Todd Blue’s Two Cents on the $50 Million Iron Quarter

Todd Blue. PHOTO: Andy Olsen

History made Whiskey Row and now history will take it down.

It went up one brick at a time and it’s going to come down a lot faster. Soon.

Somewhere between a dream and a deal, Todd Blue wants to revive a block of Main Street to many times the strength it had a century ago as whiskey warehouse to nightclubs and office lofts… and then some.

Restoring more than just buildings, and hopefully utilizing as much of the original iron, tile and other materials as possible, Blue and his current and soon-to-hired crews plan to return the block to a vital marketplace for the 21st century.

Whether or not it is destined for parking lot status while we all wait…a little longer, is up to us. Get out and speak up while you can. Blue claims to be, himself, a preservationist and one of the most accessible and approachable entrepreneurs in the city.

The developer told me, “It’s time to step up and do something.” Adamant about the fact that there were no back room deals, the developer reminded me that there was no dropping of any suit, that there was no way the city was going to be able to win.

“Our city lawyers had terrific stewardship,” he said. “What the mayor accomplished, which continues to go uncelebrated, was the opportunity he brought to the city.”

As for Blue, he ties up the handshake and his forging ahead with developing The Iron Quarter with a simple response to those who question his actions.

“It’s over, I won. There is no double jeopardy.”

For all the right reasons, many sides have entered this battle for the building–we all want the best for Main Street. And with that many good intentions under one roof, the sticking points are many.

As the seven structures sit idly by at the gateway to our city, adorned in warped chain link fence and yellow caution tape blowing in the wind, it is my personal feeling that  Blue, for all his energy and kinetic thinking, sat on the property for way too long.

With it’s 2007 purchase still dangling in the media, like a price tag from Minnie Pearl’s hat, Whiskey Row could be revived to take on the future in grand style. Todd claims he has made efforts to attract the preservationist community to view his buildings and spaces, to look or to lease. There have been no takers. Yet I have to imagine that penny is far too pretty for most budgets.

“I’m going to stop calling my detractors “preservationists” and refer to them s “the opposition,” he stated.” I’m trying to keep this positive”

Blue sites the classic stance that Louisville has endured for decades.

“Come on, let’s take a risk. We have to create markets for the city, abandon some of this provincial thinking and stop scaring people away. ”

One thing Blue and I have in common, and I think we’re in good company, is that we have never liked the “Possibility City” campaign. It has been shared by many that it is probably, not possibly, one of the elements that has turned Louisville into one of the most politically regressive cities in the nation.

Blue, who as a father of three young children, knows you have to keep things in motion suggested a new slogan for the city.

“My motto at this time? ‘Let’s GO!”

“I have spoken to everyone that has wanted to speak to me. They need to come with solutions. They can’t bring obstacles. If we had always listened to nay-sayers, we wouldn’t have a lot of things.”

The Blues come by iron and metal honestly as their family business was scrap iron, an industry that used to be a visual nightmare on the now beautifully developed Waterfront. Through the success of their patriarch, David Blue,  both Johnathan and Todd are natural born recyclers. And business men.

Touting an 80% approval rate for his plans, Blue is coloring himself happy. Almost.

“I’m glad my father raised us to be tough and to take a strong stand,” he said. “This has been a rough process and if I was to let the rhetoric and comments get to me that would hurt a lot.  I’ve been treated like a dog.”

His plans include hiring architects to which they could ascertain if it is possible save the facades. I expressed my qualms about turning blocks into a United States of Generica.”

He said he has never been part of a generic design. Even the dentist office that he created has won awards Then again, how much design goes into a parking lot. See: Panic.

“I’m from Louisville and I love this city,” he said. “What if someone like Donald Trump came through here and bought such a row of buildings. Do you think he would offer options? I’m offering the opportunity for progress, jobs and culture. I’m not from Baltimore, Chicago or Los Angeles. And there’s no one behind me.”

Louisville—it may be time to come together and work on compromise. Do we put out money where the mouth is?


Not pretty, but maybe it will change soon. PHOTO: Rick Redding