The latest twist in the long-running saga of the Louisville grain elevator came Tuesday night, Aug. 20, when the Louisville City Council voted in favor of selling the century-old structure and the land it sits on to a local architect and his business partner in an effort to kickstart its long-sought stabilization.
The agreement to sell the dilapidated structure for $200,000 to architect J. Erik Hartronft and businessman Randy Caranci comes after Louisville had entered into negotiations with an Arvada firm about not only stabilizing the elevator but also rehabilitating it for future commercial use. The agreement with Hartronft and Caranci, who are doing business as Louisville Mill Site LLC, also obligates Louisville to contribute $500,000 toward the stabilization effort.
The vote to sell was unanimous. Louisville Mill Site hopes to begin work on the stabilization effort before the weather turns cold.
The city purchased the 1.1-acre property at 540 Front St. for $950,000 last November, tapping into historic preservation funds. City Manager Malcolm Fleming said the city paid so much more for the elevator than what the new buyer is willing to pay largely because of its perceived historic value -- it features rare stacked plank construction and represents the most significant structure associated with Louisville's agricultural history -- and the fact that the previous owner wanted to demolish the elevator and clear the site to make the property more palatable to a developer.
Fleming said trying to reach agreement with the Olde Town Group, which the city selected this spring as a potential partner on redeveloping the site, over how to completely revamp the historic building in a financially feasible way was proving "very challenging" and the city was obliged to entertain the purchase offer from Louisville Mill Site. Ultimately, the new offer would cost the city about $1.3 million versus the $2.1 million Olde Town is pricing for its plan, though Fleming noted that Louisville Mill Site's proposal doesn't include injecting new use into the elevator.
Fleming said the fact that the new offer involves Caranci, who owns property adjacent to the grain elevator site and is in a dispute with the city over boundary lines, made it that much more compelling.
"It helps the grain elevator get stabilized and it will also contribute to the warehouse next to the elevator being redeveloped in a way that's compatible with the elevator," Fleming said of the offer.
Louisville Mill Site has pledged to revamp Caranci's warehouse on the south edge of the site and redevelop the old NAPA auto parts store on the north end so that neither building clashes with the look of a stabilized grain elevator, which would be fortified and given new paint and a new roof. Hartronft on Tuesday said he hopes to create a "synergy" with the other buildings on and next to the property, with the grain elevator as the centerpiece.
Central to the new offer, Fleming said, is the fact that the grain elevator will have to be historically landmarked and protected before the city will relinquish ownership over it.
"That's a key component," he said.
Though Louisville Mill Site isn't pursuing adaptive re-use of the grain elevator as part of the offer approved Tuesday, Hartronft said he and Caranci would be willing to look at that aspect once they get the structure stabilized.
"Once it's stabilized, we think we can be creative with how to rehabilitate the building and bring it to commercial use," he said. "We want to create a sense of place there that doesn't exist there now."
Residents have identified different ideas for the future of the grain elevator, including turning it into an antiques mall, a train station, a museum, a bakery, or an entertainment venue and a kids' fun zone. The city would like the structure to have a commercial use so that it can generate revenue for Louisville, rather than sit empty.
The high cost of saving the grain elevator has raised concern among some residents, who last year successfully fought an effort by the city to commit $2.1 million to help Boulder-based Amterre Property Group buy, stabilize and restore the elevator. Fleming said it may no longer be practical for a developer to take on the entire project, from stabilization to adaptive re-use, given the poor condition of the grain elevator and the boundary discrepancies at the site.
"Trying to package everything in one agreement was too complicated for any private party to take on," Fleming said.
But Steve Howards, president of the Olde Town Group, said he was disappointed when he learned that an offer to buy the property was made as he was in the middle of negotiating with the city. He said the city had always made it clear that it was looking for a plan that included adaptive re-use for the elevator, and that's what Olde Town Group was working toward.
"Sounds to me like the objectives of the city have changed, and that's its prerogative," Howards said. "We are prepared to move forward with the project again if we get the nod from the city."