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    Photos by Terrence Humphrey

    Every time Tim Daniel would drive by the Waterfront Park Place condominiums downtown on Witherspoon Street, he would say to his wife Debbie, “That’s where I want to live someday.” The empty-nesters owned a house near Norton Commons and had moved to different cities over the years but had never lived in an urban setting. Several years ago, they found themselves constantly visiting their aging parents in Jeffersonville, Indiana, and Edmondson County south of Louisville. Driving to do their parents’ yard work became so much of a chore that Tim would have to mow his own lawn at 10 o’clock at night. In 2009, he and Debbie took the annual Downtown Living Tour and ended up falling for a place in the under-construction Fleur de Lis building on Main Street, across from Slugger Field. They sold their 3,400-square-foot house and settled into the 1,350-square-foot condo. 

    To get to the fourth-floor condo, a fob opens the garage door, allows entry to the building and operates the elevator. The Daniels’ thumbprints unlock their condo. Inside, it smells impossibly fresh and is impeccably tidy. They have high ceilings and two bedrooms, one with a Murphy bed for when guests visit. While they purged much of what they’d accumulated over 38 years together, they’ve had to get creative with storage, using built-in cabinets along several of the walls and a small space in the garage for larger stuff.


    Tim and Debbie Daniel at their condo in the Fleur de Lis on Main Street.

    The entire back of the condo showcases views of the river, the baseball stadium, the Yum! Center three blocks away and, just down below, the Louisville Ballet’s studio, where Tim and Debbie watch dancers rehearse. They have season tickets to U of L basketball games, see plays at Actors Theatre and go to nearby restaurants, often in NuLu four blocks away. Until they moved, they didn’t realize how much of their time they spent doing things at their house — fixing things, yard upkeep. “People say, ‘Don’t you miss your yard?’” says Tim, who now lives a block away from Waterfront Park. “I say, ‘I got this great yard down here and I don’t have to take care of it.’” They were also relieved to cut their commute time. “Just to get to work on a bad day was an hour,” says Tim, who works at a printing and packaging company in New Albany. “Same way going home. A lot of your life is spent just trying to get where you’re going. In some respects there’s a lot to do down here, but it kind of slows you down.” On nice days, Tim will bike to work. Debbie, now retired, was working for Norton Hospital and would walk seven blocks to work. 

    When they first moved in almost eight years ago, Debbie says, “It felt like The Shining. You could go a week and never see anybody.” Since then, their building, and downtown, has changed. Bill Russell, who was one of the first to move into Waterfront Park Place in 2004, says that now he sees more people walking their dogs and more tourists (he says the miniature Slugger bats give them away). And though several hotels, a renovated and expanded convention center and more bourbon attractions are underway, much of the current downtown development is housing. There are more than 700 new units planned across several housing developments, in addition to the current 2,600. That will increase residential space by 27 percent by the end of 2018. At least seven new and under-construction developments include the Ice House Lofts on East Main Street and the Omni Hotel and Residences on Second Street between Liberty Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard. Jim Baines, the deputy director of research at the Louisville Downtown Partnership, hasn’t seen this kind of growth in his 32 years on the job. He says it has taken several publicly funded projects — the Yum! Center, chiefly — to spur this level of private development.

    The 800 Tower City Apartments, the circa-1963 renovated 29-story complex on South Fourth Street, has a cheery lobby, with pinks and yellows and greens and metallics. Yellow gator skin covers a wall behind a couch. A woman sits with her two Shih Tzus, who rest their chins on a sofa arm and look through the glass of the lobby door. Another woman pushes a stroller. Through the mirror-covered elevator doors, up at the sky lounge, resident DJ Carroll has his laptop open. “Thanks for stopping by my office,” says the 28-year-old, who runs his tech business remotely several days a week and works in Jeffersontown on other days. The common area has photos of Louisville celebrities — Jennifer Lawrence, Colonel Sanders, Diane Sawyer — along the walls. There’s a pool table, a foosball table, a fireplace, TVs. The 40-foot deck features what must be a 300-degree view of the city. “It’s like MTV Cribs or something,” Carroll says. “My friend said, ‘This is like Vegas-style living.’”


    DJ Carroll on the sky lounge deck at 800 Tower City Apartments on South Fourth Street.

    Carroll and his girlfriend moved into their 1,100-square-foot apartment in March. They were living in a 2,300-square-foot house in Carrollton, Kentucky, where Carroll had gone to high school, but he wanted to move to a more urban environment to grow his business. “I love sitting out on the balcony and brainstorming,” he says. “When you can see everything out there, from a business perspective, it’s like, if they did it, we can do it.”   

    According to the latest census estimates, a quarter of downtown residents are ages 25 to 34 and about half are white. About 88 percent of downtown housing is currently renter-occupied and almost half of downtown residents don’t have cars. Forty-five percent of occupied units cost less than $500 in rent and 85 percent cost less than $1,000, though Louisville is likely to see some steeper rent prices as some of these new apartments become available. Rents at 800 Apartments range from $805 to $2,395. Carroll pays about $2,000 a month for his 25th-floor apartment. Some of the Whiskey Row Lofts units rent anywhere from $810 to $2,125. The rental units at the Fleur de Lis go for $2,100 to $2,300. Condo ownership tells a different story. Nine in 10 owner-occupied units are valued at $200,000 or more and half are $500,000 or more. Fifteen percent are more than a million. 

