The fight for Louisville’s identity entered a new and desperate phase last week as Mayor Greg Fischer cut a sleazy deal with developer Todd Blue’s Cobalt Ventures, a deal that allows Blue to demolish Main Street’s beautiful and historic cast-iron facade buildings known as Whiskey Row/Iron Quarter.
Blue bought the seven properties a few years ago and began the waiting game. By failing to make any repairs or attempts to preserve the integrity of the buildings, decay of the landmarks continued.
The resulting roof leaks and general neglect by Blue contributed to the rapid decline, all while the rest of the block experienced significant investment and success.
Let’s rewind history to a similar story that shares many commonalities, but had a much different outcome:
In 2001, Frank Faris bought an old Victorian home adjacent to his business at the bargain price of $100,000 in hopes of razing the structure to provide more parking for his restaurant, Genny’s Diner.
Unlike the more prominent Whiskey Row, the home had no significant historical value. It was just a nice place that had fallen into disrepair.
Predictably, residents and other concerned parties became irate at the idea of demolishing an old home only to replace it with a parking lot, so they sought and received “landmark status” for the home.
The Louisville Landmark Commission ruled, as it did in the case of Whiskey Row, that the home could not be razed.
Faris allowed the home to fall further into dilapidation in hopes that he could eventually take it down, just as Blue has done on Main Street.
Here is the difference between what Todd Blue received in his “back room deal” and what Frank Faris received for his efforts:
A judge got involved, and Frank Faris was promptly jailed for his alleged “neglect” of the home.
Faris was ordered to sell the home, which by then had incurred many heavy fines for code violations.
Because of the condition, Faris claimed he couldn’t find a buyer for the home, even among those who wanted to “save” it.
Faris was then ordered to give the home away for free and ultimately was sentenced to a year of home incarceration.
Genny’s Diner, itself a Louisville landmark, was closed and sold to ice cream parlor chain Comfy Cow.
Frank Faris fought to tear down an old house to expand parking for a Louisville original, Genny’s Diner.
Todd Blue fought to tear down a quarter-block of buildings of significant historical value to put up yet another architecturally bland, corporately-branded hotel (or if that doesn’t work, a parking lot).
In the end, Louisville loses.