Adaptive re-use

Louisville buildings seeing new life

Mellwood Art Center, Butchertown Market
are examples of local re-use efforts

By Jayne McClew
Contributing Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (October 2004) – It’s hard to imagine what Louisville workers from the early 1900s might think if they could time travel to the 21st century and see what’s become of some of the city’s factories and office buildings. They’d find former workspaces transformed by works of art, pigpens now home to pen-and-ink drawings and where farmers once sought seed, a budding retail operation selling everything from painted furniture to artistic switch plates.

Butchertown Market

Photo provided by Jack Mathis

Butchertown Market today offers shoppers a variety of upscale retail shops.

Preservationists call it adaptive re-use – converting buildings for new uses while retaining the structure’s unique features. For business owners, adaptive re-use can provide the chance to inhabit structures they couldn’t afford to erect from the ground or to locate in neighborhoods, which are simultaneously historic and up-and-coming. All the same, the investment in real estate and rehabilitation can be a leap of faith – if you rebuild it, they will come. You hope.
Louisville’s success in adaptive re-use is doubtless one of the reasons the National Trust for Historic Preservation decided to hold its annual gathering in the river city, Sept. 28 to Oct. 3. Carole Summers, a former Louisville resident who spoke to the conference, said Louisville landing the National Trust meeting was a “definite honor” and a reflection of the city and state’s status among preservationists.
“Kentucky is one of the most architecturally rich states,” Summers said. Ironically, that was often thanks to a sometimes-poor economy. “At times they couldn’t afford to tear down what have become recognized as great buildings today,” Summers noted.

Mellwood Art Center

Photo by Laura Faber

Mellwood Art Center provides local artists with studio space in what was once Fischer’s meat packing company.

One of those “great buildings” is at 1201 Story Ave., and over the years it has been home to the Lampton Paint Co., Caudill Seed and the evocatively named Magic Flake Soap Factory. Owner Andy Blieden purchased the goliath brick structure in 1998 to locate MetalWorks, his metal manufacturing operation. These days, the building also boasts a sizeable storefront space called Butchertown Market, featuring Work the Metal, retailers with fun and funky items for the home, and European Splendor, a purveyor of handcrafted wood and iron furniture.
Other building tenants include a gourmet caterer, two photographers and an architectural firm. Blieden calls this diverse mix a part of the “emergence of the building” in its new life. “It’s all about getting people who are real creative and successful in different fields, bouncing off each other, under the same roof,” Blieden said.
Blieden is a firm believer in adaptive re-use, calling fine older buildings the “bones of Louisville.” He’s quick to remark though, not all structures are worth the effort. “There was bad architecture in the 1860s just like there is now,” Blieden laughed.
He’s supportive of new development, too, but says he prefers rehabbing older, rundown properties. “There’s a lot of soul in it,” Blieden said.
That same spirit can be found at an even newer adaptive re-use project, the Mellwood Arts & Entertainment Center at the former Fischer Meat Packing Plant. Where swine once squealed their swan songs, you’ll see artist studios, gallery spaces, even hot yoga classes. This crossroads of the creative process is a work in progress. Artists share walkway space with construction types in hardhats working on projects like A Little Peace Café, slated to open this fall.

Mellwood Art Center

Photo by Laura Faber

Mellwood Art Center provides local artists with studio space in what was once Fischer’s meat packing company.

With 350,000 square feet and 42 acres, the site at 1860 Mellwood Ave. can look forward to “Grand Opening Celebrations” for the next several years. Among projects already in the works at the center: a new home for the Bunbury Theatre; the first-ever headquarters for the Louisville Artisans Guild; and eye-catching entertainment spaces available for rental including one set in the plant’s former cooling facility.
Marketing manager Kelli Torpey says center owner John Clark studied operations like the Pendleton Arts Center in Cincinnati and the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, Va. When completed, the Mellwood center will dwarf both.
“It will be the largest of its kind in the United States,” Torpey said. Not that bigger means pricier; artists already signed on are paying an average monthly rent of $150 for 150 square feet of space, including utilities.
Economy meant opportunity for artist Celia Smith, who in September opened her gallery and studio space, Celia’s @ Mellwood.
“As an artist, it’s hard to find space that’s appropriate to work in and is affordable,” Smith said. “The idea of a large space that’s geared towards artists is tremendous. There’s that energy and excitement around that’s just great.”
Smith and Torpey both call the Mellwood Center an avenue for interaction – artists among artists and artists with the public. Smith says what she calls area “cornerstone artists,” such as painter Claudia Hammers, will draw fans who will be exposed to new artists’ work.

Trolley Hop

Photo by Jayne McClew

Trolley riders take advantage of the new service provided on FAT Friday’s along Louisville’s Frankfort Avenue.

And what about working in what Torpey calls “chic industrial”? Participants in both the Mellwood Center and Butchertown Market seem innervated by it, as if giving Louisville’s past a new future has electrified the present. For its part, metro government recognizes the challenge of transforming Louisville’s older industrial areas and is happy for the help. “Butchertown Market and the Mellwood Arts and Entertainment Center are examples of creative ways to re-use older buildings and maintain existing infrastructure,” said Charles Cash, Louisville Metro’s Director of Planning and Design Services.
Between Butchertown Market and the Mellwood Center is another adaptive re-use project that will turn an old car dealership at 1631 Mellwood Ave. into “eyedia (design it again),” a furniture consignment and restoration store. You sense a more-the-merrier attitude among folks like Blieden and Torpey, who view new developments less as competition then as creating a bigger draw for the entire Butchertown neighborhood. “If development is done right it becomes a destination,” said Blieden.
All three attractions and dozens more are taking part in what’s being called F.A.T. Fridays. Named for Frankfort Avenue Trolley, the final Friday of the month events kicked off in September. Similar to the popular First Fridays on Main and Market streets, F.A.T. Fridays offer the public free parking, trolley hops, shopping and dining specials.

• The trolleys run from 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. on Frankfort, Story and Mellwood avenues. An informational website has been established at www.fatfridayhop.org.

Back to October 2004 Articles.



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