Louisville Museum Plaza
Louisville Museum Plaza is a 62-story skyscraper planned for Louisville, Kentucky. The 703-foot (214 m) tall skyscraper is projected to cost $490 million and contain a 1-acre (4,000 m 2) public plaza and park, condominiums, lofts, a hotel, retail shops and a museum. It would replace the AEGON Center as the tallest building in Kentucky. The avant-garde design of the skyscraper was chosen by New York City REX (formerly Office of Metropolitan Architecture- New York) architect Joshua Prince-Ramus. A groundbreaking ceremony was held on October 25, 2007, and construction at that time was expected to be complete by 2010. Delays have disrupted the project, but Craig Greenberg, one of the projects four developers, is "hopeful that construction will start this year ". He also expects the project to be complete by late 2012. The location of Museum Plaza would be between River Road, Main Street, 7th Street and 6th Streets in downtown within the West Main district, adjacent to the Muhammad Ali Center. If built, it would be the first skyscraper constructed in Louisville in 17 years since the 35-story AEGON Center was constructed.


Initial offering
The Museum Plaza project was first announced on February 9, 2006 as a 62-story three-tower skyscraper. The original intent of the project was to house a "contemporary art museum, restaurants, retail stores, 85 luxury condominiums, 150 lofts, a 300-room hotel, office space and a 1,100-car underground parking garage." The project originally contained approximately 1,200,000 square feet (111,000 m 2) of space, nearly twice the size of AEGON Center, 300,000 sq ft (30,000 m 2). of which would be reserved for office space. Sales of the lofts, condos and offices began in March. The $380 million project that featured a fairly radical skyscraper concept would engulf the West Main district, also known as "Museum Row" for its diverse collections of exhibitions. $305 million will be paid for with private money and income from operations, with the remainder coming from the city and state in the way of upgrading adjacent infrastructures which would include moving the adjacent floodwall, redirecting several city streets, and constructing a public park and walkway; the city and state money would come from rebates on new taxes generated by Museum Plaza over 20 years. The location of the proposed skyscraper was chosen for its derelict structures; it was donated by the city to the developers. At the time of its unveiling, the University of Louisville was negotiating with the developers to move its Master of Fine Arts program into the complex. The primary reason is that there will be ample gallery space that could be shared between various artists and the University; the public can also collaborate with the residents, university students, workers or visitors to Museum Plaza. One of the main concerns was that the design would be "out-of-context" with the West Main Street district. The surrounding structures are a mix of four- and five-story period structures that would be "engulfed" by the 62-story tower. Several, including Louisville's mayor, Jerry Abramson, raised concerns that the skyscraper would "separate itself" from the district due to its size and style.

Preliminary construction begins
Preliminary construction began on November 13, 2006 with the selective demolition of four West Main Street buildings. The facades of 615-621 West Main will be saved and serve as an entrance to a "pedestrian promenade and retail corridor." The buildings were abandoned, having been purchased by the Parking Authority of River City in 2001 for a "grand entrance" for the failed 30-story Vencor Tower that was to be located on the same site as Museum Plaza. The "retail arcade," as currently planned, would extend from West Main Street to a pedestrian overpass over Washington Street, where it will connect to a plaza and amphitheater. Currently under construction, if completed it will feature 34 trees, a terrace, and connections to Museum Plaza and the Muhammad Ali Center. The skyscraper's groundbreaking occurred on October 25, 2007.

Growing larger
On December 6, 2006 it was announced that Museum Plaza was becoming larger. The $380 million price tag had risen to $465 million due to several additions to the complex, adjacent roadway improvements and rising basic material costs; new alterations to the city's waterfront would entail more work for the city and state. The announcement also stated that the project would contain a 246-room Westin Hotel, the addition of 14 luxury condominiums for a total of 99, a 140,000 sq ft (13,000 m 2). park that would connect to the nearby Muhammad Ali Center, and for the demolition of the LG&E tower at Eighth Street. The project now contains 1,500,000 sq ft (139,000 m 2). of space, a 40,000 sq ft (4,000 m 2). contemporary art museum, 20,000 sq ft (2,000 m 2). of restaurants and retail space, 99 luxury condominiums, 117 lofts, a 246-room hotel, office space and an 800-car underground parking garage. In the revisions, the number of lofts was lowered from 150 to 117 because the University of Louisville's Master of Fine Arts program was intending to move to Museum Plaza; this would give the school additional room. The arts program, covering 36,500 sq ft (3,390 m 2). over four levels, will include a glass-making shop. The hotel also lost 50 rooms in the process, but the addition of a ballroom, fitness center, spa, restaurant and bar makes up for the difference. On January 22, 2007 it was announced that the number of lofts would be decreased to 108 and the number of luxury condominiums would be 95, a loss of four. The amount of restaurant and retail space increased to 40,000 sq ft (4,000 m 2). It was also announced that there would be 16 floors with a total of 295,000 sq ft (27,400 m 2). dedicated to offices. The total number of floors was also increased to 62. It was expected that, once construction began in May or June 2007, there will be 561 full-time workers employed at the construction site for three years; construction is projected to end in 2010. The combined economic impact is $900 million, making it one of Kentucky's largest economic development projects. Details The fourth level is slated to be a public plaza. Located on multiple floors will be an art showcase titled the "Island"; the five galleries within the "Island" would, if completed, feature frequently changing contemporary exhibits. Two of the galleries will be dedicated to the University of Louisville, one specifically for their glass-arts study. Offices would be located around the "Island" and surround that will be a lobby, spas, stores and other support facilities. The public plaza outside of the Museum Plaza is planned to feature a playground, flora and water features, and a playing field. The Fort Nelson Park would serve as a "parkway" to this plaza.

