Community

Residents with concerns about the current Omni Hotel development plan took their issues Wednesday to the Louisville committee responsible for overseeing standards for real estate developments downtown.

The meeting, which ran four hours, ended without a decision by Louisville’s  Downtown Development Review Overlay Committee. The committee will meet again in two weeks.

The $300-million Omni development will be on the block bound by Muhammad Ali Boulevard and Third, Second and Liberty streets. It will include a hotel, apartments, restaurants and a grocery store.

City officials have described the project as “transformation,” but nearly every resident who addressed the committee expressed concern about some aspect of the design.

Here are some takeaways of the concerns residents shared, and the responses from Omni and city officials.

The Design

Many of the speakers took issue with building’s exterior design along Third Street, which one resident called a “canyon” void of inclusive, pedestrian-focused design.

Staying on Third Street: Developers have asked the city to make Third Street traffic go two-way. Third Street, which is maintained by the state, is currently one-way heading south. The change in direction wasn’t much discussed Wednesday, but Omni developers are proposing that that side of the development house the hotel’s loading dock.

Residents are concerned the loading dock and lack of retail space and engaging streetscape will have negative impacts on what many consider to be an important pedestrian thoroughfare.

Mike Garcia, the chief financial officer for Omni, said developers will take another look at Third Street to see if a “softer design” can be made that would address the residents’ concerns.

Lack Of Public Space

Some of the residents said the project, of which nearly 48 percent is being paid for with public financing, lacks enough public space.

The current design concept outlines two phases, the second of which not yet been considered for design specifics. About a third of the development site—along Muhammad Ali—is being reserved for the second phase.

Developers did not elaborate on plans for the space, but city officials in their recommendation for the development said public art should be an ample component of the project.

Will It Be Green?

The construction of the 30-story structure will require crews to remove many trees that surround the block.

Developers said the trees will be replaced, but residents are concerned there will be fewer trees when the project is finalized.

A committee member also expressed concern that median cuts along Second Street will lead to fewer trees.

Preservation

The concern for what will become of the old Louisville Water Co. building and the Odd Fellows Hall, which have sat on the block for more than a century, has remained at the forefront of many conversation regarding the Omni development project.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said last month the old Water Company building will not remain at the site. It is not economically feasible to incorporate the building into the new development. Developers echoed Fischer at Wednesday’s committee meeting.

Preservationists, however, continue to push for the building’s incorporation into the final Omni development. Many residents and some committee members remain adamant that the building can and should be factored into the new development.

The Odd Fellows Hall sits within the area set aside for the second phase of the project; it will remain on the site for at least the duration of the development, Garcia said.

He said he could not commit to keeping the building on the site after the initial development is complete. Omni officials will be able to sell the phase two property once the city hands the deed over, officials said.

What’s Next

The Omni project still has a couple of administrative hurdles to pass. The proposal will go before the Board of Zoning Adjustment on Monday, said a city spokesman. And then the Downtown Development Review Overlay committee reconvenes in two weeks.

If the zoning board approves the proposed plan, the next step is for developers to apply for construction permits. An Omni representative said they hope to have all necessary permits by this fall, which construction beginning January 2016.

The goal is to have the project complete by 2018.

 

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.