By GILL HOLLAND
Your Voice Contributor
I am honored to have been asked to share a positive news story/opinion piece with the Voice Tribune readers. So I will share a bit about the NuLu story. I am presently the elected President of the East Market District Association, our neighborhood business association. My wife Augusta and I developed The Green Building (presently the “greenest” commercial building in Kentucky) and are still working on several more historic buildings in the East Market Street area just east of downtown.
Five years ago, East Market Street was a diverse urban environment, on the up-and-coming “cutting edge” (at least in my opinion having moved from Manhattan’s East Village). Most folks at the time, however, would have said it was on the less desirable “bleeding edge,” and most of the 30,000 daily cars never stopped on East Market Street while zooming east from downtown to their suburban homes. Despite the First Friday Trolley Hop, the area may have been known primarily at the time for being an area for social services (Wayside, Jefferson Street Baptist Center, Home of the Innocents).
One day about three and a half years ago, signs were posted saying that the Wayside block of 150-year-old buildings was to be imminently demolished. Many folks suddenly realized that, in the Jane Jacobs spirit of “new ideas need old buildings,” this would not be in the best interest of Louisvillians. We hurriedly put together an investment group and Wayside agreed to be purchased for a nice profit to them. They were also given two years free rent, until they were able to close the deal on the Holiday Inn on Broadway. In retrospect this private deal has been a great win-win for the community. No public money or subsidies were used at all to transform a federally designated economically distressed area into a booming arts, cultural and sustainability district, arguably the coolest such area in the Mid-west.
A cursory count of NuLu development shows 30 new local businesses in the three main East Market Street blocks, nine of which are restaurants. If one considers that the small businesses are “mom and pop” shops which have 2 to 3 employees and that the restaurants have 30 weekly employees and staff, that is over 350 jobs created during the Great Recession in NuLu. The renovations of the historic buildings have also kept building contractors, plumbers, roofers and electricians employed steadily for the last four years. It is also important to note these businesses were not just cannibalized from other places in town, these are all new businesses (save one, Bluegrass Green, that moved from Bardstown Road). It is also important to note that the preservation of these existing structures created more jobs than demolishing them and building new structures. Studies have shown that renovation of old buildings actually creates more jobs than new construction: in new construction, 50 percent of the cost is for labor and 50 percent for materials, and in renovations, about 30 percent of the budget goes to material and 70 percent of the budget goes to labor. Those laborers then go out and spend their salaries and create a local multiplier effect for each dollar. It is also important to note that one does not send a building to Asia to get retro-fitted; all these jobs are local boots on the ground!
With the galleries like Swanson Reed and artists like Billy Hertz and Stephen Irwin already in place five years ago, the Green Building was just another building block to establishing NuLu as the cultural center of the Commonwealth, and adding a bit of sustainability to the mix.
As the First Friday gallery events and the Trolley Hops proliferated, and new galleries like Tim Faulkner Gallery and Carr-Waite opened up, folks realized that it was maybe not a good idea to shutter Lincoln Elementary. It was a better idea to leverage the private investment and arts momentum of the neighborhood on the public level. So Lincoln Elementary, where more than 90 percent of the children are on free and reduced lunches, went from being slated to being shut down, to receiving a $7,000,000 influx last year from Frankfort for its new wing and is now the performing arts magnet for Jefferson County and a feeder to YPAS.
NuLu is still home to all the social services as before, we have just broadened our range and are an inclusive neighborhood that is walkable, workable and liveable … and a great place to create new ideas.
The unofficial “Mayor of Nulu,” Gill Holland is also a film producer and co-developer of The Green Building on Market Street.