November 17, 2008

Fourth Street Live! Thrives

Cordish has delivered on promises for downtown venue, officials say.

Last week, the Louisville Metro Council agreed to fund a new downtown development by The Cordish Co., a Baltimore-based commercial real estate developer.

Council members no doubt hope that the new project will perform as well as city officials say the city’s first project with Cordish has.

In July 2001, the city and Cordish agreed to partner in the development of Fourth Street Live, an entertainment, retail and restaurant complex on Fourth Street between Muhammad Ali Boulevard and Liberty Street, the site of the failed Galleria shopping mall.

Cordish’s proposed Center City development would build on and expand this complex.

Fourth Street Live has been an unqualified success, said Chad Carlton, communications director for Louisville Metro Mayor Jerry Abramson.

“The number of people driven downtown, the number of investments it’s helped leverage, the number of major events it’s helped secure — there’s been a ripple effect that’s hard to quantify,” he said.

Fourth Street Live has exceeded expectations, and we are extremely proud to have played a major role in the revitalization of downtown Louisville,” Cordish corporate director of marketing Kim Damion said in an e-mail message. She declined to comment otherwise.

Fourth Street Live has become the city’s biggest tourist attraction, bigger even than Churchill Downs, said Bruce Traughber, the city’s economic development director.

After opening in 2004, Fourth Street Live drew 4 million people its first year, and it drew 5 million last year, he said. Those figures were supplied to the city by Cordish, he said, but he has no reason to doubt them.

The attraction has become the city’s rallying place, where 10,000 people might show up for a country music concert in the middle of a week and where others could show their support for Team USA at a pep rally for the Ryder Cup competition, said Chris Poynter, deputy director of communications for Abramson.

Convention booster

It has meant the world to the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau, president and CEO Jim Wood said, because it’s a huge selling point for conventions.

He said Fourth Street Live gives convention bookers a clear answer when they’re asked, “What can my convention delegates do in Louisville after 5 o’clock?” Before Fourth Street Live, that was a difficult question to answer, he said.

“Every city needs to have an entertainment district in close proximity to its hotel package.”

During the past three years, more conventions and bigger conventions have been coming to Louisville, he said.

During fiscal 2008, the bureau booked 294 conventions, compared with 138 in fiscal 2005. Some of those conventions were held the year they were booked, but others are booked years in advance, Wood said.

Also, nearly 539,000 hotel rooms were booked for a night in the Louisville metro area in fiscal 2008 compared with about 375,000 rooms in fiscal 2005.

Fourth Street Live certainly contributed to those increases, Wood said, but so did the March 2005 opening of the 600-room Louisville Marriott Downtown and the four-year renovation of the Galt House complex that was finished in 2007.

Center City plan

Baltimore-based The Cordish Co. wants to build on the success of its Fourth Street Live project by creating Center City, an expanded entertainment district along Muhammad Ali Boulevard from Second to Sixth streets.  The new entertainment district would include stores, restaurants, entertainment venues, condominiums and office space. 

The company’s development agreement with Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government calls for Cordish to invest at least $200 million and as much as $430 million of its own money and for the city to invest more than $24.4 million of its money, including the purchase of property in the old Louisville Water Co. block, which it would lease to Cordish for $1 a year for 99 years, with two 25-year extensions possible.

The Louisville Metro Council approved the purchase last week. The city plans to finance the $12 million purchase of approximately six acres through its annual bond issue and to close the deal Dec. 1.