As cleanup work looms, Louisville Gardens waits for the future
There are no plans to seek development proposals for the building at Sixth Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard, but a $75,000 state grant will be used to remove petroleum from elevators.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The city plans to use a $75,000 state grant to clean up contamination inside the iconic Louisville Gardens on Muhammad Ali Boulevard that has been mostly empty for more than a decade.
The work, which involves removing petroleum from old elevators, summarizes the current approach to the Gardens: Maintain it, and wait for the future.
Since 2007, two serious proposals have failed to move forward. The developer of 4th Street Live, the Baltimore-based Cordish Co., had planned to turn the building into a minor-league hockey venue as part of a broader downtown project, but the company eventually abandoned those plans.
The city later issued a call for proposals and negotiated with Louisville’s Underhill Associates on a development that would have included apartments and retail among other uses, Business First reported. But Metro government rejected that plan in 2016.
Ultimately, city officials decided that the Gardens would be best used as a public space, said Mary Ellen Wiederwohl, chief of the Louisville Forward economic development agency.
“We didn’t want to give up on it -- if you will -- and turn it into something else,” she said.
The Gardens’ roof was partially replaced after damage from high winds last year at a cost of $400,000; the city also spends about $31,000 on utilities each year.The work funded by the recent grant from the state Energy and Environment Cabinet is expected to start by the end of the year.
For now, the building sits empty. The main bowl stores office chairs, filing cabinets and portions of the old Louisville Water Co. building exterior that was removed prior to construction on the Omni hotel. Other random items – a Louisville Redbirds poster, a stack of wooden pallets – are stacked under the Gardens’ giant pipe organ.
Wiederwohl said the planned opening of the expanded Kentucky International Convention Center and the Omni – both scheduled for next year – may help push investment toward the Gardens, which covers much of the block north of Ali between Sixth Street and Armory place.
“At some point, we’ll see a concept that I think is going to blow our socks off,” Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said. “That’s when we should go.”
First known as the Jefferson County Armory, the Gardens opened in 1905 as Kentucky’s largest building and was a wartime training hall for military exercises before becoming a concert hall and sports arena. The Kentucky Colonels of the old American Basketball Association played their first three seasons there before moving to Freedom Hall.
“We hope that we will be able to reuse it in its original purpose as a public gathering place in potentially an arts and entertainment way,” Wiederwohl said.
But there are no plans to request new proposals for the Gardens, although developers approach city officials about the building “on a regular basis,” she said.
Barbara Sexton Smith, whose 4th Metro Council district includes the property, said she also routinely hears ideas for the building.
“I’m very hopeful that we’ll have something wonderful to develop there,” she said.