Got Two Cents on the Iron Quarter? Mayor Fischer Offers His Reasons

Just another brick in the wall? Photo: www.thekaintuckeean.com

Amid the dinners, speeches, ribbon cutting and ground breaking of the first month of the Fischer administration, there’s this one pebble in the proverbial shoe that has thrown many out of step with City Hall.

Dubbed the Iron Quarter, by developer Todd Blue of Cobalt Ventures LLC, several structures at the mouth of the Clark Memorial Bridge  known as Whiskey Row a.k.a that embarrassing block of doomed buildings at the gateway to our city, could become a parking lot in a matter of days.

The opportunity to go from asphalt to high-rise is apparently on the table. Buzz of a hotel development group working with Blue would put Louisville on the top tier of hospitality with a W Hotel to begin restoration of the once-vital block.

Blue’s use of the terms “sports-anchored development” and “modern vintage” inspires me to think that caring hands will be in charge of the blueprints. Parking structures are needed as badly as the respect for our architectural history. Yet all the proposals for commerce and revitalization are darkened by the shady business dealings that have become the foundation for this project.
There are hopes that the original $48 million mixed-use proposal for the long neglected row–which include retail, office space and two hotels–would also be able to utilize most of the gorgeous iron works and facades in the nation.

Restoration of buildings in the area has proved to be good business with a great boost in spirit for downtown Louisville—the Henry Clay Building, Kentucky Theater, Broadband Building, the Marriot frontage and Louisville Slugger Field to name a few.

New business, such as Doc Crow’s have emerged on Whiskey Row and will hopefully draw patrons hungry for food as well as a taste of the original downtown area. However, down the street, this particular row of buildings dangle in neglect and greed should never have happened.

Finding himself wedged between the river and a hard place (and that would be Washington and Main Streets), Mayor Fischer cleared the way for Blue to proceed in exchange for dropping the lawsuit against the city.

A political handshake that might be in dire need of hand sanitizer about now is under scrutiny by not only preservationists, but garden variety citizens and lovers of Louisville as well.

The smell of Frank Faris’ battle on Frankfort Avenue with Genny’s Diner still lingers in this airing of dirty laundry on the two-tier system. Seems like government needs some re-habbing yet politics as usual is not what I’d consider to be endangered.

In the time it takes to mount the wrecking ball crane, chunks of concrete, brick and glass continue to fall from the buildings that were purchased by Blue in 2007.

It seems odd to declare an “emergency” demolition for a block of buildings inhabited only by birds and wrapped in fencing and tape for years.

Perhaps one of the best conversations to follow on this topic (and many others), is Steve Magruder at Louisville History & Issues public discussion website. It honors the past and people who speak out.

Bear in mind that the malaise that began in the last decade of the 20th century should be scribbled into the math of this urban travesty.

We are down to the wire for strategies and sales to become dry ink and satisfy both progress and history.

If this could be accomplished, such a movement would be recognized as one of the city’s most powerful and emotional grassroots efforts to occur in years.

If the Commonwealth of Kentucky can stand united, it seems that architecture and design could remain intact as well.

I am hoping  for the salvaging and inclusion of the glory of Main Street in both iron and aesthetic design. My hopes are for readers to use the posts on www.louisvilleky.com as a forum and weigh in with their ideas and opinions about this issue–anything from architecture to transparency in government, fond Main Street memories to preservation strategy.

Your two cent’s-worth will add up quickly.

I sent a question through the proper Communications channel of Chris Poyinter to present to Fischer:

I heard that an entrepreneur often asks “why” and “why not?”  That resonated with me and sparked some thoughts on the issues of the Iron Quarter. Your campaign ran on your strength and success as an entrepreneur. If you were not an elected official today, what ideas would you offer for Main Street to blend progress and history?

Rather than a candid response, I received the circulated “reasons” list for the deal.

Based on evidence presented in the case, and with a trial ready to begin, the federal judge could have ordered the buildings immediately demolished because they posed a public safety threat. This would have given my administration no opportunity to save anything, even the facades. Rather than risk losing everything, I chose to save something

The buildings were in imminent danger of collapse. Cobalt hired three experts – two structural engineers and a risk-assessment professional — to evaluate the buildings. All three said the buildings posed immediate dangers of collapse. A Metro Government Building Code Inspector agreed with the assessments of the condition of the buildings. This concurrence weakened the previous administration’s original position that the buildings were not a danger.

The prior mayoral administration tried numerous times to find buyers for the properties. A deal that satisfied the potential buyer and seller could not be reached.

Stay tuned for comments and suggestions from District 8 Metro Councilman Tom Owen,  Mayor of Louisville from 1999-203 Dave Armstrong and former District 19 Metro Councilman and civil engineer Hal Heiner.

11 Comments on "Got Two Cents on the Iron Quarter? Mayor Fischer Offers His Reasons"

  1. Can’t we take the $200 million+ we plan to spend to tunnel under private property in Prospect for the bridge and buy off Todd Blue?

    I interviewed Richard Moe with the National Society for Historic Preservation in DC a few years ago and he raved about Louisville and the magnificent renovation of West Main. I would be embarassedd for him to see what we’re allowing to happen with Whisky Row.

  2. Hey, it’s their money, what do you expect? Renovating those buildings would cost way more than replacing them and keeping the facades. Is it your money? Are you the one taking the risk? No. Unless you are, please shut up and let progress go forward.

    If you want to protect an ugly, useless building that is totally out-of-character with the surrounding forest and neighborhood, go to Hogan’s Fountain.

    • Except that Blue bought the buildings with the promise of renovating them, by at least preserving the facades. There is very little hope that Blue would do anything to even preserve the facades at this point — he just wants to tear it all down. It’s clear he doesn’t care at all about preservation, like he dishonestly claims.

      Basically, you’re saying that a group of citizens have to pay Blue’s price to absolve Blue’s illegal behavior. Blue was legally obligated to maintain these buildings, which have significantly deteriorated under his ownership. Why should he be treated any differently than Faris? When you’re a property owner, one has rights but one also has responsibilities, and Blue has shirked them.

      Last, it’s not progressive to destroy a city’s heritage, its distinction, its culture, its identity — No, sir, that is regressive.

  3. Good to hear from you all. Ya’ll. I want to focus on why he is perceived to have moved from the status of entrepreneur to slum lord? Why could nothing be done about the block even before he cut the deal? I think if the concerned and pro-active citizens could serve as a guide on how to spend the Blue bucks, there might be a sense of ownership or at least being part of the loop, and rise out of the mire? Can he open it up to us? Set a dialogue into motion? And thirdly, am I just too damn Pollyanna?

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