Not Surprising: Greg Fischer’s Professed Transparency Is A Myth & He’s Learned Exactly Zero Preservation Lessons

FLASHBACK: Remember Whiskey Row?


WHISKEY ROW — DON VISH — CLICK FOR ORIGINAL

That should have been a positive preservation lesson for Fischer. But… it’s happened again. And this time he acted with reckless abandon and secrecy.

By now you’re likely aware that the entire preservation community is in an angry froth over the demolition of a set of historic buildings on Third Street.

Morrisey Parking Garage/Bosler’s Fireproof Garage at 423 South Third Street was one of those buildings. It was constructed in 1919 and received landmark designation by the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Here’s what the 2004 book Louisville Guide had to say about it:

Bosler’s Fireproof Garage was one of the first parking structures in Louisville. Located in the heart of the Central Business District, it was heated and provided related services, such as cleaning and polishing. This Romanesque revival structure accentuates its utilitarian function. The massing of the façade provides architectural continuity with the buildings along Third Street and is symmetrical and divided into three bays. The central bay provides entry to the parking structure and is flanked at the first floor by two rectangular business storefronts, with three arched openings at the second floor. Several businesses, such as Goodrich Tires, Garage Equipment and Supply, a fruit market, bookstores, and a surgical supply store, have occupied the storefront. The structure has a basement, three levels of parking, and a spiral ramp that forms a cylindrical mass at the rear of the building.

Coincidentally (of course!) the very spot Omni wants to build a massive 30-story hotel.

It’s another interesting coincidence that right as Omni was ready for construction, it just happened to produce a study claiming the buildings needed to be torn down… the very next day.

It gets more scandalous. Or par for the course, since we’re talking about Greg Fischer.

Check out this email sent to Fischer and his communications team, which includes Margaret Brosko of Sadie’s Law infamy:

From: John Hildreth
Date: Friday, April 10, 2015 at 4:14 PM
To: greg.fischer@louisvilleky.gov
Cc: Virginia VLee@XXXXXXX-XX.com, Gretchen Milliken Gretchen.milliken@louisvilleky.gov, “Wiederwohl, Mary Ellen” MaryEllen.Wiederwohl@louisvilleky.gov, Ellen Hesen ellen.hesen@louisvilleky.gov, “Margaret.Brosko@louisvilleky.gov” , James Lindberg JLindberg@XXXXXXXXXXXXX.org
Subject: 3rd Street Buildings

Dear Mayor Fischer:

I am the Eastern Regional Vice President for the National Trust for Historic Preservation and during my 30 years in preservation have had the privilege of working with Metro Government and the preservationists of Louisville quite often.

I am writing to you with a simple request. Please allow us and others in Louisville time to perform a second engineering study of the Morrissey Garage and the Falls City Theater Company buildings prior to initiating demolition. We need approximately two weeks to identify and bring in an engineer with experience in the rehabilitation of historic buildings. We have the funding in place to perform the study, we simply need the time.

Our objective in performing this study is to ascertain, with more certainty, the possibility of rehabilitation for those structures and, just as importantly, to understand if the facades of the structures could be retained for incorporation into new design for the site.

We certainly are not asking you to risk the health and well being of your citizens and would call for the temporary fencing and, if needed, temporary closing of a traffic lane if merited. We are moving with utmost speed to arrange for this secondary review and ask for your cooperation.

As you are aware, the National Trust, through our National Treasure program, is investing a great deal of time and expertise in Louisville to help the community realize its revitalization potential. We stand behind the research which states that mixed-vintage blocks are vital to any thriving urban environment. A compromise that would retain the facades is not simply a preservation appeal but is based on the fact that incorporating old and new on a human scale is at its heart an urban design best practice. I know from firsthand experience here in Charleston, where I am based, that the design of the Omni Charleston Place was enhanced, and its contribution to downtown revitalization was realized, in part because they retained a block of historic building fronts in the plan.

I am glad to speak with you further about this through 4:30 EDT at my office phone or over the weekend on my cell. My contact information is contained below.

Thank you for your attention to this request.

John Hildreth

Eastern Regional Vice President for Field Services
National Trust for Historic Preservation

To say that there’s a disconnect between the preservation community and the Fischer Administration is an understatement. But Brosko and the rest on the communications team are making relations worse. By refusing to communicate, refusing to listen, being more cagey than normal.

