Urban Government Center redevelopment deal still moving forward, city says

A 2018 conceptual rendering shows Marian Group's vision for the vacant Urban Government Center on Barret Avenue.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Louisville Metro Council wants to wait longer to decide whether to rezone land on Barret Avenue where city officials are trying to redevelop the former Urban Government Center site.

At its Thursday meeting, the council tabled an ordinance that would make the property suitable for high-density uses that include housing, bars and restaurants.

The move comes as the Marian Group, the developer chosen by Mayor Greg Fischer’s administration, has until December 31 to decide if it wants to pursue its project. Marian Group principal Justin Brown said Thursday his company continues to assess the site.

In a letter dated December 5, Louisville Forward Chief Mary Ellen Wiederwohl urged the Marian Group to let city officials know if they’re not interested in continuing with their plans, which had originally called for retail and commercial space, a hotel, new housing and a parking garage.

The site is in the Metro Council’s 4th District, where council member Barbara Sexton Smith previously opposed a zoning change until a detailed development plan was submitted. But she voted in favor of it when the measure cleared the council's planning committee earlier this month.

Sexton Smith, a Democrat who is not seeking reelection, successfully pushed to amend the council’s ordinance to keep the property free of car rental agencies; car repair or sales businesses; boat sales and storage companies; and used car lots.

The amendment also requires that before the start of any work like clearing or grading, the council must approve a detailed development plan. That would follow a public hearing at the Louisville Metro Planning Commission.

Some neighbors have objected to a process that let the city – and not a developer – seek a zoning change. When private companies ask for such changes, they typically include detailed plans of how land will be used. 

“Many people became very uncomfortable during conversations that the council would actually rezone an area without a development plan,” Sexton Smith said on Dec. 3

She said she changed her mind because the city, not a developer, now owns the property and a rezoning will make the surrounding areas more valuable.

The Barret Avenue site in the Paristown Pointe neighborhood includes former government buildings and the old Kentucky Baptist Hospital. It abuts the Highlands and Germantown and is not far from the $12 million Old Forester's Paristown Hall on Brent Street.

The Fischer administration chose Marian in late 2017 and signed a development agreement the following July.

But since then, Marian lost two acres of its original proposal after a land dispute between Metro government and the Paristown Preservation Trust, which leased a city-owned parking lot on Vine Street for the Kentucky Center's Paristown Hall.

After the trust and the Kentucky Center threatened to sue, the city ultimately agreed to an out-of-court settlement that sold the lot for $1, with the trust paying Marian $500,000 to help cover pre-construction work.

Metro government also agreed to pay Marian $150,000 from the budget of Louisville Forward.

As a result, Marian was forced to abandon plans for nearly two dozen “21st century shotgun homes.”

The city has agreed to help Marian obtain money for cleaning up the buildings if the remediation costs exceed $750,000. According to a city consultant, it will cost an estimated $4.7 million to deal with asbestos, mold and lead-based paint in four buildings at the site.

Reach reporter Marcus Green at 502-585-0825, mgreen@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2019 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.