FLASHBACK: Remember Whiskey Row?
WHISKEY ROW — DON VISH — CLICK FOR ORIGINAL
- Fischer-Blue Deal Kept From Metro Council [February 10, 2011]
- Take A Look At Whiskey Row Then And Now [February 10, 2011]
- We Couldn’t Agree More With This Sign [February 11, 2011]
- Iron Quarter/Whiskey Row Shenanigans Are Testy [March 9, 2011]
- This Could Be Good: Big Iron Quarter News [April 8, 2011]
- Another Fancy Greg Fischer Blind Item Moment [April 13, 2011]
- Whiskey Row/Iron Quarter Deal: Your Take? [May 9, 2011]
- A Few Councilcritters React To Whiskey Row News [May 9, 2011]
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
Cc: Virginia VLee@XXXXXXX-XX.com, Gretchen Milliken Gretchen.firstname.lastname@example.org, “Wiederwohl, Mary Ellen” MaryEllen.Wiederwohl@louisvilleky.gov, Ellen Hesen email@example.com, “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.
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:
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…