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Downtown Works
Four major Kentucky cities are approaching downtown revitalization in four distinct ways

Louisville: Building a Downtown Culture
Arts make downtown 'authentic'

Of any Kentucky city, Louisville has by far the largest and most diverse downtown arts scene. And more than anything else, the city is tapping that to grow its downtown residential population.

“Across the nation, downtowns are piquing people’s interest because they want something authentic,” said Patti Clare, director of project development for Louisville’s Downtown Development Corp. “Louisville has capitalized on that interest.”

A mammoth illustration of the link between urban arts culture and residential development is the recently announced Museum Plaza, a 61-story, 1.2 million-square-foot skyscraper to be built next to another just-finished Louisville distinctive, the Muhammad Ali Center.

Ringing up at $380 million, the tower would add 200 apartments downtown, as well as offices, a hotel, retail space and an arts museum. Construction is slated to begin next year and be completed by 2010. City officials have said there should be no problems filling all the space in what would be Kentucky’s tallest building.

Downtown planners hope that by doing mixed-use projects like Museum Plaza, chances are better that the development will succeed and that no single component of it will overwhelm its market.

There are plenty of other projects in the works. The number of downtown housing units has doubled in the last 20 years, from roughly 900 units in 1985 to 1,800 in 2005. Within the next three years, the Development Corp. expects to see 3,600 residential units built, under construction or in planning stages.

Among the more than $800 million of construction happening in downtown Louisville, other mixed-use developments include:

Mercantile Gallery Lofts: A $10 million refurbishment of three historic buildings at 301 East Market Street. The project includes space for 47 condos and various retailers. It’s expected to be completed this summer.

Fleur de Lis Condos: This new, five-story building across from Slugger Field would contain 74 condos and retail space. The $22.5 million project is being developed by Louisville architectural firm Potter & Associates – the same folks who brought Louisville the pen-like Preston Pointe office and condo complex at 333 East Main Street.

Off Broadway: This is a $20 million restoration of Louisville’s historic YWCA building at the corner of Third and Chestnut Streets. Slated to be finished in two phases, it would eventually include retail space, 70 apartments, a two-story rooftop garden and additional commercial space in property extending to Fourth Street.

The Development Corp.’s Clare said the importance of Louisville’s smaller, less-glamorous developments cannot be ignored. They collectively add as much or more residential space to downtown as the awe-inspiring buildings.

In fact, she spends so much time hopping from one such project to the next that her days are often packed solid with appointments.

“There’s a lot popping out there,” Clare said. “They’re smaller projects, but they’re coming in the door every week.”

— Andy Olsen

Lexington: Preservation Meets Urbanization
Downtown linked to farm land

Inner-city advocates in Lexington say a recent surge of interest in downtown development is being fueled at least in part by a sense of urgency to protect Fayette County’s countryside from sprawling suburbs.

“Let’s face it: People come to Lexington to see the horse farms, not the big blue building,” said Harold Tate, president and executive director of the Lexington Downtown Development Authority, referring to the 30-story Lexington Financial Center.

Such arguments – that in-fill development is essential to preserve the economic value of Lexington’s more pastoral horse-farm surroundings – are nothing new, of course, in the city’s revolving growth vs. no-growth debates. But they’re being married now with a renewed interest nationwide in reviving and living in downtown areas.

In Lexington, 200 residential units have opened downtown in the last 18 months. More than 400 units are currently under construction, and another 600 are on the drawing board for coming years, according to the Development Authority. More than $300 million in downtown projects are in the works. “That’s huge,” Tate said.

The largest of the recently approved projects is Shelbourne Plaza, a mixed-use “urban village” at 535 South Broadway that developers say will have nearly 90,000 square feet of retail space and more than 200 two- to four-bedroom apartments.

The $80 million plaza will help link the financial district with the University of Kentucky campus and also will include an urban grocery, something downtown doesn’t have. Developers expect construction to begin this year and be completed in 2008.

Other projects in the area include:

The 500s on Main: A $22 million mixed-use project under construction on West Main Street, across from the Lexington Center, that developer Schneider Designs, Inc. says will include retail, restaurants and 55 one- and two-bedroom loft condominiums.

Centercourt: Another mixed-use development in Lexington’s so-called College Town area, a strip of land between downtown and the UK campus. Centercourt could add more than 100 one- and two-bedroom loft apartments and townhomes by the time it’s completed. It’s one of a number of downtown projects developer Bill Lear has undertaken.

The Blackhorse at Gratz Park: A complex under construction on North Mill Street of 70 luxury condos starting at $400,000.

Two projects on Main Street by Lexington developer Phil Holoubek – Main & Rose and the Nunn Building Lofts – could add more than 100 apartments within two blocks of each other. Main & Rose also could include restaurants, a day spa and a possible grocery store. Both are expected to be completed in 2007.

Lexington’s mini downtown renaissance has been a case of pent-up demand and growing supply, Tate said. Many potential downtown dwellers are not willing to buy historic homes and restore them, but are eager to buy smaller, upscale condos. As more new units are rented and sold, Tate said his office has been fielding calls from former Lexingtonians living in cities like Chicago who want to move back and get downtown digs of their own.

Banks, too, have taken a more active interest in downtown developments in recent years. Generally more expensive and risky than suburban developments, such projects often could not get funding from banks until they were almost entirely pre-sold.

But “their attitude has changed completely,” Tate said. “Now they’re like, ‘Sure, what you got?’”