Here’s a rough timeline of events:

  • Preservationists met with Omni architects and the city in January but no specific plans were discussed.
  • They toured the old Water Company block with the city on February 10
  • On March 11 they again met with Omni architects and the city. On that date the first schematic plan was presented and no buildings on Third Street were to be conserved or repurposed. The city said the first two buildings had to be demolished.
  • On March 13 preservationists wrote to Omni and its architects providing suggestions. Things like reusing the Morrisey building façade, salvaging details from the old theater building, repurposing the original central section of the water company complex. Copies were forwarded to the city but Omni and its architects chose to defer to the city.
  • On April 9 the city responded to suggests provided by preservationists… with an emergency demolition press release. No warning, no notice, gave no one any time to raise funds to save what could be saved. Then radio silence.

From just after 12:00 today:




POSSIBILITY CITY

Yep. Demolition started with the façade to guarantee there’d be no way to intervene. Because of course it did.

Sources close to Fischer tells us they believe Mary Ellen Wiederwohl (Fischer’s former deputy chief of staff and current head of Louisville Forward, Fischer’s community development program) promised the Omni Group there’d be no issue demolishing the buildings long before any of this came to light. The current PR disaster is how Fischer’s team handled it. We reached out to Wiederwohl for comment but she wouldn’t respond. Because that’s what you do when you’re a highly paid government employee with nothing to hide.

If Steve Poe can save the façade at the Aloft site, those buildings’ historic façades could have been saved.

So I asked one of the individuals responsible for saving and paying for Whiskey Row (I’m making the decision to withhold publication of their name because you know how Greg Fischer treats whistleblowers) a couple questions.

They told me that the façades could have 100% been saved, quickly and easily. They also believe key parts of the buildings themselves could have been saved.

When asked what kind of message they think it sends the city’s residents when Metro Government takes abrupt action like this without communicating and without allowing anyone to respond? Here’s their response: “DISTURBING.”

48% ($139 million, including tax rebates and $17 million for a parking garage) of the Omni project will be taxpayer funded, so preservationists and all people with half a brain are adamant that there should have been more public input and way more listening on the part of Fischer and his staff.

Forget the historic buildings and their façades. Ignore the reality that Fischer’s employees routinely fine people for unkept lawns and graffiti but can’t be bothered to protect properties on the National Register of Historic Places.

Louisville ought to be outraged because Mr. Transparency is once again trying to pull the wool over its eyes.

Let the spin begin in 3, 2…

14 thoughts on “Not Surprising: Greg Fischer’s Professed Transparency Is A Myth & He’s Learned Exactly Zero Preservation Lessons

  1. Frank Faris goes to jail over a his “historic” melee and the mayor does as he pleases. “It’s good to be the king”.

  2. Let’s be clear about what was at stake here. This wasn’t just a preservation issue, it was as much an urban design issue. The proposed plan for the Omni has a long facade facing 3rd St. without pedestrian access. Not a recipe for a building that engages with the streetscape, promotes walkability, and gives investors a reason for opening new businesses to capture the foot traffic. The facades of the existing buildings could have been incorporated into the design, making for features that ENGAGED people and promoted activity. Instead, Fischer wrecked them.

    The mayor:
    – Touts the notion of a vibrant, walkable downtown but uses public dollars for designs that do not promote walkability.
    – Speaks about sustainability but doesn’t see sensible use of existing buildings as worthwhile.
    – Touts Louisville’s “character” but destroys historic buildings for no good reason, almost as if out of spite.
    – Wants to see the city become a magnet for tech firms and “creative class” folks but promotes 60s-style urban development rather than the sort of environments that support innovation and entrepreneurship.
    – Can’t negotiate a deal to save his life, or hire people who can do it for him. Public funds squandered.

    Yes, the new hotel will be a benefit to the city. What the mayor refuses to acknowledge is that design matters. Good design promotes behaviors that will encourage other forms of development over time. We will get a glass box that has no engagement to the surrounding neighborhood and may well have a deadening effect on 3rd Street. Not useful.

    If the mayor were investing his money in a product, he’d want a well-designed and built product in return. With public funds, he apparently doesn’t give a rip.

    The secrecy, duplicity, and wastefulness only adds insult to injury.

    It’s time for Fischer to go. He does not have the city’s best interests in mind.

  3. i am very disappointed in your decision to fast track demolition of these beautiful buildings. Louisville architecture is treasured by many and deserves utmost respect. You have squandered our history and broken faith with the community you serve. Dollars trump decency.

  4. Sneaky move, having it done on a day folks are not downtown to see it. Though I am not surprised, business as usual for this group. Look at the FB and Twitter to see all the photo ops Mr. mayor did today while those buildings were destroyed.

