All eyes in Shelby Park are on Logan Street Market, which is set to open Aug. 10, but there’s more going on, including a real estate group hoping to turn a former corner store into a visionary concept.

Chris Thomas of the Thomas Group said his firm has been sitting on a pair of properties at the corner of South Clay and Camp streets in Shelby Park for about a year and a half, and its hope is to find a partner who will create something positive for the neighborhood, be it a restaurant, a music venue or something else entirely.

The question at this point is less “what?” and more “who?” Thomas acknowledges that and his partners aren’t restaurateurs, they’re real estate professionals. They even made a video (above) to distribute to help explain their vision and attract someone with a concept that will work.

Thomas also has brainstormed with the Shelby Park Neighborhood Association, and one concept that has been discussed is an incubator kitchen with a mission focus, perhaps something similar to The Table in Portland. In other words, something that will serve the neighborhood while also attracting people from outside the neighborhood, much like Logan Street Market hopes to do.

Shelby Park, which has about 3,000 residents, already has some unique businesses, even before the public market opens its doors next month. Idlewild Butterfly Farm is a private insectarium, while Scarlet’s Bakery offers life skills, baking skills and general work readiness for women transitioning into a new way of life.

Shelby Park buildings
The Thomas Group seeks a partner to turn these buildings into a unique concept. | Google photo

Then there’s Red Top Hot Dogs and Head First Media, not to mention Great Flood Brewing Company’s production brewery located in Shelby Park. Tim Faulkner Gallery, meanwhile, is close by in Smoketown. And, of course, the neighborhood has the beautiful public park for which it is named.

In addition, Shelby Park is uniquely centered between other thriving areas, from Germantown, Schnitzelburg and Paristown Pointe next door to the nearby Highlands, Phoenix Hill, Downtown Business District and Old Louisville.

Thomas said his firm invested about $210,000 in purchasing the former JR’s at 701 Camp Street and the small residential building next door at 705 Camp. He said plans are to renovate the former store to suit its eventual tenant and to demolish the “horrendously built” duplex next door to create outdoor space for dining or events.

Thomas didn’t acquire the buildings by chance, either. He started his career in real estate in 2002, and the Thomas Group has renovated and resold four homes in Shelby Park. The firm sees potential in the neighborhood and its future.

Logan Street Market exterior
Shelby Park is about to get an injection of life when Logan Street Market opens Aug. 10. | Courtesy of Logan Street Market

“Knowing there are other initiatives going on that are positive, this is a spot on the front end of what’s going to happen,” Thomas says.

Chip Rogalinski is president of the neighborhood association in Shelby Park, and he appreciates Thomas’ shared vision for the area. Rogalinski’s quick to point out that a 2003 census showed there were 300 vacant homes and buildings in Shelby Park. Based on an informal count by the association, he believes that number now is about 54, including the two buildings Thomas owns.

Some may call it “gentrification.” It’s a term that leaves a sour taste on Rogalinski’s palate.

“Here’s this individual investing with partners who have done four houses and done these four houses in a very quality manner,” Rogalinksi says. “Now they’re trying to create a concept that will fit into the neighborhood. That’s not gentrification. The fact is, this development group is trying to get it right. People need to recognize that’s the way development [in Shelby Park] has occurred over the last eight years.”

He says the incubator kitchen is the idea he likes best for the neighborhood, adding, “but we know they have to make money.”

The Logan Street Market opening could help shine a beacon to bring in people from around the city and make the purpose of that corner more obvious. Rogalinski said Mike and Medora Safai, the couple behind the market, have shown the same focus on doing what’s right for the neighborhood. While the neighborhood has its challenges, he said, the winds could change with this type of thoughtful development and investment.

“The neighborhood still has its problems,” Rogalinski says. “Most residents are still below Kentucky’s poverty line, maybe twice below the city’s average [income]. But there are so many things that are going on that are going well.”

Now, Thomas says, it’s a matter of finding the right partner with the right concept, something the neighborhood needs but which will be unique enough to draw interest from surrounding neighborhoods. Likely it will be something food-oriented, but he also sees the opportunity for live music in the building’s second floor. As long as it fits.

“We want to do this in a responsible and good way,” Thomas says. “It’s going to be cool – we’re just not sure what kind of cool.”

Kevin Gibson
Kevin Gibson tackles the 3Rs — retail, restaurants, real estate — plus, economic development. He loves bacon, loathes cucumbers and once interviewed Yoko Ono. Check out his books, “Louisville Beer: Derby City History on Draft” and “100 Things to do in Louisville Before You Die.” He has won numerous awards for his work but doesn’t know where most of them are now. In his spare time, he plays in a band called the Uncommon Houseflies.Email Kevin at [email protected]