(Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of profile interviews/Q&As with the people who are shaping Louisville – developers, entrepreneurs, and investors. Next up will be developer Steve Poe.)
Not many people can lay claim to having changed the trajectory of a city.
But Bill Weyland, managing director of CITY Properties Group, has played a crucial role in transforming Louisville from just another hollow, suburban-focused city to a city with (finally) an accelerating downtown renaissance.
That authentic renewal is an amalgam of creatively reusing historic buildings, and building new ones to fill the gaps left by the destructive dogma of 1950s and 1960s “urban renewal.”
Weyland’s run of seminal projects starts in 1996 with converting an abandoned West Main Street building into the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. That run includes saving the endangered YWCA building and turning it into the Henry Clay, a premier mixed-use project that includes events spaces and apartments.
Weyland’s portfolio includes building the Zirmed Tower at Eighth and Market streets and converting with Valle Jones the antebellum East Main Street buildings into Whiskey Row Lofts, Troll Pub Under the Bridge and other restaurants just east of KFC Yum! Center.
Tomorrow, Weyland is scheduled to hold a ground-breaking ceremony to mark the beginning of construction of the 8-story, 162-room Hilton Garden Inn on the southeast corner of Fourth and Chestnut streets.
This is the second major project of the year for CITY Properties.
Last month, another corner of downtown came back to life when the Volunteers of American moved their Louisville headquarters into the first floor of the renovated Guthrie Coke Building on the northwest corner of Fourth and Chestnut. The 36,000-square-foot, four-story building also includes retails, 16 apartments and a planned restaurant.
The residential aspect was not a conversion, said Amador Delatorre III, a Realtor with Weichert Realtors who’s handling the apartment rentals
The Guthrie Coke was built in 1885 as a mixed-use, retail and residential building, with 11-foot ceilings, light wells and windows designed for optimal cross ventilation, Delatorre said.
IL talked with Weyland on several occasions, including a lengthy interview last month. The following is an excerpt from that interview.
Insider Louisville: You’re starting the Hilton at Fourth and Chestnut, on the southeast corner. Mary Moseley is reconfiguring the old Stewart’s Building at Fourth and Muhammad Ali into an Embassy Suites. You’ve just finished the Guthrie Coke restoration. That’s a lot going on in a relatively small section of the city.
Bill Weyland: It’s going to be huge. It’s going to be huge. And I don’t think it’s any one project. But when you put three together like that, then attempt to put a fourth in place, that is a game changer. For a corridor like that. You’re talking about a tremendous amount of development in a block.
For three years, we’ve been saying at IL that if someone would do something with the Stewart’s Building … that would begin the revolution. Are we overstating things?
I think the combination of what Mary (Moseley) is doing at the Stewart’s building to bring it back to life. A significant building. The city’s efforts to work with the hospitals to get the old Walgreens space put back together (on the northwest corner of Fourth and Chestnut) is very important. I think the Guthrie Coke Building is important, and I think the hotel at Fourth and Chestnut is important.
I think all of those are important. And the new retailers (along South Fourth) give a sense of cohesiveness as you walk down the street. The new streetscape gives a feel you’re not walking off the end of the world.
The Brown (Hotel) and Theater Square were just too far away (from Fourth Street Live) to pull people down Fourth Street. Now, it’s going to be much easier to make that a viable experience.
It becomes much more like the three great blocks on West Main.
Between Stewart’s, the Coke and the retailers, it’s going to be easy to pull people through there.
The hotel business this year killed it. We did a piece on the CVB this year. A lot of people missed this, but it was a stellar year for conventions.
And you could see it coming because we lost all the hotel rooms at Hotel Louisville. Essentially. They’re still statistically there, but not for the business travelers.
So, what we did is, we shrank the downtown supply, effectively, and we added attractions. And we didn’t build. But I think you’re seeing you can just now access capital to build with. For a long time, that was so difficult. Now it’s becoming a little easier.
Will your new hotel be aimed at transient business?
Our hotel is oriented toward the business traveler during the week. Then, it is the piece that was needed to allow us to fully utilize the event spaces in the Henry Clay that are primarily used on the weekend. That will allow the brides and the wedding parties and people at these big events to walk across a connecting pedestrian bridge straight from the events spaces in the Henry Clay into the hotel. Which is something that was always in the master plan when it was created seven years ago. But it’s been a hard step to move forward until now.
You’re doing this in partnership with private equity?
I’m doing this in partnership with First Hospitality Group out of Chicago. They’re a firm that concentrates on urban hotels. They’re in 35 cities, and this is the first time they’ll be in Kentucky.
For me, it was exciting to attract capital from outside the state. This is the first time we’ve been able to do that. And I think it shows an increased vitality in the city. The increased vitality of the city played a role in this.
They’re always looking for yield. Have the numbers stayed the same?
It will have 162 rooms. It will have a rooftop bar and restaurant I think will be a significant destination for visitors. It’s going to have a really great view of Louisville. And I personally am entranced with the idea of mixing the new building and the old 1920s historic (Henry Clay) building. You can’t duplicate the historic building. But the new building will give you the opportunity to have new rooms in a new configuration with the size standards that exist today. We have a great flag. Hilton will dominate those three blocks. (The Seelbach Hotel at Fourth and Muhammad Ali, built in 1905, also is flagged as a Hilton.)
Are you still thinking about doing the hotel at Ninth and Market?
It’s Eighth and Market. I still think there’s a niche to serve the west side where we have the courts complex and the museum district.
This town has been a little dormant since The Recession. Maybe now, it’s latent demand. It could have been done years ago. It wasn’t. The Recession set in.
I think a lot of opportunities flow from jobs. In cities, you have to have 24-hour neighborhoods. You have to have housing. Just as we were starting, Memphis and Indianapolis … they got behind downtown housing quicker than we did. As a result, they got into the ground before we did. We’re sort of late to the game. We had this downtown housing fund and a lot of this stuff when Dave Armstrong was in office. That was 2000, 2001.
We were five years behind. Just as we were ramping up, we hit this housing crisis. The cities that were five years ahead of us took advantage of a big growth period. That is why there is latent demand. From a timing standpoint … the timing didn’t work. It’s just unfortunate. To this day, I will say this. We have not put the housing incentives in place in these cities. I think that’s a weakness.
We’re still behind. When you’re behind, you need to be aggressive.
Well, we spend $9.8 million every year on the arena, money that could be used as incentive on … whatever. There’s just not enough money in this town to do all the things that need to be done.
See, I disagree. The problem is, we don’t think through the economics of projects well enough. When you’re behind, you can’t make decisions that end up costing you $10 million a year. That’s not a strategy.
The Guthrie Coke Building is finished. Are the apartments occupied?
People started moving in July 15. We’re hoping to be totally full by mid-October. There will be a restaurant. As soon as the lease is finished, we can talk about that. But there is something big coming!