July 02, 2007

Major expansion of 4th Street Live

The owners of 4th Street Live! in downtown Louisville have leased the first floor of the adjacent Starks Building as part of the first major expansion at the entertainment hub since it opened three years ago.

Officials with The Cordish Company will announce today that they plan to add restaurants and retail shops to roughly 20,500 square feet of the Starks Building at Fourth Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard.

Louisville Metro Mayor Jerry Abramson said the project will help connect 4th Street Live with a larger proposed retail complex the city hopes to see built in the old Louisville Water Co. block along Third Street.

And without providing details, he said a "couple of other" deal farther south on Fourth Street are also in the works.

Abramson praised Cordish for its investment in 4th Street Live!, which opened in 2004, and said, "The fact that they're now ready for phase two shows great confidence in our downtown."

City officials previously identified Cordish as one of the leading candidates to develop the water company block, but company officials have declined to comment.  The city has options on part of the 6.2 acre block, and it hopes to have an agreement with a developer for the entire area in the next 12 months or so.

Cordish officials said the project will represent a $6 million investment.  They hope to announce more details in the next several months, and open the expansion area within a year.

Curt Sitlinger, an attorney who works on the third floor of the Starks Building, predicted that the Cordish project will breathe new life into a property whose retail offerings have bottomed out in recent years.  Much of the building's first floor is empty, and a cafeteria in the basement closed about a year ago.

Plan Praised

Other tenants at the Starks Building include law firms and medical practices on the upper floors.  Laura Bevarly, a paralegal who works across the street at the Meidinger Tower, said in an interview Friday that she takes her lunch break in the Stark's Building's glass atrium almost every day and welcomes the planned changes.

Seng Jewelers, one of the main tenants on the ground level of the Starks Building and a business on Fourth Street since the early 1950's, will remain at its current location.  Benn Davis, a co-owner of Seng, applauded the expansion of 4th Street Live.

"They know what they're doing," he said of Cordish.  "They'll make it if anybody is going to make it."

The development is just the latest of several downtown projects either under way or being planned.

Earlier this year, businessman Todd Blue laid out plans for a $50 million office and retail complex along Main Street, between First and Second streets, called Iron Quarter.  Another group, called 500 Associates, announced plans last week to turn the old Vermont American plant on Main, across from Louisville Slugger Field, into shops, offices and a micro-distillery.

And a Florida developer, Eric Bachelor, expects to buy the Hilliard Lyons Center at 501 S. Fourth St. late this month and spend as much as $30 million to turn it into a hotel with offices and retail shops.

The owner of the Starks Building, which dates to 1913, is a subsidiary of Hertz Investment Group, a private real estate investment company based in Los Angeles.  When the firm bought the property a year ago, about 45 percent of its space was leased--or roughly half the occupancy rate from the early 1990s.

But Curt Morrison, assistant property manager, said he expects the tie-in with 4th Street Live will create additional momentum for leasing efforts.

Cordish officials have said in the past that more than 4 million people visit the 300,000-square-foot entertainment complex annually.

Some say bigger is better

Most 4th Street Live tenants say their businesses are profitable, but could be boosted with more nearby shopping, such as a department store, and additional dining options.

The largest retail tenant is Borders Books & Music.  Lisa Howser, the store's general manager, said sales are comparable to one of the chain's suburban locations.

Joe Reagan, president of Greater Louisville Inc., the metro chamber of commerce, said Cordish has proved to be a "very good operator" of 4th Street Live.

"Destination retail is one of the things that the public wants," Reagan said of the downtown, adding that the Starks project "is a step in that direction."