LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The local investors who recently bought the long-vacant Merchant’s Ice Tower in Smoketown envision the 13-story former cold storage building being remade with a combination of restaurant, retail or office uses on the lower floors and more than 100 apartments on the upper floors, including a rooftop gathering spot such as a bar or event venue overlooking downtown Louisville.
Mitchell Kersting, a 35-year-old architect and one of four partners in the redevelopment group, in an interview Monday that he was tired of driving or bicycling by the building and being reminded of its potential to connect Smoketown with Paristown Point, Germantown and even downtown.
“As long as I have been alive and can remember, it’s been sitting there,” Kersting said. “It’s a huge missed opportunity.”
Doing business as 801 Logan Street LLC, Kersting and his partners – James Duffy, Yong Cha and Christopher Wirth – bought the moribund building and at least two smaller buildings on the property at Logan and Lampton streets on June 19 for $825,000, according to Jefferson County deed and mortgage records.
Kersting, who said he works on rehabbing historic structures as an architect at WorK Architecture + Design, said it will take at least a year or two before any work begins on the redevelopment project. Work will be done in phases, beginning with the tower.
He said financing is “very secure” but declined to identify the group’s source of funds and the project’s budget.
While the partners have an idea of what they might do with the tower and smaller buildings on the site, Kersting said the plan is “open ended” and they’ll seek feedback from neighbors and city officials.
“There is a plan to make sure it’s successful and viable, but there are a lot of opportunities for creativity and a lot of other uses in this site that we haven’t even vetted yet,” he said. “We’re going to make sure we can sit down with key community members, first, with a plan, and then it becomes a dialogue.”
The tower was built in 1881 as the Schaefer-Meyer Brewing Co., which brewed beer there before it was changed to cold storage and ice production during Prohibition, according to a 2015 article about the building on Broken Sidewalk, the Louisville urban planning site.
The windowless cold-storage tower last changed hands in 2002, when GB Builders, a company formed by the late Gary L. Bates, bought it for $345,000 from VC Glass Carpet Co., the successor to Merchants Ice & Cold Storage Co.
Bates’ heirs decided to auction the property for a minimum of $500,000 to ensure it would finally sell after previous attempts failed, said Bill Menish, of SVN Premier CRE & Auctions, the auctioneer. (Menish said the purchase was actually a little more than $900,000 and the deed filed last month will be corrected.)
Despite the ice tower’s appearance, the building is “actually very stable” from a structural standpoint, Kersting said.
“It’s not going to be a matter of what we can or cannot do,” Kersting said. “It’s going to be a matter of, what’s the best thing to do?”