—Andy Olsen

Owensboro: Planning Downtown Online
The dream of Web-driven development

In Owensboro, downtown rejuvenation hinges on two sleeping giants: a river walk and a Web site. The first is a multi-million dollar project already under way, and the second is a dream growing inside a computer in Keith Free’s office.

Free, director of Owensboro’s Community Development Department, has proposed a master plan for the city’s downtown that would put at investors’ fingertips everything they need to know before beginning downtown. Through Owensboro’s Web site, developers could access up-to-date information about any property in downtown – essential tidbits like a building’s value, the number of parking spaces within walking distance, the number of offices inside and whether the current owner is willing to sell.

Even floor plans and interior plans and interior photos could someday be available on the site. Best of all, investors could search for properties based on any number of criteria, linking each one to street maps and satellite images of downtown. The site would serve as a living, breathing marketing and development tool available to prospectors from San Diego to Boston.

“This will be the future of how downtown development works,” Free said. While his vision has heavy support from the community, it’s still a couple of years from becoming reality. There are still plenty of details for the city to sort out, like how all the data will be gathered and updated, and who will oversee it.

But Free is optimistic, and he has plenty of history with revitalization. Through aggressive housing improvement programs that subsidized ownership of new and renovated homes, Free has revived residential neighborhoods surrounding downtown that were once havens for violence and open-air drug deals.

He believes such projects are key to gaining momentum to jump-start Owensboro’s business district.

“You can never really achieve real success in your core-level downtown until you’ve addressed deteriorating housing needs outside that downtown,” Free said.

The push to revive Owensboro’s sleepy downtown has gathered plenty of steam. The city already has completed a new patio and plaza on the Ohio River near the RiverPark Center. It is currently in the design stages of a $45 million riverfront development project that would include a concrete river wall, an inlet for docking small boats, a walkway along the river roughly a mile long, and potentially a privately funded water fountain.

City planners say the river project will provide a new venue for outdoor events and concerts and will become a cornerstone for attracting new development downtown – a downtown distinct from others in Kentucky.

Paul Kissinger, a principal at Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based planning and landscape architecture firm EDSA, is designing and building the riverfront. “This is going to be unique,” he said. “What’s wonderful about this city is that they’ve committed to a master plan and they’re following through with it.”

—Andy Olsen

Paducah: The Same, But Different
A repeat of Lowertown's artist program?

City of Paducah leaders are out to prove they didn’t create a one-hit wonder with their nationally recognized Artist Relocation Program.

The city is launching a second neighborhood renewal program modeled after the lauded program that transformed Lowertown, a neighborhood bordering downtown, into an artist mecca. That program offered century-old homes at little or no cost to artists from around the country who agreed to renovate them and move in with their studios.

But the plan to revitalize the Fountain Avenue neighborhood – an 18-block area adjacent to Lowertown – is a bit more down-to-earth. It would pass stricter ordinances in the neighborhood and offer money to residents who clean up their property.

This time, the city is allocating hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Fountain Avenue neighborhood, which has 256 structures compared to Lowertown’s 333. And considering that Lowertown’s total starting budget was just $45,000, the odds look good for a repeat success.

However, there won’t be a pool of artists or huge marketing campaigns to help fill homes in the Fountain Avenue neighborhood. Instead, “stricter code enforcement is going to be the major cause of the renaissance in that area,” Paducah Planning Director Tom Barnett said. “There are many people waiting and interested to see if we’re going to be successful.”

That includes city leaders, who have publicly said the project will be challenging and time-consuming. Still, few, including Paducah Mayor Bill Paxton himself, expected the “Lowertown Boom,” which has led the city to invest thousands on marketing, including a recent commitment in March of $500,000 per year for the next five or seven years to make sure the country doesn’t forget the program.

“Lowertown has been successful beyond our wildest expectations, and because of that, we want to take it to the next level and do another inner-city neighborhood,” Paxton said.

But how do you revitalize a neighborhood without marketing it toward a specific sector like artists?

“We have no specific group that we are targeting to bring to our city, but I do think that there are several age groups that are looking to relocate,” Paxton said. “One is the baby boomers, and those people are retiring and looking for a place to retire in. And we thought we could attract some of those young people coming back to the area who are renting. Maybe they can find a house that is $75,000 to $100,000 that they could afford.”

To make sure the Fountain Avenue homes are kept up to code, the city has hired a Lowertown resident, Merle Paschedag, as the Fountain Avenue neighborhood enforcement program manager. His job is simple: Peruse the neighborhood, identify problems and take the necessary steps toward correcting them.

“We would have liked to have had those standards in Lowertown,” Barnett said. “Our belief at the time was that the community would not accept those standards.”

Now, the proof is in the residents who have flooded into the area.

“It’ll be very interesting,” Barnett said, referring to the new program. “If we pull this off, I expect bars of gold.”

957 Posts
Interesting Article, I'm waiting to see if Lexington will join the bandwagon and build thier own condo tower, maybe something in the 20-30 floor range, it would do wonders for their skyline. Also I wish the article mention the Covington/Newport area, that place has gone through a lot of change recently.

2,813 Posts
It's interesting they should leave Northern Kentucky out...

I really have no idea why though.

2,698 Posts
I had some friends from Paducah and south Illinois. Paducah seems to have alot going on for its size!

2,813 Posts
I honestly dont know that much about Paducah. Care to go into any detail in addition to what the article says?
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