Rich Barber: Industry experts talk top Louisville buildings ripe for adaptive reuse

Gardensby Rich Barber

If you’re not familiar with the term “adaptive reuse,” it refers to the process of reusing an old site for a purpose other than it was originally intended. So, if I bought the old Bader’s gas station and convenience store at the confluence of Bardstown Road, Broadway and Cherokee Road and turned it into office space for marriage counselors, that would be an example of adaptive reuse. Not a great example, but an example nonetheless.

There are a lot of real-life examples, as well. Copper & Kings is now a distillery, but it used to be a warehouse. The Frazier Arms Museum used to be offices. The Green Building used to be not green. The list goes on and on, and it will undoubtedly keep growing.

Louisville is full of buildings well-suited for adaptive reuse, but I wanted to know which buildings industry experts had their eyes on. Which buildings in Louisville are ripe for adaptive reuse? 

mills1. The Bradford Mills Building

Jonathan Bevan, of the well-respected Shine Contracting company, likes this building at the corner of Oak and Reutlinger in Germantown. It’s an old warehouse that Jonathan thinks would make a nice retail space on the first floor with apartments on the two floors above. Jonathan likes the thick maple floors, the high ceilings, and the location. Only two blocks from The Monkey Wrench, Jonathan believe the neighborhood is ripe for development.

2. Louisville Memorial Auditorium

Andy Blieden, a noted local developer, likes this building because of its huge footprint in downtown Louisville and the fact that it is not currently being used for anything. The grand building was originally built via an act of the Kentucky Legislature and was intended as a public auditorium and as a memorial to the men and women of Louisville who served in World War I.

3. The Remaining Buildings on Whiskey Row

Steve Leonard of Leonard Engineering, the company that conducted the temporary shoring design for the Whiskey Row facade preservation that allowed contractors Sullivan & Cozart to safely work inside the buildings, believes there is still adaptive reuse to be done in the historic district and he chooses those building as he would like to see reused. 

4. Louisville Gardens

Bill Weyland of City Properties, who some describe as the King of Adaptive Reuse, offers his choice with a caveat. For Mr. Weyland, as well as for the others, an adaptive reuse project must make financial sense. So, if there was a niche market that would make the renovation of this giant structure on Muhammad Ali & 6th Street worth it, then he would be all for seeing the historic Louisville Gardens re-repurposed. It was originally built as the Jefferson County Armory.

The Starks Buildingwebsite-for web5. The Starks Building

Phil Scherer, President of Commercial Kentucky chooses the Starks Building on 4th Street. I worked in this building long enough to know all of the cockroaches on a first-name basis, and I think he may be onto something. Mr. Scherer believes that much of the office space can be converted to apartments. This, he says will meet the demand for more affordable downtown rental units. He goes on to say, “The building lends itself to double-loaded corridors with apartments that will enjoy terrific natural light either from large windows facing the street or fronting on the existing atrium.” He’s already got his niche.

6. This Building on the corner of Bardstown Rd. and Rosewood

I don’t know if it has a name or not, but I think it used to be the home of the Louisville Ballet. I think I’ll call it the Ballet Building. It’s a really cool old building right in the heart of the Highlands and to be honest, I’m not sure if it’s being used for anything right now. It should be though. Why? Because it’s a cool old building in the heart of the Highlands, of course. If I can get an investor or two, I think it would make for some nice office space or apartments. (Editors note: folks in the IL office say it was a telephone switch building at pone time.)

After talking with everyone (thanks, by the way), I think there are a few things you have to remember when looking for an adaptive reuse project. You need a building with good bones, it should serve a niche, and you have to be able to make money for all the work you put into it. So, let’s hear it from the readers. What building would you like to see go through the adaptive reuse process?

About the author: Rich Barber owns Red Garage Digital and is a longtime fixture who haunts Louisville’s comedy scene.