    I expect to see the old Water Company building get the same treatment, Lord knows both Abramson and Fischer neglected it. The leaks, bad HVAC, the water from the taps and water fountains was undrinkable, the mold that was everywhere, the non-functional elevators – all caused by a complete lack of maintainence. All so they could pander to their monied friends.

  5. The Preservation Community should have learned lessons from the Board of Trade, Will Sales, Brinley Hardy these structures should have been landmark status decades ago.putting it on the national preservation list is simply put not enough. . Its takes more than going to meetings to save a structure. It takes getting off ones ass and getting the money raised to have the funds to start the process. There are folks here with the means to raise the money needed to save a structure but we must first all get off our asses and do so . I have helped landmark two structures the Schnieder Grocery at 26th and Market and St Patricks Church. Both were done by hard work and sweat. If myself and two seventy plus year old women the Batliner sisters can start saving St Patricks and then myself and a group of Beer Drinkers can save their former drinking spot in Portland then surely we could have done better abut this.
    You can not simply walk in to a meeting read a letter and say you are Preserving Louisville

  6. When I saw the historical buildings being demolished yesterday morning on tv, I thought to myself, they are tearing these buildings to put up the new hotel. They weren’t a danger to anyone. Fischer is destroying our historic downtown because of money or is it because he has no sense. I am sorry for our city and his lack of REAL knowledge.

  7. And speaking of ball drop when will we ever get the photography done to create the Russell Preservation District the money has been paid to metro so what is the hold up to getting a group of preservationists together to finish the pictures. And where are our preservationists on getting the needed paperwork to create the much needed federal districts to help bring tax credits to the Portland , Shawnee areas to encourage preservation……… We need some lessons here or we need to stop being so all talk do nothing to change the playing field if not we will continue to loose fights Proactive is better than Reactive. Again it takes getting out of our comfort zones to get stuff done.

  8. None of these folks were merely walking into meetings.

    Take a look at some of the names on the recipient list of that leaked email. Read between the lines. You’ll immediately see that there was gobs of money ready and waiting. It had been waiting for months, if not years, and Greg Fischer knew it.

    Fischer and the shitty people who work for him — like Chris Poynter, Sadiqa Reynolds and Margaret Brosko — screwed this up royally. That’s outside of preservation, meetings, architecture, development. It’s 100% on a handful of people who have been proved time and again to be just plain shitty. They’re working for a mayor who is so inept that he can’t even get it together long enough to call the the moneyed people who got him elected and he allowed his shitty people to further muck things up.

    Yep, I called them shitty people and I used their names. Stand by it.

  9. The “dangerous” portions of the buildings remain. Fischer pointedly made sure the facades were destroyed to make further discussion
    Moot. Speaks volumes to me. We’ve returned to the 1970’s when whole city blocks like the Belleview, Will Sales, and more were destroyed using back room deal making . I sincerely hope the National Trust pulls the plug on the green lab project and returns the money to a place that actually understands public policy. This administration remains arrogant and totally out of step with its own rhetoric. The Planning and preservation divisions have been gutted with purpose. This latest action along with Walmart and Kindred and the basic gutting of a sustainable development code are the result of a gutless leadership deeply rooted in the pockets of the usual suspects . And now we are giving awards for downtown projects including a gas station while most of said projects are adaptive reuse of historic buildings. Brilliant.

  10. I support Mayor Fischer in his effort to assist those who create new development in Metro Louisville.

  11. So does everyone here. Particularly since 48% of the project will be paid for with our tax dollars.

    Note: At least one commenter here was offering to pay for the façades to be integrated into the new development. Meaning it would have cost the city nothing — less than it cost to demolish everything — and would have cost the developers very little.

  12. And don’t forget Mayor Doofus handed Cordish $5.2 million to do nothing but walk away from this same Omni project. So, we start out 5.2 mil in the hole even before the wrecking ball swung.
    Mayor Fischy – the glittering jewel in the crown of colossal incompetence.

  13. Obviously the Omni Hotel project is high priority, but it’s funny that these derelict buildings were safe until a use for the whole block came up and all of the sudden they were dangerous and unsafe. So it goes in Downtown Louisville.

  14. I am all for the Omni development as it Will help the Downtown area! What is disturbing is how so many local Business people are BULLIED by the City , and even the State , and interfered with on things they attempt to do. The Political CLASS is alive ans well in Possibility City.

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