It’s been 50 years since Petula Clark assured us that:
Downtown, where all the lights are bright;
downtown, waiting for you tonight;
downtown, you’re gonna be alright now.
Much has changed in the American urban landscape in that half-century and, increasingly in many cities, the lights are not always much brighter there anymore.
But they’ve been flickering alive in downtown Louisville in the last few years, thanks to the combined effort of Metro Government, real estate developers, some enlightened employers, many enlightened restaurateurs, and the Louisville Downtown Partnership.
On Sunday, Sept. 20, the Downtown Partnership will hold its 14th annual free Downtown Living Tour, a showcase of condominiums, apartments and lofts. As much as it is a shopping trip for interested purchasers, though, Rebecca Matheny hopes it will be an eye-opener for people to get an idea of how people live downtown: the convenience to sports, theater and concerts; the views of the river or the skyline; and the luxury or funkiness or simply the possibilities of the available living spaces.
The interest is there, says the executive director of the Louisville Downtown Partnership. In fact, she says, demand has exceeded supply so much that the LDP has had some trouble lining up enough available properties for the tour. Right now, the tour — sponsored by Republic Bank and Norton Hospital — will include:
310 @ NuLu (310 E. Jefferson St.), four stories of urban-style loft apartments in the heart of the East Market District.
800 City Tower Apartments (800 S. Fourth St.), the 52-year-old, 29-story high rise near Spalding University that this summer announced a new owner and “major renovation” during the next 18 months.
Fleur de Lis (324 E. Main St.), the condominiums across from Slugger Field, a five-story new-construction project right in the middle of downtown activity.
Galt House Suite Apartments (141 N. Fourth St.), the hotel’s 56 fully furnished rental units with convenient location and fabulous views.
Lofts of Broadway (419 Finzer St.), the historic former tobacco warehouse transformed to lofts, a block south of Broadway between Preston and Jackson streets in what the city hopes will become the flourishing SoBro neighborhood.
However, there might be more stops on the tour, says Jeanne Hilt, Downtown Partnership’s events manager. “Last-minute additions are not uncommon.”
Also, staff representatives from the Louisville Downtown Residents Association (LDRA) will be on hand at check-in to talk about urban living.
Though the precious supply right now makes this a seller’s market, the law of supply and demand usually encourages supply to catch up. That’s how supply and demand normally works. But Matheny says it’s a bit more complicated in this case. Available vacant downtown property to be developed from the ground up is in limited quantity and expensive, and “we lag behind other cities in terms of supply coming online,” she says. “Kentucky doesn’t have the same kinds of incentives, financing opportunities and tax credits for developing lands for reuse that other states have. TIFs (Tax Increment Financing) are not being used aggressively and there is no property tax abatement mechanism.”
Metro Government has been very supportive of re-urbanization, she says, but the commonwealth has been slower to come around. “Some states have income tax incentives, incentives for employers, infrastructure incentives,” Matheny says. She thinks the reason is that Kentucky has fewer dense urban markets than some other states and so the mindset and priorities in Frankfort are not inclined in that direction.
The result, she says, is that “we are effectively at full rental occupancy. It’s a very tight rental market and also not a lot of condos available, despite the perceptions.”
Another misperception, she says, is the evaluation of who is driving the demand. “The superficial analysis is that it’s being driven by millennials. But it’s also empty-nesters, single parents, newly marrieds, newly divorceds, all unmarrieds – it’s part of a nationwide trend.
“We’re seeing all kinds of people wanting to return to the urban core, to be able to walk to work, enjoy the 24/7 vibrancy, urban density, energy and vibe,” she says.
To accommodate this demand, the LDP has expanded its view of downtown beyond what are the narrow confines of the Central Business District: east to west from I-64 to Ninth Street, north to south from the river to Broadway.
“Our target area has extended east, beyond I-64, to encompass the East Market Street/NuLu neighborhood,” Matheny says. And the Downtown Partnership is hoping for approval to expand its management district to 12th Street, the first expansion in 20 years of the Business Improvement District (BID) that it oversees. If the expansion is approved, a few neighborhoods in west Louisville will begin to see the LPD ambassadors sweeping and power-washing sidewalks, planting trees and flowers, removing snow from crosswalks and helping people with directions.
Beyond that, says Matheny, “I’m always glad to hear about developments in the edge neighborhoods that are filling the urban housing need, like a new housing project in Butchertown and all that’s happening in Germantown and Irish Hill.”
Sunday’s event will run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Participants are encouraged to park (free) and check in (free) at Louisville Slugger Field (401 E. Main St.). Shuttle transportation (also free) will be available to take attendees to the various venues.
“We’re expecting even more interest than usual this year due to the 900 new residential units that have been announced or are under development in downtown Louisville,” Matheney says. “So even if people don’t come with a checkbook, but just to get a sense of the growing phenomenon, we’ll have plenty to show them.”