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Louisville Examining Preservation, Redevelopment Policies For Historic Buildings

Spurred in part by the controversy surrounding the old Louisville Water Co. building, Metro Louisville will soon launch an initiative to reexamine its preservation and redevelopment efforts for historic structures.

The initiative is being spearheaded by Louisville Forward, the city's development wing.

Louisville Forward Chief Mary Ellen Wiederwohl said the city tends to address preservation matters only once they reach "crisis" level.

The initiative will look to change that.

"Are we doing enough as local government, from a policy perspective to protect, preserve and reuse these buildings?" Wiederwohl said.

Marianne Zickuhr, executive director of Preservation Louisville, said she supports having a broader community conversation about the redevelopment of the city's historic structures.

"We have been advocating for (Louisville) Metro to have this type of conversation for years," she said.

The priorities for the initiative include creating an up-to-date inventory of all historic structures in the city, Wiederwohl  said. Louisville has about 14,000 historic structures, but Metro government doesn't know how many are city-owned and how many are privately held.

A building must be at least 50 years old to be considered historic, she said.

She said the initiative was prompted in part because of the outcry this summer surrounding the old Louisville Water Co. building.

The city received a flurry of community responses this summer to plans to remove the old Louisville Water Co. building from its Third Street location to make way for the $300-million Omni Hotel & Residences project.

Weiderwohl said the majority of historic buildings are privately owned properties, which can sometimes hinder rehab efforts. She said the efforts could also be helped by the revamping of the state historic tax credit program.

Cynthia Jackson, the city's historic preservation officer, said the tax credits can help homeowners rehabilitate historic properties properties. But she said a funding cap on the tax credit commonly leads to applicants receiving less funds than they need to complete substantial preservation work.

And from a developer standpoint, the benefits from state historic tax credits are often trumped by federal credits.

"The state program is really limiting," she said, noting that can be a challenge for enticing developers to take on rehabilitation projects in Louisville.

The initiative will also look to create a more streamlined process for collecting public opinion regarding historic structures, Wiederwohl said.

She expects the initiative to kick-off this fall.

"We need a more thoughtful and proactive dialogue," said Wiederwohl.

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.

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