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Colonial Gardens Likely to Remain Empty

July 17th, 2009 by admin · 25 Comments

It sure sounds like the group seeking to develop Colonial Gardens is beating its head against a 107-year-old wall.

The South End landmark, which has a rich history of hosting musical acts, including Elvis Presley, sits at the busy corner of New Cut Road and Kenwood Drive, across from an entrance to Iroquois Park, near the Ampitheater. The building’s Georgia-based owners, South End Investment Group, want to demolish it and build a development with a restaurant and shopping.

They’re not interested in putting anything new in the current building, which is falling apart. It’s been empty for six years, and looks like it will remain that way for the foreseeable future.

The owners have applied for a demolition permit, despite the fact that the site was designated a local landmark last November.

Meanwhile, a group dedicated to preserving the building, Restore Louisville Gardens, believes recent Historic Preservations legislation signed by Steve Beshear will make it easier for the developer to get tax credits for investment in the structure.  The investors disagree, saying it’s still too costly to preserve the building. A neighborhood group has sided with developers, who want to spend $4 million to raze the structure and build something similar in its place.

The Landmarks Commission could OK the demolition, but it’s extremely unlikely. So the future of the site remains uncertain.

Tags: Business · Construction · Landmark · Metro Government · South End

25 responses so far ↓

  • 1 David Harpe // Jul 17, 2009 at 11:02 am

    Why doesn’t the “Preserve Colonial Gardens” group buy the property and renovate it themselves if they are so interested in keeping it preserved?

    I think it’s fine to take a pause and see if a building is viable for preservation. But there needs to be a limit on how long a structure can sit vacant and decaying before it becomes eligible for demolition.

    A sane approach would be to set a time limit of say, five years after inclusion on the landmark list. If after five years no one has been able to secure funding to restore the structure, the building becomes eligible for demolition.

    We have numerous buildings in Crescent Hill, downtown and the South End that no one is going to restore and are simply rotting away. They are a blight and a safety hazard. This type of obstructionism makes the whole neighborhood suffer because a few people with no skin in the game think the buildings should be “saved”.

    Colonial Gardens is on a major highway. It’s a very visible structure that has been rotting away for years. Either restore it – quickly – or tear it down.

  • 2 Steve Magruder (I, not D or R) // Jul 17, 2009 at 11:05 am

    Restore Colonial Gardens has given a direct response to the C-J article here.

  • 3 David Harpe // Jul 17, 2009 at 11:09 am

    Steve,

    Why don’t you buy the building and restore it?

  • 4 Steve Magruder (I, not D or R) // Jul 17, 2009 at 11:11 am

    David, the situation is such that I am unable to talk about what could happen with the property unless and until the current developer, who merely has an option on the property and doesn’t own it, lets go and allows other possibilities to arise.

  • 5 David Harpe // Jul 17, 2009 at 11:15 am

    If the current developer doesn’t own the property, there is nothing to prevent you from writing a check and moving forward with your plans. That’s why it’s called an “option”.

    Why don’t you do it? Just write the check.

  • 6 Michael // Jul 17, 2009 at 11:15 am

    David, I agree that it needs to be razed. It has been an eysore for years and will continue to do so. That corner needs a makeover.

  • 7 Steve Magruder (I, not D or R) // Jul 17, 2009 at 11:23 am

    I just wanted to offer a few responses to the post, which I certainly appreciate.

    SEIG isn’t the owner. The current owners live in Georgia, and SEIG is a local group of developers holding the option to purchase the property.

    Colonial Gardens isn’t “falling apart”. The city’s Chief Building Inspector has contradicted that notion, and the Landmarks Commission sees the building as deteriorated for sure, but also repairable.

    The developers make the assertion that it’s too costly to preserve the building, but I have heard contradictory information from others in building construction. I don’t see how the opinion of one obviously biased group of developers can be accepted as fact.

  • 8 Steve Magruder (I, not D or R) // Jul 17, 2009 at 11:28 am

    David, you are assuming that there are no other interested parties in the property. Pushing it off on me personally is not a fair argument. Everyone interested in preserving the heritage of their communities are not necessarily financially bound, individually speaking, to purchase the properties they wish to preserve.

  • 9 David Harpe // Jul 17, 2009 at 11:45 am

    No Steve, it IS a fair argument. You and your group are the ones preventing development of a property, yet you have not demonstrated any willingness to become financially involved in the project. In other words, all you do is say no…you do not do anything personally to say YES. It is obstructionism, defined.

    Okay, so let’s take personal investment off the table since it’s obvious you are not interested in the project enough to invest in it yourself.

    If you have other developers interested in restoring the property, where are they? If there is a plan and a viable solution to develop the property in an economically sound fashion, where is it? If it’s such a no-brainer to restore and preserve the building and make it economically feasible, then DO IT. You think Schmid wouldn’t sell you the property? Hogan has had a sign on the side of the building for years. Gather your investors, make an offer.

    Do you honestly believe that letting a building decay on a prominent city street is what preservation should be about? It’s been sitting since 2003. Don’t you think it would have happened by now if it was feasible to do so?

