Sources are relaying more details about a possible Omni Hotel complex planned for the vacant Louisville Water Co. headquarters site — details hinting at large-market luxury amenities.
Those sources say Metro Mayor Greg Fischer has spoken publicly about the complex, telling supporters to expect an impending announcement. Details passed on to IL include the possibility of high-end condos on high floors of the proposed 600-room hotel, a trend at elite hotels like the Ritz-Carlton in large markets such as Manhattan.
As we reported Tuesday, Fischer, city economic-development officials and executives at Baltimore-based developer The Cordish Cos. are in negotiations about possible redevelopment of the east side of Third Street from Liberty on the north to Muhammad Ali Boulevard on the south. The block has been vacant since 1998 when the Louisville Water Co. built a new headquarters two blocks south at Third and Chestnut streets.
Since Tuesday, in conversations and emails with sources, IL has collected more details about the $250 million proposed project.
Last April, Cordish officials said their plans — which began life in 1998 as an expansion of Fourth Street Live dubbed “Center City ” — included a mixed-use building with a major hotel as the flagship, along with a small grocery.
Now, sources are saying plans for the Omni Hotel include top-floor condos, with residents taking advantage of the sort of hotel amenities chains like the Ritz-Carlton offer in cities such as New York City and Chicago.
Irving, Texas-based Omni Hotels offer high-floor homes in cities including Fort Worth and Toronto, according to the chain’s website.
Plans in Louisville also call for a “high-end grocery store like Whole Foods — but not specifically Whole Foods,” according to a source.
Chris Poynter, spokesman for Mayor Fischer, declined comment because negotiations are ongoing.
The question, several sources said, is whether the Omni project on the Water Company block is tied to an expansion of the Kentucky International Convention Center.
Last March, Kentucky State Fair Board officials spent about $100,000 to have Fentress Architects, based in Denver, create an expansion plan.
Louisville tourism officials have said their top priority is a larger convention center, a facility necessary if Louisville is to compete with regional markets such as Nashville, which has a new 1.2 million-square-foot convention center.
The new Nashville facility, which opened last May, has a 350,000-square-foot exhibit hall that is more than twice as large as KICC’s 145,000-square-foot hall.
Jim Wood, president and CEO of the Greater Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau, declined comment through a spokeswoman, who said Wood will wait for a formal announcement about the hotel project.
Of course, the question now is the same as earlier this year: Who’s going to pay for all this?
State officials have said the fair board will need more than $10 million to balance its books through 2015. So a KICC expansion may be unlikely.
A super-tax increment financing district already has been approved for Third Street redevelopment under Cordish’s Center City proposals, sources said. Under a conventional TIF, such as for the nearby KFC Yum! Center at Second and Main streets, the increased sales tax revenue and property taxes are dedicated to paying for the project.
Under the “super TIF,” the developer would also be allowed to keep the increase in Kentucky income tax generated by the hotel as well as the new economic activity the hotel is likely to spur in the TIF district around it.
How the Omni construction would be funded is, of course, likely the core of ongoing negotiations.
Beginning with former Metro Mayor Jerry Abramson, continuing with Fischer, the position of city officials has been that Cordish has a development obligation under an operating agreement dating back to 1998 and Fourth Street Live to follow up with a Center City plan.
In 2007, Kentucky’s Tax Increment Financing Commission approved $120 million in tax rebates for the original Center City proposal.
But in 2008, The Courier-Journal revealed the Center City deal only required Cordish to put up $12 million of the supposedly hundreds of millions that would be invested.