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Preservationists Get 30 Days to Save Old Louisville Water Co. Building

Preservationists have 30 days to develop a plan to save all or part of the old water company building near Third Street and Muhammad Ali Blvd in downtown Louisville, city officials said on Thursday.

The two-story building, which housed the Louisville Water Co. from 1910 to 1998, is one of two historic structures remaining on the block slated for the major Omni Hotel development in the coming years.

On Thursday, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer outlined three options for preserving the old water company building. Preservationists can move the entire old water company building to another location, relocate the building's portico, facade and 25-feet side walls, or move just the building's portico to public land.

He said the city will provide about $1 million for the preservation effort.

The Odd Fellows Hall will not be part of the Omni Hotel development and will be demolished.

Two other structures once located on the block, the Morrissey Garage and Falls City Theater Co. building, were demolished earlier this year and crews continue to remove the final remnants of the century-old buildings.

Following the demolition of those two buildings, Marianne Zickuhr, executive director of Preservation Louisville, said she had hope the old water company building and Odd Fellows Hall (which also remains on the block) could be incorporated into the near $300-million Omni Hotel development.

But Fischer said full building incorporation for the old water company building alone would cost perhaps $6 million.

That is not feasible, he said.

Moving the building is feasible, said Craig Potts, executive director of the Kentucky Heritage Council and the state's historic preservation officer.

But the cost of doing so would surpass the $1 million allocation the city plans to spend, he said.

Potts said the "preliminary estimate" of moving the building is roughly $816,000. That, basically, includes removing the building from its current foundation and putting it on a truck, he said. It does not include the "unknown costs" of the actual transportation—such as removing stop lights, directing traffic and replacing the building at another prepared site.

Another factor preservationists must consider over  the next 30 days  is where they could potentially move the building, Potts said.

Moving the building in its entirety will be limited to a six-block radius, Fischer said. The transport will not be able to go through underpasses or beneath skywalks, he added.

"There is not a specific city site within the six block area that is a clear option," Potts said.

Preservationists will seek out a downtown landowner willing to voluntarily provide the plot of land necessary to relocate the building to, Potts said.

"We haven't thought about the idea of purchasing land," he said. "Land in downtown Louisville is very, very expensive."

He said the Old Water Company building "has a lot of value and potential" and could "be very helpful to a site that's underutilized," like a parking lot.

The Jefferson County PVA assessed the near one acre-parcel of land the building currently sits on to be valued at just more than $2 million.

If a landowner volunteers a plot of land for the building, they would be given the building at not cost, Potts said. They would, however, be required to prepare the lot for the building, which means clearing the lot and laying a foundation.

"Whoever accepts the building, it's going to take a lot of money to adaptively reuse it," he said.

Historic preservation tax credits, which can credit up to 20 percent of the rehabilitation costs, will likely not be available for the preservation of the old water company building, Potts said.

The reason, he said, is that to qualify for preservation tax credits a building must be on the National Register of Historic Places. The old water company building is eligible for listing, but not formally listed. Also, once the building is moved, it likely would no longer be eligible for listing on the National Register, Potts added.

"That impacts the historic context for the site," he said.

Over the next 30 days Potts will work with local preservationists and city officials to develop "a very clear" plan regarding where the building will go and how the extra costs will be covered.

"We have to have a willing property owner," he stressed. "There is definitely some work to be done."

The block on which the building currently is must be cleared and ready for the Omni Development by Jan. 1, Fischer said.

If no donors come forward within the 30-day window for developing a plan to move the building, then, he said, city officials will look to move the smaller portions of the building to public land.

"Something will happen," he said. "Minimally, the city will be moving the portico somewhere. The other opportunity, obviously, relates to the facade and side walls."

Those options, Fischer said, are "relatively easy" and will cost in the "tens of thousands of dollars."

Moving the building, on the other hand, will be "tricky."

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.