Construction Begins on New Skyscraper in Kentucky

Thu November 22, 2007 - Midwest Edition
Bruce Schreiner - ASSOCIATED PRESS



LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Developers of Louisville’s next skyscraper are getting a groundbreaking as flamboyant as the 62-story Museum Plaza that someday will dominate the city’s skyline.

Forget the typically staid ceremony in which dignitaries dig up bits of soil. Highlighting Oct. 25’s ceremony will be a 20-ft.-long, 400-lb. shovel hanging from a 200-ft. crane that will drop into a pile of dirt to mark the start of construction on the $490 million skyscraper near the city’s waterfront.

The building’s unique design features a trio of towers and glass elevators operating at an angle that will shuttle people to a 25th-floor lobby serving as the main entrance to a contemporary arts center, a 260-room hotel and restaurants.

“Museum Plaza’s avant-garde design will make it an instant landmark,” said Mayor Jerry Abramson, who was scheduled to attend the groundbreaking along with Gov. Ernie Fletcher.

Construction is expected to be completed by late 2010. The skyscraper also will contain retail stores, 97 luxury condominiums, 65 loft condominiums, offices and the University of Louisville’s master of fine arts program.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Steve Wilson, who is developing the skyscraper with his wife, Laura Lee Brown, attorney Craig Greenberg and businessman Steve Poe.

The financing plan includes using a portion of new taxes generated at the site that would be rebated to the developers. The tax revenue would finance up to $150 million in public improvements, including a new park, a parking garage, floodwalls and rerouting a portion of two streets.

The rest of the costs would be covered through bonds and private sources, with income from the condos, hotel and office tenants helping to pay off the debt.Wilson said that the developers have plenty of leads in recruiting tenants, and said he expects the building to be fully occupied when it opens.

Museum Plaza is the highlight of an unprecedented construction surge in Kentucky’s largest city.

Abramson spokesman Chris Poynter said that $5 billion worth of projects are under way or about to start across the city, including $2.1 billion of construction in downtown. Other downtown projects include a $252 million, 22,000-seat arena, expansion of the Fourth Street Live entertainment district and a new retail and commercial district near the arena. Those projects are expected to be completed in 2010.

Museum Plaza will be the first skyscraper built in Louisville since the 35-story Aegon Tower opened in 1993.

Not everyone was enamored with Museum Plaza’s design when it was unveiled early last year. One critic observed that his children had built similar designs with Legos.

Urban design expert Patrick Piuma predicted that most skeptics will be won over, just as they were with another downtown Louisville landmark — the Humana building with its pink granite exterior.

Piuma likes the Museum Plaza design, which he said is unique.

“If it was just going to be another big cube that they put up, it wouldn’t be worth anybody’s attention,” said Piuma, director of the Urban Design Studio, a joint project of the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky and Louisville metro government that’s designed to promote smart growth and good design.Piuma said the new skyscraper will be an attention-grabber.

“If we can capitalize on that, it could be a great marketing push for the whole city in saying, ’We’re modern, we’re progressive,’” he said.

Museum Plaza will be situated near some of the city’s main tourist attractions, including the Muhammad Ali Center, Louisville Science Center, Frazier International History Museum and Louisville Slugger Museum.

Ali Center president and CEO Michael Fox said he welcomed the new neighbor as a “significant new architectural addition to Louisville’s developing downtown.”

Wilson said he hopes the building becomes a symbol of a growing city.

“I think the city will really be proud of it,” he said.