Welcome to the March 2 Monday Business Briefing.
This is your private business intelligence briefing, with Insider Louisville staff and contributors vetting tips collected during the past few days, hours and minutes before we post.
As we wait for winter to break later this week, we get to the bottom of a big shakeup at a local company you’ll recognize (and if you don’t know them, we guarantee you know some of their clients). We sort out the prospects for P3 in Frankfort, find out what Brown-Forman did to get that climate change award from the EPA, and take a five-year study of Louisville’s residential real estate for a spin. We also report on a longtime restaurant closing in St. Matthews and a long-lost love of craft-brew fans finally arriving in Kentucky.
But first, about those whispers in Butchertown …
Delayed Butchertown project a harbinger for developers?
The icy weather in Louisville and Nashville was to blame for the latest delay in the approval process for a much anticipated $48 million condo and retail development at the corner of Main and Clay streets in Butchertown. But it’s the various delays during the past year, since the Music City-based Bristol Group got the property with four protected historic buildings under contract, that has developers and real estate pros in Louisville and the region starting to wonder whether working with historic properties here is worth the hassle.
IL spoke with Charles Carlisle, CEO of The Bristol Group, last week about the prospects for his seven-story, 260-unit condo and apartment complex, which is also expected to include street-level retail. He remained upbeat, saying his firm is “absolutely, totally committed” to the project. The Metro Landmarks Commission is scheduled to hear the latest appeal of the project from attorney Steve Porter and local preservationists on March 19, and Carlisle says he’s focussed on that. And he wouldn’t say any more.
It’s others who are doing the talking. According to real estate insiders, hungry developers in competitor cities including Nashville, Cincinnati and Indianapolis have increasingly looked to Louisville for new action as prices in those cities rise and inventory tightens. And they’re watching Butchertown to see whether urban infill is viable in a city that tightly restricts reuse and demolition of historic properties.
We haven’t reached a tipping point yet, they say. But if a high-dollar project can’t get around a set of buildings that have arguably little practical use, it would turn off many who’d otherwise spend and build in pursuit of the city’s vision for urban infill in and around downtown.
“Louisville has historically had a reputation of being a tough city to develop projects,” says commercial real estate broker Gant Hill. “We have a reason to want to preserve rather than demolish, but I feel that we sometimes take that too far. I would love to see more density and positive momentum in the Butchertown corridor and hope that the developer will be given the opportunity to create something special.”
An out-of-town developer who’s looking at business here and wished to remain anonymous said the city lacks a good mechanism to weigh historic properties that contribute to the overall vision for the urban core versus those that take up valuable space. It’s the commonly criticized downside of a city process that gives significant authority and consideration to the neighborhoods those buildings inhabit, such as Butchertown.
“Contributing structures are not necessarily in conflict with some other development-focussed plan,” says Jessica Wethington, a spokeswoman for Develop Louisville. “Rather, they should be considered in conjunction in an effort to meet as many of the goals and objectives of both plans.”
Reed Weinberg, president of PRG Investments, says Louisville’s planning process has long had a reputation of being cumbersome, but that isn’t turning developers off quite yet.
“All of the developers that are presently doing projects in this market are very anxious to find more sites, especially ones that are infill in nature,” Weinberg says. “However, I think we are seeing out-of-state developers wanting to do multiple projects in Louisville, which I think is great.”
For its part, Metro Planning and Zoning has made forms and information more accessible to both developers and neighbors through its website. Over the past two years, it has streamlined some of its core functions, cutting initial agency review cycles from 28 to 14 days and reducing all other agency reviews from two weeks to one. In fact, Louisville’s swift and comprehensive embrace of online planning functions has drawn national attention.
But accessibility is one thing. Managing conflicts with empowered preservation interests is another.
Andy Cornelius is president of the Butchertown Neighborhood Association, which strongly supports the project. He says he’s concerned that his neighborhood — one of Louisville’s preservation districts, meaning it has its own set of rules and guidelines for development — is earning a difficult reputation.
“We share the frustrations that we’re hearing about around town, about how Louisville is becoming a harder place to do business,” he says. “This isn’t the message we want to send out about Butchertown and future development. We’re open for business.”
We’ll find out just how open later this month.