Trying to contact Todd Blue for a comment or suggest an interview has been difficult but not without it’s enlightening and frustrating moments over the past seven months. I’m trying to make sense from a volatile email I received a week ago from Cobalt Ventures CEO Todd Blue, so the following timeline leading to the outburst is hopefully therapeutic for this scribe.
In late February, I was compiling Blue’s segment of the series “Two Cents on the Iron Quarter,” he was thorough and firm. Okay, a little kvetching but he was under duress. Understood.
I became interested in following Blue as the wrecking ball seemed imminent for the abandoned historic block, Whiskey Row, in “Exile on Main Street” posted Feb. 1, 2011.
After focusing on a bigger picture, I pressed on by collecting the thoughts and suggestions of various citizens, getting them to offer their “Two Cents,” including Metro Councilman Tom Owen, Louisville native and broadcasting icon Bob Edwards, avid preservationist Edith Bingham and the dogged developer himself, Todd Blue.
Following the press conference for the acquisition of several buildings on the nearly doomed Row, I wrote a congratulatory post on the Brown-Wilson dream team. Blue did not respond to a couple of requests for comments yet did come through with a pat response for the May 16 post.
“I think it’s time for others (all the negative people who spoke out of turn along the way) to say good things about the great contributions those of us who participated and sacrificed to make this happen.”
For this story, Blue delivered a “Bravo, incredibly well-written” message on May 17.
Fast-forward to the innocent stepchild of this urban divorce, the Elmo’s building, which was slowly becoming more dust than an address in July. I jumped back on the Bluemobile and tried to get some clarity on the deal. I asked for his feedback on Dan Vivian’s challenging op-ed “Louisville’s Preservation Blues” in the Courier-Journal and if the parking lot was to be, then who would utilize the space.
The preservationists were hot. I was not as deeply entrenched and knowledgeable as say, Martina Kunnecke, Edie Bingham or Curtis Morrison but felt a wave of sorrow for the sturdy gray building that fought the bulldozers all the way down.
The offices of LEO offer a birds-eye view of 306-310 E. Main. Their account of making contact with Blue was told in the July 27 article by Anne Marshall, “Historic Plea: The fate of an East Main Street building inspires another push for downtown preservation district. “Her timeline was detailed, accurate and bottom-heavy with irony:
LEO contacted Todd Blue on Monday to ask about the Whiskey Row/Elmo’s deal, his decision to demolish, and whether the site would ever house anything other than a parking lot. In response, Blue a) reminded LEO that he is our landlord (which is true), b) insisted he has done a lot for preservation (Blue has renovated aging buildings on Market Street), and c) said, “I’ve never torn a building down.
Within a few hours of that last statement, however, bulldozers were ripping into the historic Elmo’s building.
My article “Rest In Pieces, 306-310 East Main or Remember the Elmo” was posted after futile attempts to reach Blue for comment in hopes to balance the story. The goal was to offer the man space to explain his decision and validate his actions. Hours later an email finally came rolling in from Blue – “I’m out of the country.”
Of course, I had to post a pithy reply to my own story saying that if he were in Greece, they shouldn’t let him near the Parthenon. I thought it was kind of funny.
I realized that in government and business, there are always the threats of torches and pitchforks and I really didn’t see myself carrying either. I wondered how someone like Todd Blue felt about being strapped with this “bad guy” label. What else does he have to offer Louisville?
On August 10, I asked Blue in an email what current projects or other blueprints were on the table at Cobalt. There have to be plans that don’t involve demolition and I doubt he would want to be remembered as the guy who almost sank Whiskey Row.
There was no indication that my attempts to generate a thoughtful dialogue with Blue with a casual, curious nature would pierce thin skin that day. My candor did not serve me well.
I only wish he could have responded to any of my email requests for comments or an interview with such verbosity. The portions of his email that pertain to Main Street preservation are the excerpts presented here. It was the first time I got actual material from the man and it will probably be the last.
“First of all I am FAR from a “bad guy” with “history buffs” (what defines a history “buff” by the way?). The references you continue to make are now, not only amateur and naïve, but also becoming offensive, rude, incorrect and borderline slanderous in the legal sense. If I’m a “bad guy” I DEFINITELY do not want to be a “good guy” in your book or the book of the people with whom you hang or from whom you get your information.”…”My life is not, has never been, and will never be, “defined” (as you say) by Whiskey Row: If that is what you perceive, or is what you hearing, I feel sorry for you and the people with whom you surround yourself. What was created in the settlement I GAVE to this City is a win -win -win: People need to get a life.”
Moving past the “greeting,” he banged a familiar gong with urging people out of activism and into business. I’d heard this point made by Blue before but it was interesting to see the striking of the caps lock key this time around.
“If you, and the small minority with you seem to talk, have learned anything from the Whiskey Row fiasco the last two years, please learn that you need to stop the forums, stop the chat rooms and stop the petitions: START CONTRIBUTING to this community by DOING SOMETHING!! Stop complaining that you don’t have money. There is a huge amount of money on the sidelines (which can be raised) in this country for good investments; regulation, government involvement and the communist attitudes you promote prevent progress NOT the risk takers you spend your time slandering.”
I found a few grains of truth along the way, people do need to take action but when the messenger’s veins are popping out on his neck, it might be the delivery getting in the way of the message.
I thought to myself, between the screaming lines, that I might need to clarify my points, as they seemed to penetrate his psyche as the totally unintended target. But the next paragraph shot that down.
“Please do not contact me in the future unless you get your facts correct, open yourself to new ideas and get your group to do a project (this will create a lot of credibility and your (their) life won’t be defined by a petition or a blog). Maybe, if you like to organize things (like forums) you should spend your time organizing an official apology to the risk takes (starting with me) in this community you accuse of things that are without back up or fact. Hear-say is a dangerous thing. Risk takes continue to be penalized in this community and are being chased (or voluntarily leaving for better opportunities elsewhere) out of town. Study your history: If this (an exodus of business risk takers) happens, REAL problems (like “soup lines” and other things) begin. People will always follow opportunity (because they need to feed their families). If business-friendliness is chased out of Louisville there will be no jobs and people will go hungry and then NO buildings will be saved or built. Lastly, why did I not hear from you and your friends when the roof collapsed on one of the Whiskey Row buildings (JUST DAYS AGO)?? “
The Me vs. Them continued. I wonder if Metro Government, Cobalt and the preservationists were ever on the same page.
“This was on-going evidence which continues to prove (even though I have nothing to prove) what I have been saving for years (that these buildings are incredibly dangerous to the community and the “preservationists” are risking the safety of the public for a cause that is not commensurate with human life). This lack of communication (admitting wrong and apologizing) from you (and “your side”) lost the most credibility and is a shame.”
While I was blindsided by this sudden rage, I did offer an olive branch and signed off on any future email to his office. I had to share a few choice words with friends who stood up for preservation, since they were dragged into this personal smackdown. For a man who at first agreed to sit down with a cup of coffee but then proceeded not to honor a few straightforward media requests, he put his all into one final email that seemed to take a year off his life span in doing so.
Over all, I felt bullied and I know that I am in good company but I wasn’t going to look the other way. I’m a feature writer and enjoyed writing about most people and places in a positive light for over two decades. I’ve also thrived in the vocation of childcare and I know a tantrum when I see one.
Good luck to you, Todd. With the sentiment from Field of Dreams, If you build it,.. they will come.” I know you’re expecting to demolish things for the same results but just step carefully through our historic city and its fine people.
A tempered sense of entitlement and a few returned calls or email would probably help a situation not reach this point.