City officials on Monday revealed changes to Omni’s planned downtown hotel and residences meant to address growing public pressure over the design of the development’s Third Street side, which is dominated by an 850-space parking garage. The updated renderings do not incorporate the former Water Company headquarters, long a point of contention between preservationists and the hotelier, and the project’s point person in Metro government said that is not an option going forward.
The changes, presented to reporters in a briefing in advance of Wednesday morning’s hearing in which a review board is expected to vote on the design of the 30-story, $289 million development, are aesthetic and intended to enhance the pedestrian experience at street level on the west side of the building.
They include the addition of a glass exterior for a stairwell at the south end of the proposed urban market, as well as metal meshing and vegetation to break up the monolithic wall created by the parking garage, which will be owned and operated by the Parking Authority of River City. The new design also includes five trellises that will feature live vegetation and stretch all the way up the roughly 60-foot sidewalls of the garage. The updates also show four vitrines — glass cases meant to look like storefronts — that PARC will rent out or use for promotion, as well as trees lining the sidewalk.
At the corner of Third and Liberty, the new design shows an updated facade for the market that is entirely glass and wraps around both sides of the building. The glass on the Third Street side will run south approximately to the end of the Landmark Building across the street.
In addition, the updated design will feature a “white roof” — meant to reflect sunlight and reduce heat — over the portion of the lower building’s grand ballroom.
The changes come nearly two weeks after the Downtown Development Review Overlay Committee, which oversees development in the city’s urban core, delayed a vote on the Omni design amid concerns about the proposed look of Third Street. A pair of preservation groups, Healthy Urban Design and Preservation Louisville, have pushed Omni and Metro development officials in recent months for a more pedestrian-friendly and environmentally sensitive design.
“This is where the bulk of the concern was raised, not only by the public but by the committee members, in ensuring that we created a pedestrian-friendly environment and addressed greening of the structure as well as enlivening the street experience,” said Louisville Forward Chief Mary Ellen Wiederwohl, the city’s top economic development official.
Healthy Urban Design issued a statement after the media briefing calling the updates “an improvement.”
“While the additional vitrines on Third Street, as well as benches and plantings may encourage more pedestrian use, we are fearful that the lack of any actual pedestrian engagement or real green space on Third Street will discourage pedestrian use and do not yet comply with the DDRO Guidelines,” the group said. “Combined with the Starks Building garage across the way, Third Street will likely will still be a no-man’s land for pedestrians, and with no modification to the loading dock and the parking entrance remaining on Third Street it will be a place where trucks and other vehicles related to the hotel and residences will bottleneck traffic for all of downtown.”
Wiederwohl said the vitrines could ultimately be used as commercial space, although other attempts to place street-level retail in city parking structures have failed due to lack of interest. Officials said they don’t expect any changes to the location of the service docks.
Chris Poynter, spokesman for Mayor Greg Fischer, said the mayor is “glad that Omni listened to the community.”
The updated plans do not include the former Water Company headquarters, which was built in 1910. Preservationists have urged Omni to incorporate the structure into the hotel’s final design.
Jeff Mosley, deputy chief of Louisville Forward, said the Water Company building would not be included in the final design. He said the administration is reviewing “more than one” proposal from private investors to move the building, although he wouldn’t comment directly on whether those investors had presented feasible financial plans. If Metro officials decline the proposals, they plan to dismantle the facade and the first 25 feet of the building and store it for potential future use. That process would cost $450,000, Mosley said.
Marianne Zickuhr, executive director of Preservation Louisville, said she expects the absence of the Water Company building from the final design to be an issue at the DDRO’s hearing Wednesday morning. Committee members had previously asked Omni and its designer, HKS Architects, to consider ways to include it.
“I want them to incorporate that building, and I’ll continue to be disappointed if they don’t respect that issue that we’ve continued to bring up,” Zickuhr said. “I want an authentic attempt to work this out.”