    Jeanne Hilt, director of marketing and communications at the Louisville Downtown Partnership, says that, on the last Downtown Living Tour, about 25 to 30 percent of those interested in living downtown had a dog, though pet ownership continues to keep people from making the move to the urban core. One in ten residents in the central business district is 19 or younger (less than 1 percent are younger than five), compared to closer to 20 percent in adjacent census tracts. (The census tract covering most of the central business district includes the river to the north, Ninth Street to the west, just below Broadway to the south and I-65 to the east.) Several families I talked to for this story had kids while living downtown but soon moved to another neighborhood. Debbie Daniel mentions Jeff Walz, the U of L women’s basketball coach, who used to be their neighbor in the Fleur de Lis until he had kids and moved away, though he kept the condo and rents it out. Tim Daniel says that people will often buy a unit at the Fleur de Lis and rent to medical students or other transient people, such as those with temporary positions at downtown offices. Bill Russell says that of the 82 units at Waterfront Park Place, he and his wife are probably one of 20 households who live there year-round.

    Jennifer Hale and her husband Brett live in the Mercantile Gallery Lofts with their four-year-old son John. Brett had lived in DC before he bought a unit in the building on Market Street between NuLu and the central business district. After marrying Jennifer and having John, an adjacent unit became available for sale and they decided to buy it and tear a wall down, making one bigger unit, now with four bedrooms and four baths. John was born with intestinal complications requiring frequent visits to a nearby hospital, so the location has been ideal for them. “After having John, we feel like maybe a yard would be nice in the summer because he likes being outside, but we go to lots of parks,” Jennifer says. “Brett would like us to leave downtown in the next two years. He has this idea of owning a lot of land, which neither of us would actually take care of. I would like to stay here for as long as we can.” John can look at the trucks on the highway, hear sirens from the nearby fire station and helicopters that fly overhead. “For a boy growing up, I feel like he has it made,” Jennifer says. She does say that, if it weren’t for NuLu, they probably wouldn’t be downtown. Though they’re able to walk to a lot of places, they end up driving to, say, the Science Center, which is just under a mile from their house.

    “It’s not really a walking town,” Jennifer says. “If I felt like John and I would be 100-percent safe, we would walk to the Science Center, but there are parts of Main Street that are kind of deserted. I would give it five more years, after the Omni Hotel is finished.” 

    Though the people I talked to for this story love most things about their neighborhood, Louisville’s downtown is often either deserted or full of tourists. On a recent Saturday afternoon, I spent some time looking for something to do downtown, which lacked the energetic feel of Bardstown Road or Frankfort Avenue. Apart from a couple of Starbucks, none of the coffee shops — Heine Brothers, Sunergos, Press — is open on weekends, catering solely to the 65,000 who work downtown, not to the 4,500 who live there.


    Jennifer Hale with her son John at their Mercantile Gallery Lofts condo on East Market Street.

    The lack of a grocery is perhaps the thing people who don’t live downtown tend to gripe about most when listing reasons for not wanting to live there. A lot of residents just don’t see what the big deal is. The Daniels have never lived super-close to a grocery, always having to drive seven or eight minutes to get to the closest one. They now go to either the Kroger on Goss Avenue or the ValuMarket on Bardstown Road. Jennifer Hale, who grew up in Cherokee Gardens, says that she’s used to going to the Target on Westport Road in St. Matthews or to Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. Bill Russell favors the Kroger on lower Brownsboro Road. DJ Carroll, working in and testing out the tech world, tends to order food through meal-prep services or get his groceries online through Kroger’s ClickList and pick them up at the Goss Avenue location. He gets everything else from Amazon, which has a grocery-delivery service not yet available in Louisville. This month, Whole Foods will start delivering in Louisville. The Omni Hotel, set to open a year from now, will have a 21,000-square-foot space dedicated to groceries and prepared foods — about a mile north of the recently closed 26,000-square-foot Second Street Kroger. “I don’t have a lot of hope for that being a decent grocery,” Russell says. “I think it will be a high-priced mart. We’ve had some other marts down here. They always try to catch the top of the market and there’s just not that much of the top of the market to catch.” Russell, who has worked in real estate for 45 years, says that if there were more affordable housing options, more people would be downtown. Perhaps the injection of hundreds of new apartments will change that.

    Though $1.6 billion in downtown development means constant traffic headaches, Shawn Beirne points to the alternative of having a dead downtown. Beirne and husband Butch Sager, who own the Gifthorse shops on East Market Street and South Fourth Street, have decided to close their NuLu location, effective Oaks Day. Bierne cited the year-and-a-half street-and-sidewalk reconstruction coming to NuLu that will disrupt both car and pedestrian traffic. Across the street from their Fourth Street location, which will remain open, construction on a seven-floor, 234-unit apartment complex is projected to be completed early next year. “I feel like this town does everything at a snail’s pace, which I think is a good idea,” says Beirne, who lives in the 800 Tower and walks to work. “In other cities things happen so fast and things get bastardized. Because we do things slowly, it feels more organic.” 

    “If you look at photos of some of the buildings that have been lost over time, it’s really sad,” Baines says. “It makes you mad — all of the buildings that came down and they built that?” Across downtown’s 100 blocks are 381 surface parking lots, both public and private. Baines says, “I’d say where you see a parking lot is potential.”

    This originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, click here. To find your very own copy of Louisville Magazine, click here.

    Mary Chellis Nelson's picture

    About Mary Chellis Nelson

    Mary Chellis Nelson is the managing editor of Louisville Magazine.

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