New private club on Whiskey Row to combine bourbon, horses and food

Horse owner and industry writer Gene McLean introduces two new ventures — The Louisville Thoroughbred Society and The Press Box. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

Real estate investors and players in the horse racing industry are coming together to craft a venue that will be a cocktail of Kentucky’s signature industries — bourbon, horse racing and food.

The project is called The Louisville Thoroughbred Society, a private membership club that will include an upscale restaurant, bar, entertainment center, meeting space and rooftop cigar bar. It will occupy the second floor of the 109-year-old Fetzer building, located at 209 E. Main St.

“It’s the fulfillment of a dream,” said Gene McLean, a horse owner who also reports on the industry, adding that seeing The Louisville Thoroughbred Society start to become a reality is particularly meaningful since the February death of his father, who introduced him to the thoroughbred industry.

McLean has partnered with the Fetzer building owners David Steinbrecher, president of Derek Engineering, and Michael Schnell, owner of Schnell Contractors who also is a horse owner, on the project. McLean told Insider that they also plan to host meetings during the latter half of this month with downtown Louisville developers and others interested in the horse racing industry about buying shares in The Louisville Thoroughbred Society.

The partners also will issue a request for proposals in the near future to find a caterer or restaurateur interested in running the dining operations for the club.

The society will begin offering membership applications on June 15 and will accept a limited membership of 1,500. The annual membership rate has not been set yet.

Applicants don’t need to be involved in the thoroughbred industry, but The Louisville Thoroughbred Society will be a place for horse owners and trainers to “brag out about wins, cry about our losses” after a day of racing and to gather in the off-season, said Dale Romans, a thoroughbred trainer.

“One of the purposes of it is to grow horse racing in Kentucky,” Romans said. “Hopefully, if you are not in the horse racing industry and join the club, or come with a member, you get into the horse racing business and you see how much it will enrich your life.”

The second piece to the development is a new media website called The Press Box, which will co-locate in the Fetzer building with The Louisville Thoroughbred Society.

The website will focus solely the horse racing industry, offering articles and podcasts about handicapping, interviews with members of the industry and breeding analysis. Dave Baker, a sports reporter for WKYT, and McLean’s daughter Alex McLean Sharp will be two contributors to the website.

McClean called The Press Box an educational and informative site for experts and novices.

Renovating the historic property

In 2003, a “Hometown Heroes” banner honoring Pee Wee Reese was installed on the side of the building. | Courtesy of Horizon Commercial Realty

Schnell is a major investor in the project and told Insider that estimated cost of building out The Louisville Thoroughbred Society is $3.5 million. The estimated cost to develop the entire building is $1 million, Schnell said, noting that they will seek state historic tax credits.

As part of the project, Schnell and Steinbrecher plan to construct a parking garage with valet parking available.

The pair bought the Fetzer building in April 2016 for $2.56 million. Redevelopment of the building was on hold, Steinbrecher said, until he and Schnell could finish another project nearby, the Ice House Lofts located above the Ice House event venue.

The development, which includes 19 one-bedroom and 10 two-bedroom apartments, is nearly leased up, he said, adding that they probably didn’t have enough apartments in Ice House Lofts given the demand they saw.

Similar apartments may be in the cards for the five-story Fetzer building as well, Steinbrecher said. The first couple of floors will consist of retail and commercial development, but the fate of the top floors remains open.

The building is listed as office space by Horizon Commercial Realty. The listing notes that the first floor would be perfect for a restaurant, while the other floors could serve a myriad of uses.

Activating Main and Washington streets

The Fetzer building is located along a developing Main Street. Just a block away is the new Aloft hotel, the 111 Whiskey Row development, construction of the Old Forester Distillery and the site of a dual-branded hotel project. The latter three will all have entrances on Main Street and Washington Street, adding to the commercial and tourism corridor near the KFC Yum! Center.

“There are a lot of things happening downtown right now,” Schnell said.

Louisville Downtown Partnership, a nonprofit focused on economic development in the Central Business District, plans to contract a company to draft a master plan for Washington Street that will look at pedestrian amenities, lighting changes and other improvements.

“Since there is all this investment going in between First and Second on Main Street, we are going to be doing a kind of master plan for Washington Street to try to connect that block back to Slugger,” said Rebecca Matheny, executive director of the Louisville Downtown Partnership, told Insider. “That block has the best opportunity to activate Washington Street.”

She added that one goal is to encourage events such as festivals and concerts to invigorate the street, which used to be lined with bars in the early 1970s.

“That block is going to be super neat,” she said. “I am really excited about it.”

The Courier-Journal reported that Louisville Downtown Partnership will hire architecture and design firm MKSK, which designed on plans for the Waterfront Park expansion, to create the master plan. However, Matheny told Insider that no contract has been executed.

Although the master plan will focus on Washington Street between First and Second streets, Steinbrecher applauded the Louisville Downtown Partnership’s idea, saying it will given people another reason to come downtown.

“I think it just increases the enthusiasm downtown, to be downtown, to live downtown,” he said.