Louisville`s historic neighborhoods are urban treasures that reflect the city`s growth following its first settlement in 1778. Settlers at the Falls of the Ohio were followed by waves of immigrants, developing a thriving river-based mercantile economy that can be traced in Main Street`s cast-iron warehouse facades, the archeology of the old Portland Wharf, and stately Victorian houses on tree-lined boulevards.
The loss of historic references at the center of the city during the urban revitalization efforts of the 1960s and 70s led us to recognize that retaining and reusing the character-defining fabric of the city was a key to ensuring the city`s unique style and livability. Support for preservation took root and grew in Louisville`s traditional neighborhoods and culminated in the nomination of 13,000 structures to the National Register of Historic Places and the creation of five local preservation districts containing a total of 3,000 structures.
But preservation is more than just putting up historic markers and regulating architectural changes. It is using the past constructively to bring people back to the city where affordability, services, convenience, and general quality of life cannot be matched in sprawling subdivisions.
Making Downtown the Place to Live, Work, and Play
Public recognition and investment in infrastructure have spawned $5 million in private investment for the redevelopment of our historic Main Street. Pioneers in the private sector have also led the way, epitomized by Actors` Theatre of Louisville`s dramatic revitalization of the old Bank of Louisville to become its main stage theater. The Louisville Science Center, housed in a 19th-century Main Street warehouse acquired by the city, has raised $7.6 million in private funding to create a whole new environment for learning that is fun.
But even more than this kind of partnering, we are now realizing the significance of our traditional neighborhoods as blueprints for making the city of Louisville the place to live, work, and play.
Beginning in 1991, while serving as county judge/executive, I championed a new comprehensive land-use plan called Cornerstone 2020. After an extensive process of citizen involvement, we are almost ready to adopt a land development code that calls for land uses to be considered in the context of design compatibility and traditional neighborhood development patterns that foster a livable city. This year, the U.S. Conference of Mayors honored Louisville as one of America`s most livable cities based on our efforts to bring people back to the city with new housing and other amenities. Our Downtown Plan calls for developing new neighborhoods around historic focal points or landmarks, the character of which creates "memorable addresses" for people who want to live near their work, shopping, and a variety of entertainment venues including Waterfront Park and Louisville Slugger Field.
We created a $6 million Downtown Housing Incentive Fund, with half of that contributed by private sources, which has made the difference in bringing new mixed-use projects to our downtown, like Waterfront Park Place`s luxury condominiums on the Ohio River waterfront, Glassworks Lofts` artists` studios and loft apartment space, St. Francis High School`s redevelopment of the old downtown YMCA, and Firehouse Lofts where new loft apartments are located above an art gallery.
We have submitted a new $35 million HOPE VI grant application that will leverage $434 million for redevelopment of the Clarksdale public housing project east of down-town and in the surrounding neighborhoods within a one-mile radius. Traditional neighborhood patterns have pro-vided the template for new housing construction throughout the city. Coming on the heels of Louisville`s success in building a mixed-income neighborhood with another HOPE VI grant in the Park DuValle area, this plan calls for partnering among residents, public agencies, and private developers to rehab or construct more than 1,800 housing units and knit together the urban fabric. Rather than isolate poverty, we are crossing neighborhood boundaries to develop a unified and diverse city of many races and economic levels.
On Main and Market streets, close to our river roots, the city has purchased key parcels of land for redevelopment with a mixture of uses. Building upon the public investment in streetscape improvements, private sector use of federal investment tax credits has assisted rehab projects like the new Brown-Forman Corporation headquarters, the Frazier Firearms Museum, and Glassworks Lofts. The new Muhammad Ali Center will have a Main Street presence as well.
Further east - on "eMain" - new high-tech neighborhood is centered on the $2.7 million renovation of the Clock Tower Building on the corner of Brook and Main as a center for e-business services. "eMain USA" is part of our vision to create a city that is vibrant and alive 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Nearby, public investments are reclaiming our connection to the river at Waterfront Park and the adaptation of the historic B&O railroad depot to create Louisville Slugger Field as a state-of-the-art AAA minor league baseball ballpark.
These projects have established a climate for the rescue of "Whiskey Row," old warehouses used to store whiskey barrels as they came off river barges. The spectacular block of Victorian commercial buildings is being privately developed into a new boutique hotel, offices, retail, and housing.
Louisville`s historic Fourth Street - once the city`s retail and entertainment corridor - is returning to prominence. Plans for a new Entertainment District will get off the ground this year. Working with our urban renewal agency, the impressive Public Radio Partnership/HAS Broadband Building was purchased and renovated for a live broadcast studio, and we anticipate the redevelopment of the Henry Clay Hotel through an agreement with a private developer and hotel operator. Private investment has returned both the Palace and Brown theaters to their former glory as performance venues.
Reusing Our Industrial Past
We also have looked to Louisville`s history as a hub for river and rail transportation for new ideas. This October our Richardsonian Romanesque Union Station, built in 1895, will welcome the return of Amtrak passenger rail service for the first time since 1976. A task force has made recommendations for restoring as a public greenway the neglected environment of Bear-grass Creek, where there had been a history of pollution from the slaughterhouses and meat packing plants, which gave the Butchertown neighborhood its name. Capitalizing on Frederick Law Olmsted`s legacy of parks and parkways that tie together our city`s neighborhoods and the river, an extension of Waterfront Park will link western Louisville with the downtown district along the river to complete Olmsted`s vision.
Downstream in the Portland neighborhood, plans for a unique archeological park are emerging for the Portland Wharf, long abandoned under fill-dirt with access cut off by a floodwall and interstate system. The new park will bring the neighborhood`s heritage alive for residents through compelling storytelling and research. The potential for adaptive use of the U.S. Marine Hospital, a National Historic Landmark, is being studied and, with the park, can become a catalyst for heritage tourism and neighborhood renewal.
New Enthusiasm for City Living
Preservation in Louisville means "neighborhoods." As one resident activist said in a recent story reported by the Courier-Journal, "City living is hip again, and come on back." Preservation is part of an antidote to sprawl.
Preservation has meant looking at the patterns of city development that brought housing, workplaces, and recreational opportunities together to create vibrant places to live. Most recently, in the California neighborhood, construction of 48 new affordable homes on vacant lots acquired from the city has been linked with the rehabilitation of older homes, financing programs, and a leadership development program through the Housing Partnership, city of Louisville, and three local banks.
In Louisville, preservation means people working together, pooling resources, and renewing the call to "Come to the city."
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Publication Date: Fall 2001