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Metro Newsroom

Preservationists Create New Heritage Conservation Fund

Friday May 11, 2012

Last November, Main Street Revitalization LLC – a group of investors that purchased five condemned Whiskey Row buildings - shared the plans to preserve the remaining original historic buildings. Six months later, the group has learned more about the structure of the buildings and what it will take to transform the Main Street block.

The group purchased the Whiskey Row properties (111, 113, 115, 117 and 119 West Main Street) for $4.85 million and their original expected cost to save, stabilize, and begin developing the buildings was $2.5 million. As part of the initial plan, the city made a $1.5 million forgivable loan to help stabilize the buildings and preserve the facades. One year and multiple studies later, the development group now knows that the cost is nearly triple their original projections ($7 million). Despite these hurdles, the investor group - which includes Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown, Brown-Forman Corporation, Christy Brown, Nina Bonnie, Jim and Marianne Welch, Rev. Al Shands, Edie Bingham, Stephen Campbell, and the Louisville Downtown Development Corporation (using proceeds from a donor) – are committed to moving forward with the project. The group determined it would need an additional $4.5 million to stabilize the structures in addition to the $2.5 million that it initially secured.

To move forward, and in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the group will establish the Heritage Conservation Fund, a non-profit revolving equity and loan fund dedicated to local historic preservation. The National Trust will use the Louisville model as the basis for a case study, which they will then disseminate nationally to other cities and states looking for creative financing solutions for historic preservation and conservation. Investors have committed at least $2.1 million towards the Fund, which, in turn, will make its first investment in the Whiskey Row project. Additionally, Christy Brown has made a challenge pledge; she has agreed to donate an additional $1 million to the revolving fund if the city agrees to lead the sourcing of a matching amount either from private or public dollars. The remaining $400,000 will be privately raised by the Whiskey Row development group, ideally from new donors. All of the contributions to the Heritage Conservation Fund will be charitable donations and all investment returns to the Fund will be re-invested in future preservation projects. “Christy Brown’s generosity and vision for the future of historic preservation in Louisville will be transformative,” said Steve Wilson, who along with his wife Laura Lee Brown are original investors in the project.

"This new fund is a fantastic example of creative and entrepreneurial minds coming together to create what will be a national model for preservation," Mayor Greg Fischer said. "I will work closely with the Metro Council and other interested parties to apply that same creativity in seeking matching dollars from both public and private sources to meet this challenge. Visitors from across the world cherish their visits to Louisville for our authenticity. Historic preservation on Whiskey Row and potentially other areas of town will benefit from this unique and groundbreaking revolving fund concept.”

The development group is going to great lengths to preserve as much of the remaining original historical elements in 111, 113, 115, 117 and 119 West Main Street as possible. These buildings have suffered significant and rapid deterioration. There are certain areas where new collapses have been recently discovered, while other portions of the buildings are in imminent danger of collapse. The group's immediate goal is to stop further decay and stabilize the buildings for redevelopment in the near future. Valle Jones, who along with her brother, Stephen, and Bill Weyland developed the neighboring Whiskey Row Lofts and who is on the project’s development team, believes that this redevelopment will transform the block, the original “Whiskey Row,” into an international bourbon-oriented entertainment destination. “When the project is complete, we will have not only redeveloped Whiskey Row but in the process created a new national model of innovative financing for historic preservation.”

City and state officials applaud the group's investment and preservations efforts to save and restore this important part of Louisville's history. Jim King, President of Metro Council praised the owners, “I want to commend all of the owners on their commitment to the future of historic preservation in our city. I wholeheartedly support their approach to the public-private financing plan to fund Whiskey Row and look forward to working with the Mayor and Council to complete the funding.”

Initially the Heritage Conservation Fund will invest its funds in the Whiskey Row development. Over time, as more funds are raised and invested funds are repaid, the Fund will help catalyze more local historic renovations. As part of their commitment to the Louisville endeavor, the National Trust will convene and facilitate a meeting in Louisville of “best practices” with national preservation leaders experienced in revolving funds. These leaders will meet with local preservationist and downtown leaders to help shape the Heritage Conservation Fund.

The development group is currently in talks with potential tenants and believes the block will include residential, commercial, tourism and retail components. The group plans to move forward with stabilization efforts in the next 30 days.