renewal, art, history, theatre
have rejuvenated the heart of Louisville
(August 2001) Louisville, Ky It was
more than a century ago when a series of cast-iron buildings
rose high above Louisvilles riverfront. Today, many
of those structures still stand not only as symbols of
Louisvilles history but as modules of cultural growth
in 21st century.
The drive to preserve the past has generated
an expanding wave for the future with several blocks of
West Main Street becoming a cultural Mecca.
Many residents date the resurgence back to the 1970s when
places such as the Galt House Hotel and Actors Theatre
of Louisville found their home in this historic district.
But most agree it has been the last five years that the
growth has really started to take off.
It seems like an overnight success story, but its
been years in the making. This is the West Main cultural
district, said Mike Bosc, vice president of communications
for Greater Louisville Inc., the citys chamber of
Indeed, many of the historic buildings have become, or
are in the process of becoming, havens to house various
entities offering fine art, cuisine and history. Some
are even housing many aspects within a single building.
An example is a former steel factory at the intersection
of Ninth and Market streets that is being turned into
The Glassworks Lofts. The building now houses 39 residences,
but its usage does not stop there. The first floor is
shared by the regions first glass art studio, which
is set to open Aug. 20, complete with a restaurant looking
The glass theme is carried to the second floor with exhibits
and information on the history of glass making. There
is also space available for special events. The final
three floors consist of residences of varying square feet.
But according to real estate developer and owner Bill
Weyland, it isnt stopping there.
My goal is to create an area called the Glasswork
District that will encompass two blocks of the city,
he said. Weyland also owns a building across the street.
This resurgence is even attracting entities based out
of other cities. Mortons of Chicago is a steakhouse
chain that operates 52 restaurants across the country.
It opened a new location in June in Louisville in the
basement level of the six-story, 80,000-square-foot building
at 626 W. Main St.
Formerly the Bernheim Distillery, the 130-year-old building
has been purchased by the Brown-Forman Corp. to house
150 of their offices. The historic building has been vacant
for the last 15 years, and Brown-Forman has been refurbishing
and restoring it for the last two. Eric Doninger, the
assistant vice president and director of real estate for
Brown-Forman, said the purchase had a two-fold purpose.
We saw we could accommodate our growth and participate
in the resurgence of downtown, said Doninger. He
said it was the same reasons for Mortons moving
into the basement level.
Brown-Forman officials are considering establishing a
museum and tasting room dedicated to Louisvilles
history in the distillery industry. Main Street Association
volunteers recently have been polling visitors to determine
the interest in such a project that would be located in
Other attractions moving into the West Main area include
the Muhammad Ali Center and the Frazier Histori-cal Arms
Museum. The $80 million Muhammad Ali Center, scheduled
to open in 2003, will celebrate the values and remarkable
life of the world-renown boxer.
The latter will showcase ancient armor and weaponry dating
back to the centuries before Christopher Columbus. The
armor comes from the Royal Armories in the United Kingdom.
The $30 million museum, made possible by support from
renowned philanthropist Owsley Brown Frazier, is set to
open in spring 2003.
Many consider this resurgence as a win-win
situation for any commercial or residential entity wanting
to move to downtown Louisville. Since the early 1990s,
the city has invested more than $5 million in downtown
improvements. These have included new sidewalks, street
furniture and landscaping. The west end of Main, to many,
is a living showcase of Louisvilles history, and
that aspect alone is a large attraction.
Historic West Main is a strolling museum of the
citys history, said Tom Owen, professor of
libraries at the University of Louisville and a Louisville
historian. The buildings and the streetscape encompass
Many features on the sidewalk and in the Fort Nelson Park
capture moments in Louisvilles history. The cast-iron
buildings date as far back as the 1850s.
We are 100 percent full in our buildings,
said Jim Goodwin, a realtor and president of the Main
Street Association. The activity is just incredible.
The last five years have almost been a boom, and now people
are starting to live there. People want to live around
Main Street. They want that clout. Its becoming
a neighborhood of its own.
According to Louisville Development Authority Executive
Director Bruce Traughber, the incentive for the relocation
to West Main Street is more historical and cultural than
financial. He explained that the citys major investments
in buildings on the 600, 800 and 900 blocks of West Main
were enough to attract the attention of pioneer businessmen,
some of whom have been in the area for a long time.
He said historic tax credits would not be enough by themselves
to create incentive.
They thought it was a great place to be with the
excitement, the commitment from the city and the interesting
historical elements woven into the street, said
Other recent additions have been the Louisville Slugger
Museum; the opening of the $27.8 million, 14,000-seat
Slugger Field as home of the Louisville RiverBats Triple
A baseball team; the $72 million expansion and renovation
of the Kentucky International Convention Center; and the
2000 opening of the $60 million Waterfront Park along
Theres also dozens of new cafes and restaurants
popping up all over.
I think the word is getting out, said Goodwin
of the West Main Street area. Its street friendly,
pedestrian friendly and tourist friendly.