    You will probably get your way, and the property will probably sit – like so many others in the city – vacant, decaying and unused. It is, in fact, the Louisville way.

    What’s your plan five years from now if the property is undeveloped/restored?

  • 10 David Harpe // Jul 17, 2009 at 11:47 am

    (last line should read: “undeveloped/unrestored”)

  • 11 Mark H (Not Hebert) // Jul 17, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    Hey, maybe you can call Johnny George at the Peddlers Mall and see if he wants to move his shops to Colonial Gardens. Since the local government is throwing a tantrum about his occupancy and pushing fees on his vendors in an attempt to push him out.

    Brilliant actions like that really promote development in the South End.

  • 12 pSteve Bittenbender // Jul 17, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    Not Hebert,

    I’m confused. Are you saying Peddlers Mall is a great development for the South End?

  • 13 Mark H (Not Hebert) // Jul 17, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    I’m sure a retailer would be far better, but that isn’t going to happen. The Peddlers Mall sure as hell beats an empty building and no tax revenue.

    It’s easy for the city to force the building owner’s hand when it comes to the tenants when they don’t have to pay the mortgage.

    Dealing with real estate on a national level I can tell you that the vacancy of large retail buildings in small markets is going to be a huge problem in the near future.

    There are no alternative retailers to occupy the types of large retail buildings currently occupied by small market retailers like JC Penny’s and Sears. The stronger big-box retailers do not want to occupy properties in those markets or with those building layouts. Where are you going to find a retailer to occupy 70,000 sf ft of retail space in these buildings and markets?

    These communities are going to have to realize that these buildings are going to need to be converted into alternative uses like office space or broken into much smaller multi-tenant retail space or risk them becoming derelict non-revenue generating eye sores. Shively may want a JC Penny, but they can want in one hand spit in the other and see which one gets filled first.

    It’s not great Steve, but I think it’s better than and empty building and employs no one or generates a penny in sales revenue.

  • 14 Jeff Gillenwater // Jul 17, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    If the current developer doesn’t own the property, there is nothing to prevent you from writing a check and moving forward with your plans. That’s why it’s called an “option”.

    Just to clarify, holding an option on a piece of property keeps the current property owner from selling it to anyone else other than the option holder for a specified time.

  • 15 Carter Burger // Jul 17, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    What’s stopping these guys from pushing the building over anyway? BOZA has already shown us the “ask for forgiveness” thing works. Friday the building is there, Monday it’s gone.

  • 16 bill // Jul 17, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    I live real close to Colonial Gardens, and I say, demolish that old eysore, piece of crap building, and replace it with something a little more eye appealing than a vacant wore out redneck dance club

  • 17 Steve Bittenbender // Jul 17, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    Not Hebert,

    I understand that a paying tenant is better than a vacant building. I guess the only exception would be a tenant that drives away other potential tenants.

    I’ve been in other Peddlers Malls and just stopped by the one in Shively today just to see if it was any different. It wasn’t. It was basically just a bunch of yard sales inside a building.

    I don’t know as much about retail development as other commercial, but I can’t imagine smaller retailers would want something like Peddlers Mall directly above them.

    Bad economy or not, it was going to be nearly impossible to fill a space the size of the Dillards with just one tenant. St. Matthews couldn’t do that years ago.

    I’m not going to criticize Seay Properties. They did a heck of a job sprucing up the property and converting most of it into medical space. And at some point, you have to pay the bills. But maybe, SW Louisville would have been better if they had demolished the Dillards and allowed a retailer to build a smaller, newer space.

    As far as Colonial Gardens goes, I’m not surprised. It’s been a dump for years. It will remain a dump — albeit an historic one now.

    I hope Steve M. and his ilk are happy. And I hope someone is willing to invest in that money pit. See what Mark has to say about hope and spit.

  • 18 Mark H (Not Hebert) // Jul 17, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    I think a lot of communities are going to faced with the question of what to do with these types of properties. I agree with you that razing the lot and building a big-box store may have been better, but there are already several down the street.

    Buildings like this are going to become dinosaurs of an outdated retail business plan. Much in the same way the old Showcase Cinema has fallen into an outdated vacant relic.

    The challenge of replacing large anchor retail tenants will require some creativity, but there is still the pressure of supply and demand that places a lot of these buildings in a difficult situation.

  • 19 Gary Guss // Jul 17, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    Let the owners of this property decide what needs to be done with it. It is an eyesore and its not going to get better by just wishing that it will be restored. Demolish this thing or wait until it falls down or burns down and lets move on. At this point it would be an improvement to have a vacant lot on this property.

  • 20 Steve Magruder (I, not D or R) // Jul 17, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    David, believe me, I actually do understand your frustration. I want the property redeveloped as badly as you do. However, I cannot divulge more than I have already divulged at this time.

    As for your arguments about our group getting in the way or not being able to personally finance a redevelopment project, I can only say that the matter is more complex than it appears, and in my estimation, it is unfair to say that those who wish to preserve the historical character of their area have to be the direct financiers of that preservation. However, we do have connections, and something good will ultimately happen with the property. If you don’t have the money, know those who do have it, or know how to raise it.

