Demolition on Third Street in Louisville: Assets Lost, Opportunities Remain

By Jim Lindberg posted 04-14-2015 14:28

Falls City Theatre Equipment Co. | Credit: vxla via Flickr Creative Commons
Falls City Theatre Equipment Co. | Credit: vxla via Flickr Creative Commons

Downtown Louisville became a little less interesting over the weekend. Two old buildings along Third Street—the Morrissey Garage and the Falls City Theatre Equipment Company building—were hastily demolished, barely a day after the release of a report from the city’s engineers citing potential hazards to the public. Although clearly in very poor condition, at least portions of these structures likely could have been salvaged and retained. We will never know for sure.

Lost to the wrecking ball were not only tangible connections to the city’s past, but potential assets for a more sustainable future. As the revitalization along Main Street and elsewhere has shown, preservation and adaptive use have contributed substantially to downtown Louisville’s vitality and attractiveness as a place to work, live, shop, and visit.

Some might ask if the buildings along Third Street were really that important. You can’t save everything, after all. Of course this is true, but the Preservation Green Lab’s research in cities across the country shows that modest, everyday older buildings—like the ones demolished over the weekend—are particularly valuable as incubators for the new urban economy. These structures offer architecturally interesting, flexible, and affordable spaces that attract a diversity of enterprises, from independently-owned shops to local restaurants and start-up businesses, including high percentages of women- and minority-owned businesses.

Equally important is the way older buildings are arranged along the street, providing a canvas for increased pedestrian activity as well as an environment that is visually interesting, something highly valued by residents and visitors alike. And of course any time we reuse an older building we are saving valuable materials and the energy that went into its construction. These are among the reasons that retaining older buildings alongside human-scaled new development is not an idea promoted by preservationists alone—it is an urban design best practice embraced by developers, architects, planners and downtown advocates across the country.

 Morrissey Parking Garage and Falls City Theatre Equipment Co. being demolished. | Credit: Preservation Louisville
Morrissey Parking Garage and Falls City Theatre Equipment Co. being demolished. | Credit: Preservation Louisville

While these potential assets for downtown Louisville’s revitalization were lost over the weekend, other opportunities for reuse remain, including the vacant Water Company structure and the Odd Fellows Hall on the same block. As cities such as Charleston, South Carolina, have shown, integrating older buildings into new hotel developments can encourage more pedestrian traffic and help spur additional investment nearby. We are hopeful that future development on this site will incorporate creative design solutions to include adaptive use of the Water Company building and Odd Fellows Hall.

 During the visit of Prince Charles last month, National Trust CEO Stephanie Meeks announced that “The Heart of Louisville” is a National Treasure. This designation signals the importance of Louisville’s heritage and the city’s potential to become a national model for new approaches to preservation and sustainability. The Preservation Green Lab is leading the National Trust’s work on the Heart of Louisville National Treasure, which encompasses not only downtown but the many older neighborhoods that surround the city center.

Our recent experience in places such as Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., has shown how newly available data sources can help us measure the connections between older buildings and all kinds of urban vitality indicators, from jobs per square foot to cell phone usage on Friday night. We are already at work to apply these and other new approaches to develop a full picture of the opportunities for building reuse and retrofitting in Louisville. Despite the unfortunate sequence of events on Third Street, we remain optimistic about the role that older buildings can play in making Louisville a more sustainable, equitable, and resilient city.

Based in Denver, James Lindberg is the senior director of the National Trust’s Preservation Green Lab.

#PreservationGreenLab #Sustainability #Louisville #NationalTreasure #ReUrbanism

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