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Downtown Louisville Omni Project Clears Last Major Hurdle

new omni 2

A Metro government panel on Monday unanimously approved plans for the nearly $300 million downtown Omni Hotel & Residences, the last major hurdle before the Dallas-based hotelier can begin construction of the 30-story apartment, hotel and retail complex.

"The next steps is we'll build the project," said Jeff Mosley, deputy director of Louisville Forward, the city's economic development agency.

Omni still needs to apply for and obtain construction permits. Mosley said last week the company is expected to begin construction early next year and complete the project by March 2018.

On Monday, the Board of Zoning Adjustment examined and approved three variances and a waiver to the Land Development Code associated with the project. Those changes offer new insights into what the Omni will be like at street level.

The variances allow setbacks from the street along portions of the project beyond what's permitted by city code. The Land Development Code requires buildings taller than 14 stories to be set back from the street at varying distances in order to allow light and air to reach street level. But Omni developers say the planned setbacks below the 14th floor adequately allow for air and light to reach the street.

Increased building setbacks from the street will come on the Second, Third and Liberty Street sides of the project and range in distance from about 6 feet to nearly 70 feet. The biggest setbacks will be on the Second Street side of the development, where plans call for an area designed to allow vehicles to pull in and drop off passengers.

Other, smaller setbacks of 6 feet and 23 feet will make way for cafe-style settings and retail entryways along Liberty and Second streets, said Zachary Jekot, a project architect.

"The building setbacks are intended to improve the streetscape and make Louisville a great downtown," he said. "That's what everybody has asked of us."

Mosley said the approval from the zoning board will allow the "project to be constructed as designed."

"It's a good project, and we're happy with the vote," he said.

The zoning board made the approval on the condition that the Metro Council's Public Works and Transportation Committee finalize the design of the city's right-of-way property associated with the project.

Last week, a downtown development review committee approved the overarching design of the project. The design has been sharply criticized by community members, who specifically argued that the Third Street side of the project lacks an engaging streetscape. Other critics have taken issue with plans to remove the century-old Louisville Water Co. building from the site.

Jacob Ryan is an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.