Downtown Development Corporation Unveils Plans for New Retail District

by Gabe Bullard on August 29, 2011

The Louisville Downtown Development Corporation says it will take four new retail anchors and a bevy of small or independent businesses to revitalize south 4th Street.

The DDC unveiled its proposal for turning the blocks between Muhammad Ali Boulevard and Broadway into a shopping district tonight at the Seelbach Hotel. While the Seelbach and the Brown Hotel would act as anchors for the district, the DDC’s proposal calls for the addition of four new anchors:

  • An upscale movie theater (leather armchairs, no children allowed)
  • A “creative co-op” that would sell art
  • An entertainment venue (planners said this would be like the House of Blues, but not necessarily an actual House of Blues franchise)
  • A recording studio

The space in between the anchors would be filled in with smaller shops that are either locally or independently owned. South 4th Street is already home to a number of businesses. The plan did not specifically call for any of the existing restaurants, wig shops or other retailers to be closed or relocated.

During the mayoral campaign, both candidates discussed the need to develop the area south of 4th Street and build a stronger corridor between Broadway to Main Street. The new plan was put together this year by real estate strategist Rick Hill, whom the DDC commissioned to do studies of downtown retail. Hill found that about $235 million is spent downtown annually. He estimates that $447 million would be spent if partially-vacant areas like south 4th Street were redeveloped.

“[South 4th Street] is like a nice beautiful smile with a few teeth knocked out,” said Hill as he discussed his proposal.

Meeting attendees were largely in favor of the plan, though several were skeptical. Some asked how the district might compete with businesses near the new arena, in NuLu on east Market Street or in the proposed Center City project, which would be developed by the Baltimore-based Cordish Companies that also developed 4th Street Live.

Hill and DDC director Alan DeLisle said the area would not be in competition with either. DeLisle said he talked with Cordish, and company executives did not see the proposed 4th Street project as a threat, since it would bring more visitors downtown. It also would not require the same investment from the city. The district would be developed differently than 4th Street Live or the as-yet-unbuilt Center City. First, there would be no central owner of buildings. Further, while the DDC would potentially court and offer loans to businesses, it would not control leases.

Center City’s proponents championed it as a way to bring retail downtown, however the project is stalled due to the poor economy. DeLisle said many national retailers are not interested in moving into unproven markets such as downtown Louisville.

The plan must still get final approval from DDC staff. DeLisle said he’s open to exploring changes to zoning laws and infrastructure improvements.

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