The first line of a press statement sent out by developers of the REX-designed Museum Plaza tower in Louisville, Kentucky put it bluntly: “Museum Plaza will not be built.” The 62-story hyper-rational tower—part kunsthalle museum, part residential and commercial hub, part art school—was hoped to signal the rejuvenation of the city’s urban core, but like so many iconic buildings proposed in the days leading up to the great recession, the vision succumbed to the realities of the financial markets.
Original plans set forth in early 2006 called for a modern art museum on the 23rd floor, accessed by a diagonal funicular, to form the hub between hotel, residential, and office space. A massive park atop a parking garage, originally designed by West 8 Landscape Architects and then turned over to artist Ned Kahn formed the plaza.
Construction actually began in 2008 but halted abruptly as foundation work caused dangerous vibrations in surrounding 1850s era cast-iron buildings. While plans were reworked, financing fell through and the project has languished ever since, remaining little more than a few dozen capped piles at the bottom of a large pit. The site, located along the Ohio River between an interstate highway and a flood wall, complicated construction and was described by Joshua Prince-Ramus, principal at REX, as a “bath tub.”
Last year, the project team applied for a $100 million federal loan from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 108 program, but the team formally withdrew its request this morning.
Developers Craig Greenberg, Laura Lee Brown, Steve Wilson, and Steve Poe remained optimistic that the project could ride out the recession, but in a statement and letter to the Mayor of Louisville and Governor of Kentucky this morning, the team put forth a more sober outlook:
“Through this process we have endured four years of the worst recession of our lifetime and the most challenging lending market ever. There are no signs of improvement in the near future… we painfully decided that this project could not be built in this economy.”
The development team is leaving Museum Plaza behind, and is now shifting its attention to a group of five mid-19th century former whiskey warehouses that they saved from demolition.