Financial issues
The city of Louisville's Convention and Visitors Bureau, and numerous groups representing the hotel and tourism industries, are opposed to the legislation that would allocate portions of the room tax for the proposed Westin Hotel at Museum Plaza to the developers. A resolution by the groups was passed in late-January 2007. The money would reimburse Museum Plaza officials for construction costs regarding a new floodwall and the River Road extension, among other public work improvements. The developers claimed that the $465 million development could not be built without the tax changes and two other measures that were introduced in Frankfort. The other measures included requesting changes in state law that would allow them to extend the tax increment financing from 20 to 30 years, and to remove sales tax from all construction materials. On February 1, 2007 Mayor Jerry Abramson intervened, urging the Museum Plaza developers and opponents of the room tax to reach agreement "within 48 hours". One day later, agreement was reached between the Convention and Visitors Bureau, hotel and tourism industries and Museum Plaza officials regarding the tax proposal. According to the deal, the amount of tax revenue spent on public infrastructure will be limited to a maximum of $400,000 per year, to increase by four percent per year over thirty years. Any revenue generated above the upper limit will go to the Bureau.

Museum Plaza is approved
On March 2, 2007 House Bill 549 passed by a 79-13 vote that allowed the state to provide funding for one fourth, or $130 million, of the Museum Plaza project. It then cleared the Senate on March 12 by a 35-1 margin, and the House approved the Senate changes 85-11. On April 20 it was announced that the groundbreaking for Museum Plaza' construction would be September 27. The finalized list of features include:
  • 98 luxury condos
  • 117 studio loft condos,
  • 270,400 sq ft (25,120 m 2). of offices on 13 floors,
  • 250-room Westin Hotel that has a ballroom, fitness center, spa, restaurant and bar/lounge,
  • 140,000 sq ft (13,000 m 2). public plaza,
  • 20,000 sq ft (2,000 m 2). of restaurants and shops,
  • 36,500 sq ft (3,390 m 2). of studios for the University of Louisville fine-arts program, a glass shop, and fine arts gallery,
  • 40,000 sq ft (4,000 m 2). of contemporary art space,
  • 800-space parking garage.
A "string of shops" will be constructed behind the three facades that were saved at 615-621 W. Main Street, providing an entryway over the floodwall into Museum Plaza. On May 23, 2007 the Downtown Development Review Overlay board, which oversees the design of downtown projects, stated that Museum Plaza met most of its guidelines for new construction. It suggested a few improvements for the project, including:
  • A way to connect a public plaza to the Ohio River, similar to how the Belvedere reaches the wharf at Fourth Street and River Road.
  • Encourage public art on the site.
  • Submit plans for signage, landscaping, exterior lighting and details on the four-story parking structure that will serve as the base of Museum Plaza.
The city landmarks committee also recommended that an obelisk at Fort Nelson Park (Seventh and Main streets) remain at its current location. Museum Plaza officials wanted to remove it to build a parkway that would lead to the public plaza. The obelisk marks certain distances to Fort Nelson, the second fort built in Kentucky.

Groundbreaking ceremony
On October 25, 2007 an official groundbreaking ceremony was held on the site to kick off actual construction.

Subsequent problems
Construction on the building halted in January 2008 after vibrations from digging tools at the site shook nearby 19th century Main Street structures. The building's developers still project that the building will be completed in 2011. In March 2008 construction was halted due to financial problems and engineering problems related to the bedrock on the site. Construction resumed in June 2008 with the relocation of underground utilities. By January 23, 2009 two contractors on the project had filed liens against the project, for $2.3 million and $1.4 million. The lienholders stated that they had not been paid for work previously done on the project.

On hold in 2010
In February, 2010 Mayor Abramson forecasted that financing would be resolved in 2010 with construction starting up again in 2011. In the article he implied that part of the funds might come from the Federal stimulus funds. In another article from February, 2010, Craig Greenberg, one of four Museum Plaza developers expressed his hopes that construction would restart in 2010. He refers to a 30-month project completion time and forecasts a 2012 opening based upon a 2010 resumption of construction. However, there were no concrete details of progress in either of these news reports. A news conference was held at the site, on June 25, and an announcement was made that a $100 million HUD loan application was to be filed, in July. The primary developer, Laura Lee Brown, will be using her personal guarantee as the collateral. If HUD approves the loan, construction may resume.

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