Heart of Louisville 2015 Year in Review

January 4, 2016 by Margaret O'Neal

As winter begins and we reflect on our first years’ worth of work in Louisville, it is important to highlight a few areas of success in 2015 as well as activities we are very much looking forward to in the New Year.

Main Street - Heart of Louisville

photo by: Andy Snow

Main Street - Louisville, Kentucky

As previous updates have stated, the Green Lab spent a significant amount of time in 2015 working on two unexpected opportunities – the Royal Visit of Prince Charles and the Omni Development at the Water Company Block downtown – as well as significant capacity-building with the Louisville Preservation Fund. During the March visit from HRH Prince Charles, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Preservation Green Lab were pleased to participate in the Symposium on Health and Harmony, hosted by Christy Brown.

  • As part of the Harmony Village at the African-American Heritage Center, Green Lab staff discussed our research on sustainable preservation with the Duchess of Cornwall, who expressed strong interest in our maps of Louisville’s older buildings. We also networked with a range of other Louisville organizations involved in related work, such as natural resource conservation, water infrastructure, and local food sources.
  • The Green Lab arranged a panel on the importance of preserving the built environment and successful economic development, held at the Filson Historical Society. Moderated by the National Trust’s President and CEO Stephanie Meeks, the panel featured three speakers: Mark Huppert, a Seattle-based development consultant; Gill Holland, a successful local developer; and, Jim Lindberg, Senior Director of the Trust’s Preservation Green Lab. Each provided unique insights on the importance of older buildings, human-scale design, and the opportunities to spark increased investment in Louisville’s historic core. A lively discussion with local attendees followed.
  • At the conclusion of this panel, Stephanie Meeks was joined by His Royal Highness, Christina Lee Brown, and Mayor Greg Fischer. Stephanie announced the launch of the Heart of Louisville National Treasure – the first National Treasure to focus on an entire city as a learning laboratory to test creative approaches to preservation that can provide models for others cities across the nation. Stephanie presented His Royal Highness with a Presidential Achievement Award to recognize his contribution to the field of historic preservation internationally. We were particularly delighted by the Prince’s unscripted speech thanking Stephanie and lending insights into his personal interest regarding the connections between heritage preservation and sustainability.
Portland Neighborhood - Heart of Louisville

photo by: Andy Snow

Portland Neighborhood - Louisville, Kentucky

Later in the summer, we engaged in discussion around the Water Company Building and block with the demolition of structures to make way for the Omni development. Though publicly contentious, this conversation provided the Green Lab an opportunity to deepen relationships with various players in Metro and provide a model for future engagement with local stakeholders.

  • In June, we convened a Community Design Charrette to explore alternatives to the proposed demolition of historic buildings associated with the Omni Hotel development in downtown Louisville. Held at the University of Louisville Urban Design Studio, the Design Charrette brought together more than 40 local and national advocates and design experts. The participants generated five alternatives to Metro’s proposal, and showed how a participatory process could better serve the needs of both city officials and local advocates. Although none of the alternatives were ultimately successful, the process provided a valuable example for the future. Metro has since expressed a need for increased integration between historic preservation and overall development goals – a direct result of our work.

Aside from these rather major events, we have also been busy implementing our work plan in three main areas:

Better Building Reuse Louisville. In cities across the country, the Green Lab uses data and spatial analysis to understand how older buildings and blocks contribute to community sustainability. Our unique analysis informs discussions with local stakeholders regarding strategies to accelerate revitalization.

  • In Louisville, some first-year activities in this area included data collection on all buildings and parcels within the city’s boundaries, as well as a range of social, economic, and environmental indicators, to create a foundation for policy development; and, creation of a “character score” map for the city, showing concentrations of older, smaller, age-diverse fabric that Green Lab research has shown is critical for future sustainable development. These maps will be available on a public web application, being developed by the National Trust’s GIS Analyst, starting in January.
  • Additionally, we gathered a small group of local developers, business owners, preservationists, and metro government staff to identify and prioritize key barriers to successful building reuse in Louisville. In January, we’ll be gathering this same group of people to develop solutions to overcoming these barriers – which will form an action agenda we hope to work with the city to implement over the course of the year.

Urban Demonstrations. In addition to our data and spatial analysis, the Green Lab is testing new approaches to preservation challenges in Louisville through our America Saves! pilot program in NuLu. This national Department of Energy-funded program looks at energy efficiency as a form of capital that can be delivered to small businesses on a district scale. We are partnering with the University of Louisville School of Engineering to collect building and utility data for NuLu properties, which will be used to design cost-effective energy retrofits aimed at saving dollars locally, which can then be reinvested in small business. In 2016, we are looking forward to a new partnership with the city’s Sustainability District initiatives – integrating energy efficiency retrofits for older buildings into the other sustainability efforts being developed by the city through an EcoDistrict model.

Capacity Building. The long-term success of this urban laboratory project will require the leadership of a strong local organization that is dedicated to preservation-based real estate development. The Green Lab’s capacity building efforts toward this goal in 2015 included:

  • Creation of a 12-member Advisory Committee, representing traditional and non-traditional partners in sustainability and development, to guide and inform our work in Louisville.
  • Strategic planning and board development for the Louisville Preservation Fund. We facilitated a board planning retreat for the LPF board and organized a webinar on how to launch a revolving fund with staff from successful organizations in Macon, GA and Greensboro, NC. We are in ongoing conversations around growing and strengthening this organization to lead preservation-based real estate development in Louisville as an essential component of a more vibrant, healthy, and resilient city of the future.
Story & Frankfort Avenues - Heart of Louisville

photo by: Andy Snow

Story & Frankfort Avenues - Louisville, Kentucky

We look forward to forging ahead in 2016 and are excited about a number of opportunities, including:

Opportunity Analysis. With the first layer of our data analysis complete, we are looking forward to adding the additional layers that will give allow for an analysis of areas of opportunity for both market-driven and community-based development efforts. Additional data layers will be added to the web application that is being rolled out in January.

Small-Scale Development. The Green Lab is participating in the development and execution of the Spring Capstone class at the University of Louisville – focused on fine grain, incremental development downtown. Inspired by Green Lab research and partnerships, students will explore the performance of blocks downtown and conduct analysis of the existing fabric, with the ultimate goal of activating underutilized space to achieve a more complete, vital urban landscape. In conjunction with this course, the Green Lab is sponsoring a small developer’s bootcamp, tentatively scheduled for March 16, which will be an opportunity for those beyond the studio class to learn about fine grain development and how to engage in developer activities. More information on this will be available early in the new year.

Technology Partners. We have formed relationships with Opportunity Space and Local Data, two corporations already doing work in Louisville to leverage data and technology solutions. Both organizations are interested in the Green Lab work and integrating our data and spatial analysis into their platforms in different ways. We hope to leverage these relationships to increase the impact of Metro’s contracts with each.

Metro Preservation + Development. We are excited about the recent announcement of Metro’s goal to increase the effectiveness of preservation efforts within the context of broader development goals. The shared action agenda, developed in our Better Building Reuse Louisville work could contribute significantly to this effort.

Stay tuned for more updates on the Heart of Louisville Treasure work.

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