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May 27, 2008

Tearin’ down the house

It
is decidedly awkward to argue against an organization like Wayside
Christian Mission.

The
nonprofit agency tasked with helping the homeless and impecunious
does objective good for Louisville, offering as many as 650 men,
women and children a warm reprieve every night. Its facilities need
an update: Wayside’s three main buildings are mostly sound but
ramshackle, and walking through the campus, one is greeted with the
overwhelming sense that every addition and subtraction since the
agency moved fully into its East Market Street digs in 1991 has been
conducted on a shoestring budget.

So
the planned expansion of Wayside’s campus in the East Market
District of downtown — a bona fide, gentrifying arts district whose
old buildings provide much of its character — has been a long time
coming: According to Nina Moseley, Wayside’s chief operating
officer, the agency has spent a decade planning and raising close to
$4.1 million to cover the costs, a goal it has nearly achieved.

But
the plans to tear down two buildings — intent to demolish signs
were posted a couple weeks ago, and Wayside’s contractor is working
with Metro to square demolition orders — have some neighbors upset.
None of the three buildings that are now part of Wayside’s
labyrinthine, piecemealed campus is protected by historic
designations. But at least two, both Victorian-style, are
intrinsically valuable to the character of the district, the
neighbors say.

Moseley
said there is no way her agency could even keep its current pace with
the campus in this condition; in fact, one of the buildings in
question has been vacant more than three years, it being structurally
unsound.

Wayside
has adapted its plan to maintain the facades of the buildings as an
act of appeasement. Some say it’s not enough, and that the old
bones of these structures are just in need of some new love.

The
Wayside property

consumes most of the 800 block of East Market, from Shelby Street to
the Flame Run building. It is also a block deep, with some frontage
on Jefferson Street as well.

The
basic idea of the expansion is to connect the eastern- and
westernmost points with a large, homogenous structure in the center.
The new structure would house men, women and children in both
temporary and semi-permanent facilities — something Wayside does
now in a significantly less unified fashion. The men are in the
agency’s Jefferson Street building, a place packed to the gills
with the stuff of the damaged, empty buildings in the Market campus:
boxes of files, computers, the detritus of the modern office. Women
and children share tight quarters on Market in a place that is
claustrophobic at best.

Moseley
is a member of the East Market Business Association, a body
consisting of 60 area businesses that has taken no formal position on
the plans. According to association head Bill Marzian, the EMBA
“remains concerned about taking down those buildings, but we
haven’t done anything to stop their planning or to cause any delays
in their schedules.”

According
to Moseley, the EMBA has been kept in the loop throughout the
process. In fact, she said, Wayside paid as much as $200,000 to
revise the plans so that the two facades would be saved.

But
that’s not enough, say Gill Holland and others. Holland is a film
producer and general renaissance man whose Green Building on East
Market — just a block west of Wayside — is set to be a
LEED-certified, environmentally-responsible structure set in a
Victorian-style building similar to Wayside’s.

“Keeping
two of the facades is simply not enough, while I appreciate the
thought behind it,” Holland said. “All the historic facades
should be retained at a minimum, and any new construction should be
in keeping with the rest of the neighborhood — old, quaint
galleries, cafes and residences. Five years from now, Wayside may
well choose to cash out of this property, and there is no way to put
back the old buildings which give the neighborhood its flair and
bring so many art tourists and diners here.”

Spirited
e-mails have been circulating among concerned neighbors for the past
two weeks, and Holland said he planned to meet with Moseley about the
matter next week.
Cindy
Brown Kinloch, president of the nearby Phoenix Hill Neighborhood
Association, wrote in an e-mail to LEO that the association supports
the work Wayside does but is skeptical about the demolition and has
arranged to meet with Moseley soon.

Both
that neighborhood association and the EMBA are also working to make
the area a conservation district, a tool to impose certain building
regulations that has been effective in Nashville. Disagreements with
the business community have been the major hindrance to previous
efforts at obtaining historic designation for the area.

Moseley
said Wayside would continue discussions with all the neighbors, but
she’s getting a bit frustrated. “It should not be a surprise
because we’ve talked about this for years,” she said.

Contact
the writer at sgeorge@leoweekly.com