HUD Gives Museum Plaza Leg Up


HUD loan guarantees could have Museum Plaza under construction by this fall.
Courtesy REX

At more than 60 stories, the multi-tower, mixed-use Museum Plaza was set to redefine the skyline of Louisville, Kentucky, when it was unveiled in 2006. After the REX-designed project was put on hold due to the financial crisis, however, many assumed that a project of that scale and complexity would never rise, given continuing lending scarcities. But through a combination of programmatic reshuffling and creative fundraising, the project’s developers are working to revive it, possibly even resuming construction by this fall.

As AN first reported, the developers are seeking a $100 million loan guarantee through the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 108 program. Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, and the developers announced their intention in a press conference on June 25. “We went to the Governor about a year and a half ago looking for ways to restart construction,” said Craig Greenberg, an attorney and partner in the development team. “He reconfirmed his support for the project, but indicated that the state had its own financial constraints. He urged us to be creative in seeking funding sources.”

The project is located at the western edge of downtown Louisville. (Click to zoom)

Though the Section 108 funding mechanism was created in the 1970s, the Commonwealth of Kentucky has never previously applied. The program is meant to help create low- and moderate-income jobs, and state-level applicants have to demonstrate a statewide benefit (as opposed to a merely citywide benefit). Workers from counties surrounding Louisville will be targeted for construction and permanent jobs at the project, which includes hotel, office, and condo components, as well as an art center.

Brian Sullivan, a spokesman for HUD, said that since the application had not yet been filed, he could not comment on the merits of the proposal. He indicated, however, that the backing of the Governor carried significant weight with the department. The development team plans to file their application in early July. The review process could take approximately two months.

Inside one of the art galleries.

Since significant foundation and site work, including infrastructure relocation, had already been completed prior to the downturn, preserving the design of the building envelope was a priority. The structure is composed of a three-legged base—two occupied legs and one for support—topped by a platform containing the art center, which the architects call “the island.” Above the art center rise two residential towers and one office tower. The developers have decided to remove 117 condominiums in favor of a 190-room hotel, the second in the project, to be located in one of the legs. Ninety-five condominiums remain.

“The individual legs have always been profit machines to support the contemporary art center,” said REX principal Joshua Prince-Ramus. “Having all the hotel rooms below the island actually benefits the project programmatically. Condos have always been the biggest unknown in terms of financing.”

Prince-Ramus added, “The project has always faced hurdles, but this wasn’t something anyone wanted to let go.”

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