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Preservation Group Says Scrapped Museum Plaza Shows Need for Historic District

The community group Neighborhood Planning and Preservation says the failed Museum Plaza project demonstrates a growing need for a historic district in downtown Louisville.

Hope for the 62-story, $490 million building was scrapped Monday when developers announced they were canceling the project due to an unfavorable bond market. Preservationists point out there has been little mention of the city losing historic buildings along Main Street, which were razed to make way for the development.

Neighborhood Planning and Preservation board member Curtis Morrison says it was considered reasonable at the time to only preserve the facades when the project was first announced, but now the city is left with little to show for it.

“The remaining facades do what facades tend to always do, conceal a less pleasant reality,” he says. “The less pleasant reality is that our city does not value our historic buildings. Adding the four buildings razed for Museum Plaza, the four Brinly-Hardy buildings cleared in 2003, the two Whiskey Row buildings and three Elmo’s buildings sacrificed in the latest Whiskey Row contract, we’ll have thirteen Main Street buildings razed in less than a decade, and we’ve probably left some out.”

NPP has proposed a preservation area to regulate demolitions and what the facades should look like. It would cover downtown between Ninth Street and I-65 and Kentucky Street to the Ohio River.

Other groups have been hesitant to join the call for a new district, but Preservation Louisville has asked the Louisville Metro Landmarks Commission to revisit the status of historic buildings and asked Metro Government to conduct public forums regarding past surveys of downtown preservation.

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Proposal for Downtown Historic District Takes First Steps

The preservation group Neighborhood Planning and Preservation is now drafting boundaries it plans to propose as the new Downtown Preservation District.

NPP said the boundaries are fair, but there is some concern.

“I think the proposal for the downtown zone that was described is much, much, much too large,” said Councilman Tom Owen, whose district falls in the drafted boundaries.

Those boundaries are between Ninth Street and I-65 and Kentucky Street to the Ohio River, excluding the West Main District.

Owens supports a Downtown Preservation District but is concerned with the size of the proposal, he said.

“I don’t want the preservation community to bite off more than they can chew because there will be push back I can assure you,” said Owen.

NPP President Martina Kunneke says she’s not prepared to make any changes this early.

“I don’t want to start out with compromise. I’m not going to say compromise is impossible. Let’s just see how it develops,” she said.

Kunneke said she wants to expedite the approval process through the Metro Council and says NPP will start by gaining support from city lawmakers.

“Nothing is really impossible if the mayor and/or Metro Council put their weight behind it,” said Kunneke.

She said the next step will be to reach out to council members who may help to waive some of the administration cost and effort.

NPP has also reached out to other preservation groups in Louisville. Kunneke says some have expressed interest. While Preservation Louisville hasn’t announced its involvement with a Downtown Historic District, it has asked Metro government to have more dialog with the public and to conduct a public forum regarding past surveys of downtown preservation.

The Louisville Metro Landmarks Commission will make the final decision on whether to create a historic district.