivable loan that would match private money invested in the project.

The mayor’s office and sponsors of the emergency ordinance argue the loan needs to be approved quickly because the “structures currently present an immediate threat to the public” due to their dilapidated condition.

The council will move to waive it rules at their full body meeting today, which requires 18 yes votes. But Councilman Ken Fleming, R-7, says the 9-member minority caucus does not consider the document to be a legally binding memorandum of understanding, as the Fischer administration promised.

“This is more of a fact sheet of what the proposed participation is and when you have a memo typically it’s a formal document with signatures and all that good stuff,” he says.

The plan says the assessed value of the five buildings is $2.6 million, however, it anticipates the value will rise to more than $16 million once developed. The new investors have not outlined what any new development will be.

According to the deal, Blue will donate an additional building to the city and retain two for himself while receiving an adjoining parking lot valued at $262,000 that will be sold by Metro Government for $1.

The city is also leasing Blue 50 spaces in downtown parking garage, which have a 20 year value of roughly $223,000.

The new buyers have 60 days to close a deal with Blue.

Council Democrats have voiced support for the deal to save the city’s heritage, but even with a 17-member majority they need at least one Republican to vote for a suspension of the rules to pass the measure.

“We are much more comfortable with  the deal than we were two or three days ago,” says Democratic caucus spokesman Tony Hyatt. “How much more detail do the Republicans needs? The minority caucus has a terrible habit of making they would like to negotiate on behalf of the city, but they know they can’t do that.”

Hyatt says King amending the expenditure to be a forgivable loan gives the city a reasonable amount of protections in the deal. Both the mayor’s office and attorney’s for the new investors have agreed with the change.

Still, council Republicans say they want a better understanding of the development timeline, more protection for taxpayers and details on the total infrastructure cost.

“We’d like to have a little more information in terms of what the deal is,” says Fleming. “The administration is supposed to be coming forth to our caucus meeting to gives us that and hopefully we’ll have a deep understanding of the commitment.”

The council meets tonight at 6 p.m. in City Hall, 601 W. Jefferson Street.

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