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Preservationists 'Haven't Had a Lot of Response' For Louisville Old Water Co. Building Site

Preservationists are having difficulty finding a suitable site for the Old Louisville Water Co. building.

The century-old building is on the site of the planned Omni Hotel project at Third Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard in downtown Louisville.

Last month,  Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said he would provide $1 million in city funds to move the the structure—but only if preservationists could find a site within 30 days.

The deadline is June 20, according to the mayor's office.

The site had to be within a six-block radius, and the structure could note pass beneath a bridge, skywalk or underpass en route to its new site, Fischer said.

"We always knew it would be tough" to find a site for the building, said Craig Potts, the executive director of the Kentucky Heritage Council and the state historic preservation officer.

Potts said in May that a preliminary estimate shows moving the building in its entirety will cost roughly $816,000. But that only includes removing the building from its current foundation and putting it on a truck, Potts said.

The estimate doesn't include the "unknown costs" of actually moving the building through city streets, which would include removing stop lights, directing traffic and replacing the building at another prepared site.

And that prepared site will likely need to be supplied by a property owner for free, Potts said. That means the property owner would likely have to give up a revenue producing piece of downtown property, prepare a foundation for the building and then restore the building.

"We haven't had a lot of response from local property owners interested in receiving the building," he said.

Potts said parking lots are the most feasible property to move the building to, but as downtown parking is at "a premium," many property owners would rather not part with revenue-generating surface lots.

He declined to say which sites preservationists are considering.

But Potts said he doubts the wrecking ball will roll into downtown Louisville after the 30-day deadline is up.

If a site cannot be procured within the 30-day window, Fischer said he will work to save the building's facade or portico—or both. No part of the building will be incorporated into the near $300-million Omni Hotel development, Fischer said, which is slated to begin in early 2016.

Fischer said if the portico or facade are all that can be salvaged, they will be transported to another public space in the city.

Potts said at this point his office is focused solely on saving the entire building.

Saving just the facade or portico—or both—is "not that appealing," he said.

"Moving a building is not ideal," he said. "Preserving a facade is less ideal, moving a facade is even less ideal than that. It's about trying to find a solution here that is reasonable and makes the most sense."

Still, he said saving the building is worth the $1 million cost, because an investment is going to be made whether the building is razed or saved.

"From an environmental standpoint," he said, it's better to keep the materials out of a landfill.

Besides, the funding Fischer has promised to supply to help move the building is specific to the Omni Hotel development, meaning they cannot go towards separate preservation projects around the city, a spokesman for the mayor's office said.

If the building can be saved and transformed into a commercial or for-profit space, then it will continue to contribute to the city's built environment, as well as its tax base, Potts said.

"Ultimately, that's a good thing," he said.

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.