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Mayor Greg Fischer Proposes Buying Colonial Gardens to Boost South End

For the second time, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer's office hopes to buy land to encourage development. Fischer is asking the council to approve $430,000 in general fund spending to buy Colonial Gardens in the South End. The former beer garden was the site of Louisville's first zoo, and is now owned by an out-of-state trust.

The outside ownership and a recent landmarks declaration have been cited as reasons why the building has remained undeveloped and empty for nearly a decade.*  The mayor's plan aims to address both of these issues. City Economic Development Director Ted Smith says the city can more effectively market the property locally. Only part of Colonial Gardens has landmarks status, and Smith says that can be accommodated "In the last 8 months, we've had the opportunity to interact with some very sophisticated developers and it looks very workable," he says. The $430,000 price is based on property assessments and it's likely the city could make that money back on a sale, Smith says. The city has already put money toward the site. Last year, the council approved $15,000 to help the Southwest Dream Team study the potential redevelopment of Colonial Gardens, and Dream Team president Vince Jarboe says the results were positive. He supports the mayor's action. “We'd just like to have something that the community can be proud of, and it'd be a central gathering spot for the community and South End residents," says Jarboe. This is the second time this year Fischer has proposed buying land to spur development.  Earlier this year, the city spent $1.2 million to buy a 30-acre site in west Louisville to spur development and job growth. That purchase was part of a larger plan to redevelop a portion of west Louisville. And Smith says it's important to think of the Colonial Gardens purchase as part of the larger revitalization of the southwest, taking advantage of Iroquois Park and the New Cut Road corridor.  *In fact, Colonial Gardens was repeatedly cited as an inspiration for a controversial set of  changes to the city landmarks ordinanceWAVE3 explored this issue in a recent story, quoting critics—including Metro Councilman David Yates—who say landmarks declarations are hindrances to development, and who say the Colonial Gardens site might be a developed now if it weren't for the landmarks declaration stopping people from tearing it down.  We addressed these accusations of NIMBY-ism here. If the city's plan works, Colonial Gardens will be preserved and redeveloped. The Whiskey Row buildings appear to be headed to a similar fate ( though everything won't be preserved). Those who say landmarks declarations hurt development may point to delays like the ones we saw with Whiskey Row and Colonial Gardens. But preservationists can use them as proof that there are ways to work with historic structures. Then again, in both these cases, public money will play a major role in the success of the preservation. So maybe the question isn't over historic preservation's effects on development, but on a government's role in preserving its own history as it seeks to secure its future.