The smell of smoke still lingers inside a stretch of Louisville’s Whiskey Row, nearly a year after a fire ravaged several of the historic buildings on the 100 block of West Main Street.
“I thought it was a total loss,” said Louisville Fire Department Captain Chris Reid on Wednesday.
He was one of nearly 80 firefighters who responded to the blaze that erupted in the basement of the buildings that, at the time, were undergoing an extensive redevelopment.
The fire gutted and charred three buildings: 111, 113 and 115 W. Main St. Flames surged from their windows, smoke billowed from the open roofs and bricks tumbled onto nearby parked cars.
Reid said he’s happy to see he was wrong. The buildings remain, despite the damage from one of the biggest fires the 15-year veteran had ever worked.
“I’m kind of nostalgic, I like old buildings,” he said Wednesday, standing inside the shell of 113 W. Main Street.
Developers and investors with Main Street Revitalization LLC held a press conference Wednesday to update the public on continued efforts to breathe new life into the historic structures.
Construction crews have been busy building back the burned buildings since November, said Valle Jones, an investor with the group. She said the dozen residential units and a “commercial shell” will be ready in about 12 months. Restaurants will open by the end of next summer, she said.
Later this summer, Jones said, she expects construction crews will be able to open up at least one more lane of traffic along Main Street.
Jones and other investors purchased the strip of buildings from 111 to 119 W. Main Street for about $5 million in 2011. The buildings date back to the 1870s and have strong ties to the city’s bourbon-fueled growth in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
In those days, the district was the home base for many bourbon companies. It was also a bustling commercial district, said Tom Owen, a Louisville Metro Councilman and local historian.
As the bourbon industry’s presence in Louisville faded, Whiskey Row was occupied by professional offices and stores. But the block suffered along with all of downtown in the latter part of the 1900s, and the buildings were largely vacant through the ’80s and into today.
Jones said last year’s fire was certainly a setback but not a dealbreaker.
“These buildings have shown us how when you build them right the first time, the buildings can survive a lot of challenges,” she said.
Craig Greenberg, a developer with the investment group, said the decision to continue with the redevelopment effort came just hours after fire crews had corralled the blaze.
“Our team was resolute and determined that we were going to bring these buildings back stronger than ever,” he said. “Of course, it took several months to figure out how we were going to do that, but we never lost faith.”