Just as the Hilton Garden Inn got final corporate approval with the hopes of a mid-November opening on Fourth and Chestnut streets, another new hotel plan sprouted from the ground a few blocks west at Eighth and Market.
It’s all Bill Weyland’s grand plan to remake downtown Louisville into the center of a commercially viable, inviting and historic place.
Like many overnight sensations, the Holiday Inn idea has been percolating for about 20 years. It has been part of Weyland’s view of the Central Business District not as some monolithic “downtown,” but as a series of districts.
To the west is his Glassworks Building, where his CITY Properties Group is headquartered – and where he developed the Louisville Slugger museum and factory for Hillerich & Bradsby in 1996.
“I see that as our convention and tourism district,” he tells Insider Louisville. “The museums and attractions on West Main, the restaurants, the adjacencies to the courts and government buildings. It needed a hotel.”
As did what he calls the entertainment district, from the Center for the Arts and Yum! Center down through Fourth Street Live and a burgeoning South Fourth Street all the way down to Broadway.
The third district is the medical center to the east, the fourth is all the restaurants and bars east of the Yum!, where Weyland has been developing his residential project, Whiskey Row Lofts. All needed hotels.
“We did a market study in 2010 that said there was a need for approximately 600 more hotel rooms in the center of the city, because of the growth of our convention center and the completion of the Yum! Center,” he said. “Nothing had been built during the 2008-09 recession period.”
West of Fifth, he said, we had only one hotel, the boutique, 90-room 21c Museum Hotel, “and that’s a special kind of facility,” not built to handle huge tourism business.
So he began, in the late 1990s, thinking about a concept based on creating outstanding tourism business on West Main. “I felt there was a need for a business hotel on weekdays, tourism on weekends,” he said. “And if that need wasn’t there then, it would be soon.”
And that, he says, was even before the whole bourbon experience explosion, which is yet to become even bigger with the Michter’s Experience going into the old Fort Nelson Building on Main and Eighth streets, a block from this new hotel. And following that will be the new Sons of the American Revolution Museum going into its new headquarters building on that same block on Main.
“Holiday Inn was on my radar at the time and I contacted them, but we couldn’t work the numbers,” he said.
Some 15 years later, the numbers have apparently been worked out. The new hotel will replace the one-story building that was the first Goodwill store in Louisville in the 1960s. It will be an eight-story, 140-room Holiday Express, and Weyland expects it to be completed by the end of 2015.
As with the Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Holiday Inn Hotels (and its parent corporation, InterContinental Hotels Group), is particular about how its brand is represented around the world. So Weyland is currently going through a design review process that he hopes to complete in early November, with ground to be broken before the end of the year.
We know Bill Weyland is an entrepreneur. But if you know that he studied architecture at Notre Dame University, and spent a year studying abroad in Rome, you begin to get a sense of his longer vision.
“In Rome, I fell in love with the older historic buildings, 500-600-700 years old, some more than 1,000 years old, but still beautiful and still viable,” he says. “In Louisville, we have our own old and historic architecture. Why couldn’t we lovingly preserve it, make it not only functional but also part of the character of our city?”
Along with that, he’d like to recreate the Roman concept of interesting streets and central gathering places, along with all the little spots to eat wonderful food and drink wonderful wine, that make Rome bustle on weekend afternoons and into the night.
It’s a romantic dream, but as was reported back in June, Weyland has been the catalyst for more than 1,400 new hotel rooms in the next two years. And that report is five months old.
Much changes quickly in Weyland World. Even if it takes 20 years.