Catholic Charities of Louisville could be forced to leave south Louisville if a resident’s landmarking petition prevents it from tearing down two historic buildings in order to construct a new headquarters at its current location on South Fourth Street, according to its executive director, Lisa DeJaco Crutcher.
Catholic Charities is the social-service arm of the Archdiocese of Louisville. Its staff is split between two campuses – one in a former convent on the Holy Name Campus at 2911 S. Fourth St. and the other in the old St. Anthony Church on West Market Street.
The nonprofit wants to build a new $7.5 million, 31,000-square-foot headquarters that would allow it to relocate nearly all of its staff to the South End. But some area residents oppose the plan because it would require the demolition of two buildings that are listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
The Holy Name campus dates back to 1902. The Holy Name Church and Rectory, which are still used by the parish, are located on South Third Street. The former convent that Catholic Charities uses is facing Fourth Street as does a vacant school and a gymnasium.
The church, rectory, school and the convent are listed on the national registry for their combination of Romanesque, Gothic, and Classical Revival styles. The gym was built in 1953 and is not on the registry.
DeJaco Crutcher said she didn’t think the current administration at the Archdiocese of Louisville even knew the convent and school were on the national registry because the application was made in the 1980s.
Catholic Charities wants to demolish the convent, the school and gym for its new headquarters. But in early May, a south Louisville community activist, Ann Ramser, began circulating a petition to have the buildings landmarked.
Ramser said landmarking would not prevent the buildings from being torn down, but it would force Catholic Charities to justify the demolition to the Louisville Metro Historic Landmarks and Preservation Districts Commission.
She believes the buildings should be redeveloped into housing for older residents, low-income families or refugees rather than be demolished.
“Catholic Charities is a great organization. They do a lot of good things for the community, but I don’t think the residents have the information they need about this project,” Ramser said. “I think they need to share more details about the cost of renovation before they demolish these buildings.”
Ramser must obtain at least 101 signatures from residents living in Metro Council District 15, where Holy Name located, and 99 more signatures from residents living anywhere within Jefferson County before June 16 to prevent immediate demolition. She said she has not counted how many signatures she has so far, but she is sure she’ll have the appropriate number by the deadline.
DeJaco Crutcher said her organization spends more than $32,000 a year on mileage and wastes thousands of hours having employee travel between campuses to do their work. She said the organization will save $130,000 annually with the new headquarters because it is now spending $225,ooo a year on repairs and maintenance of the Market Street and South Market campuses.
The South Fourth Street office is so cold during the winter, she added, employees wear coats and gloves indoors and the electrical circuits shorts out on occasion because too many people are using space heaters.
“Just because these buildings are on the registry doesn’t mean they have any ongoing value. Holy Name is a small parish and can’t afford the upkeep. We can’t afford to continue submitting our staff and clients to these conditions in our headquarters. We need more space and it is not feasible for us to renovate our current space. The old convent has holes in the roof that leak into the conference room. It would cost us more than $100,000 to fix that alone,” she explained.
DeJaco Crutcher said she was surprised by the push back from the community because the school on the campus has been vacant for decades and has severe water damage and the gym hasn’t been occupied in several years.
Ramser and DeJaco Crutcher had a phone conversation on May 21 to try to work out their issues, but afterward, Ramser said she still could not support the demolition of the historic buildings.
DeJaco Crutcher said the recent redevelopment of the long-vacant Colonial Gardens has made south Louisville residents believe that every area landmarks can be saved.
In 2008, a group of south Louisville businessmen attempted to buy Colonial Gardens and raze it to make way for a new complex, but some residents led a campaign to have the building landmarked to stop the development. The city ended up buying the beer garden and selling it to the developer Underhill Associates for $1.
The buildings on the Holy Name campus are too far gone for any developer to be interested in them, DeJaco Crutcher said, and this latest landmark petition could make it impossible for Catholic Charities could stay in the South End.
“We don’t want to have to move to an office building off Hurstbourne Lane,” she said. “Catholic Charities has been in south Louisville for 40 years and we want to stay here. But the community could end up getting three vacant buildings on Fourth Street instead of two if we can’t get more space.”
This article was corrected to reflect that the $130,000 was savings on maintaining the two Catholic Charities campuses and not the cost of the just the South Fourth Street campus.