    Again, I understand the frustration very much. At the same time, many of the aspects of this matter have had decisions made about them (after significant public input), and they cannot be reversed at this point. Therefore, we need to look forward and work on the next logical steps. I hope we can do that together.

  • 21 Corey // Jul 18, 2009 at 12:18 am

    Carter brings up a valid point, what are the consequences if the developers proceed with the building demolition. Say it’s a fine of $10,000 (instead of the standard slap on the wrist)…at this point I think everyone in the neighborhood would chip in to cover the fine and get some much needed development moving forward. Alternatively, we could start a South End Cigar Club that meets weekly at Colonial Gardens — especially during those hot, dry summer months. “Oops…did I drop my cigar”

    And Mr Magruder doesn’t have the information 100% correct, either. While the contact address for the owners (yes, there are several individuals who collectively own Colonial Gardens) is in Atlanta, the owners are originally from the South End and care very much about our community. Don’t let others fool you and have you believe the owner couldn’t care less about our community and lives the high-life in Atlanta. That just is not the case. The owners could have sold (or leased) CG to a much less reputable business years ago, but decided against it.

    I also don’t like Steve’s implication there are back-handed deals taking place regarding this property. This is exactly what’s wrong with our local government – closed door meetings, secret dealings, and no transparency.

  • 22 Steve Magruder (I, not D or R) // Jul 18, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    I have not nor have I ever made any claim that the property’s owners don’t care about the South End. That’s why I believe they would never consider harming or encouraging the harming of the building outside of due process. I have no beef with the owners. I want them to be able to sell their property to a developer who will follow the landmark code and redevelop the building for our community’s enjoyment.

    Also, I have not implied any back-handed deals taking place. I have implied that there is potential business interest in the property to redevelop it without demolishing it. That potential interest is not part of the current governmental question of whether to demolish the building under the guise of the landmark process.

    As for threatening a landmark, a cornerstone of the heritage of the South End, I am saddened that there would be anyone who would want to behave with such a criminal mindset. Certainly any neighbor interested in siding with the rule of law will not abandon that to achieve any Pyrrhic goal. On top of that, the building was declared a landmark after due process was followed. In our democracy, we are supposed to accept the results if due process was followed.

  • 23 Steve Magruder (I, not D or R) // Jul 18, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    Corey, I also have a question for you…

    Could you explain to all of us SEIG’s track record in redeveloping historical structures into replicas? I have not noticed any other such redevelopments by SEIG in the south end.

    Also, it is well known at this time that it would be impossible for SEIG to get all the variances required to construct the Colonial Gardens replica. That is but one reason that sews doubt into the assertion that this design of the property would actually proceed in reality after a supposed demolition.

  • 24 Chuck // Jul 18, 2009 at 9:51 pm

    The whole Controversy with Peddler’s Mall brings up something. Why is it that these idiots in Louisville governments including Shively, Prospect, etc have two different sets of rules when it comes to merchants and retailers starting a business. The way I see it, they already get tax funds from corporate or business taxes but now they have another permit, etc. So instead of everyone paying the same retail fee or sales taxes, now they will be involved in getting another permit for everyone to fill out. What happened to starting a business in the USA and having limited government interference in it.

    Shively city government just be ran by a bunch of nitwits because since the industrial base has collapsed there, they should welcome businesses. But I guess the eyesore that is North Dixie and the lower West End should remain that way. They must want to lose more business when a lot of local businesses have moved across the river to lower taxes, better terms, etc. Not to pay regressive Louisville taxes to fund every pet project some ultra ultra liberal tree hugger type wants. No wonder unemployment is over 10 percent.

    Having to get permits to run a flea market booth. What ridiculous sorts of taxes and over regulation. Its no wonder why a quarter of our city is a poverty stricken area with smoldering dumps being left after all of the outsourcing of industry and bad government.

  • 25 Corey // Jul 19, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    Steve, clearly my comments were in jest. Anyone with a sense of humor and ounce of common sense would know I wouldn’t post publically my intention to skirt the law. I also realize we have a process in place to allow for an orderly exchange of ideas and to prevent total chaos — unfortunately, that doesn’t mean the process is cheap or swift.

    That being said, part of the process (as I’m sure you know) allows for the application of demolition and, if denied, the request for an economic hardship exemption. After all, those in favor of the local landmark designation clearly indicated at the public hearing held at Iroquois High School that the local landmark designation wasn’t a stop sign for local development; implying appeals and exemptions were indeed a possibility down the road. Perhaps that was only mentioned at the hearing in the hopes of garnering more local support for the landmark designation and they had no intention of actually allowing such a thing to happen.

    I fully admit to not knowing SEIG’s track record in redeveloping local landmarks. I do know Gailor Animal Hospital underwent a “facelift” a few years ago that has greatly improved the look of that building; I fully expect the same type of enhancement from the CG project. I also know anything would look better than the current CG structure and trust SEIG to do the right thing, knowing their reputation is on the line.

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