Louisville's "Whiskey Row" at Risk
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Mar. 11, 2011
In downtown Louisville, Ky., seven historic buildings on a block known as Whiskey Row are threatened with demolition, despite their status as city landmarks.
Long abandoned, the cast-iron and brick buildings were constructed between 1852 and 1905 in the epicenter of the city's bourbon industry. Four years ago, local developer Todd Blue of Cobalt Ventures bought the buildings for $4.3 million. Preservation groups, worried that Whiskey Row might be lost, launched an effort to landmark the buildings, and the city did so in June 2010, presumably saving the buildings from demolition. (Blue did not respond to requests for comment.)
But last year, after officials rejected Blue's demolition request, Cobalt Ventures sued the City of Louisville. Mayor Greg Fischer took office last November and settled the case with Blue on Jan. 31. Under the terms of the settlement, the city will issue demolition permits after a 90-day delay.
"The mayor, when he struck this deal with the developer to hopefully save the facades, put in a 90-day cooling period before any demolition could begin in the hopes that this would help bring some buyers forward to buy some or all of the buildings from Mr. Blue," says mayoral spokesman Chris Poynter.
Indeed, Mayor Fischer is working with several potential buyers who are interested in buying some of the threatened buildings, according to Poynter. "We're very hopeful that they can be saved and renovated, and we are in the middle of that process now," he says.
Landmarking the Row
To aid in the research and application for Whiskey Row's city landmark status, the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Southern Office awarded a grant of $2000 in May 2010 to Preservation Louisville.
The 90-day period also allows time to study the feasibility of saving the buildings' cast-iron and brick facades, and, according to the settlement, the city will allot at least $450,000 toward preserving the facades.
If another buyer doesn't step forward, however, the city will issue demolition permits for the seven landmarked buildings. "That's a bad precedent for the city to take," says Rachel Kennedy, executive director of Preservation Kentucky. "We're hoping that some respect can be paid to the [city] landmarks commission."
The seven buildings have not been maintained for years, but can be salvaged, Kennedy says. (Two buildings on the same block were restored last year.) "They're not in danger of collapse," she emphasizes. "To suggest that this had to be done so quickly seems disingenuous to me."
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