LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The company chosen to transform the old Urban Government Center site on Barret Avenue will not move forward with its proposal.
The Marian Group notified Metro government Monday that it was ending the development agreement, in part because Metro hasn’t gotten land-use and other approvals it agreed to obtain by December 31, according to letters provided to WDRB News.
“This is disappointing to say the least,” Marian principal Justin Brown said in an interview. “It’s not where we intended to be and not where we wanted to be.”
The decision is the latest setback for the planned overhaul of the Paristown Pointe property, where the company sought to build retail and commercial space, a hotel, new housing and a parking garage.
It comes with eight days left in a period in which Metro government had pledged to rezone the 10-acre site and get other approvals, such as demolition permits. During that time Marian also could simply decide that the property wasn’t in acceptable condition.
The Metro Council tabled a vote on rezoning the land for high-density commercial uses earlier this month.
Marian correspondence shows that the company asked Louisville Forward, the city’s economic development agency, for a six-month extension so both sides could do more work.
“They made it clear they didn’t want to extend that contingency period, so we had no choice but to withdraw from the project at this point to protect ourselves,” Brown said.
Louisville Forward received the notice from Marian, "and we respect their decision," spokeswoman Caitlin Bowling said in a statement.
"We remain committed to working with the residents of the Paristown Pointe neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods to revitalize this important property," she said. "The next step is to work with the Metro Council to rezone the property that will allow for a mixed-use development that the residents of the area have asked for throughout the process.”
The land was one of two vacant, city-owned properties Mayor Greg Fischer’s administration targeted for new uses by seeking input from neighbors, then letting committees of citizens and government officials recommend development plans in 2017.
The other property – 24 acres at Muhammad Ali Boulevard and 30th Street in the Russell neighborhood – was awarded to the Louisville Urban League for a track-and-field complex. Fundraising is underway on that project, which is expected to be complete by the end of next year.
But the Urban Government Center project has languished. Louisville Forward announced in late 2017 that the Marian Group had been chosen from five finalists and signed a development agreement the following July.
Since then, the site failed to qualify for tax credits that would have financed low-income units in a Family Scholar House campus, resulting in the loss of one of Marian’s anchor tenants.
And earlier this year Marian dropped plans for two dozen houses on a parking lot the city pledged for the project after a dispute between Metro government and the Paristown Preservation Trust, which uses the lot for the Kentucky Center’s nearby Old Forester’s Paristown Hall.
The city ultimately agreed to an out-of-court settlement when those groups threatened to sue. The deal let the trust buy the lot for $1 and keep it for parking and pay $500,000 to Marain help cover its pre-construction work.
Metro government also agreed to give Marian $150,000 from Louisville Forward’s budget.
In all, the settlement reduced the size of the land available for the Marian project from 12 acres to just under 10 acres.
With the new landscape, Marian and the city revised their development agreement last summer.
The new deal gave city agencies more responsibility for site planning while Marian held the rights for the land, including paying for an environmental review of buildings where lead, mold and asbestos were found.
The site is home to former government office buildings and the old Kentucky Baptist Hospital.
That study concluded that it will cost $4.7 million to handle asbestos, mold and lead-based paint in the four buildings. The city had agreed to help Marian obtain money for cleaning up the buildings if the remediation costs exceed $750,000.
Brown declined to say how much his company invested in the project.
“We have made no money on this project,” he said. “We have spent a significant amount of time and resources on this – and not just us, but a team of people.”