Downtown renovations have been built around housing, retail and entertainment. Now Louisville, Ky., is hoping to extend its attempts at urban renaissance with a project that features a contemporary-art museum embedded in a new boutique hotel.
The backers of Louisville's new 21c Museum Hotel think the time is right for a 90-room hotel combined with a free public museum that will showcase work from prominent names in the contemporary-art scene. The 21c is meant to boost the downtown rebirth of a city best known for the Kentucky Derby and the Louisville Slugger baseball bat.
For years, cities have readapted worn-down industrial and commercial zones and made them hot tourist and local destinations with high-end retail, dining, residential and hotel options. Lately, art has come into the picture.
Such cities as Seattle; Buffalo, N.Y.; St. Paul, Minn.; and Ventura, Calif., have turned to art as component of revitalization, says Wendy Holmes, vice president of resource development at Artspace, a nonprofit real-estate development company based in Minneapolis. Artist colonies have sprouted in Seattle's Pioneer Square and in Ventura, a coastal city about 70 miles northwest of Los Angeles. In St. Paul, one developer is looking to build a hotel with a performance space designed for the city's chamber orchestra.
But hotels that combine functioning art galleries and museums with guest rooms remain a rarity in the U.S., says Ms. Holmes. In 1998 Las Vegas mogul Steve Wynn integrated fine-art galleries into the Bellagio hotel and casino and followed suit with his Wynn Las Vegas, which opened in April. Both galleries charge visitors a fee to view the art. Mr. Wynn, however, said last week that the art gallery at his newest hotel would be replaced by a luxury watch retailer.
The hotel is one piece in Louisville's puzzle, says Mayor Jerry Abramson, combined with the renovation of downtown hotels and about $800 million that already has been spent in the past few years on redevelopment of this northern Kentucky city's downtown. The most recent effort: the opening last month of the $80 million Muhammad Ali Center, a museum and cultural center devoted to the boxer's history and life's work.
Mr. Abramson says the city and its residents are ready to embrace a high-concept hotel with a focus on modern art. "If you'd been here in 1985, when I was elected, and asked me about Louisville, I'd have said the same thing," Mr. Abramson says. He has declared rebirth before. "The difference is I'm truthful this time. You can really see the change, and kick the tires to see it's for real."
The 21c links four former warehouses and a bank on Main Street, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and which form the hotel and museum. The project was championed by local residents and philanthropists Steve Wilson and his wife Laura Lee Brown (a member of the family that founded the Brown-Forman Corp. liquor conglomerate that includes the Jack Daniels and Southern Comfort brands).
The property, set to open in late January, will be managed by Sage Hospitality Resources LLC of Denver, with rates from $185 to $250 a night. The roughly $25 million project has been financed through a combination of private equity from Mr. Wilson and Ms. Brown and a slew of grants, tax credits and other incentives from the local and federal governments.
Mr. Wilson, president of the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, says a thriving art scene is a critical ingredient for cities like Louisville, which are trying to draw residents back downtown to live and to experience culture.
"I've seen how art can be the catalyst for growth in places like Bilbao," in Spain, he said, referring to a Guggenheim Museum there. "We figured one way we could help achieve the same thing here is to bring art downtown and try to form some sort of museum row."
The nonprofit foundation set up by Mr. Wilson and Ms. Brown that will run the museum portion of the hotel has collected nearly 80 pieces of modern art and will rotate the gallery exhibits at least three times each year, Mr. Wilson says. Featured art will include photographs by Andres Serrano, video installations from Bill Viola, and sculpture by Judy Fox.
The new hotel could be helped by the dearth of trendy boutique hotels in Louisville and the success of other small hotels that have embraced art. At three of Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group LLC's 39 properties, art is a priority. The Alexis Hotel in Seattle features works by local artists; a curator rotates the collection quarterly. The Hotel Palomar in San Francisco hosts exhibitions of individual artists in the property's business center, and the Fifth Avenue Suites in Portland, Ore., features the work of two local artists each month and displays 20 works by local artists in the hotel's "living room."
Ms. Holmes of Artspace says the 21c hotel project is an encouraging sign for Louisville, but wonders how well a hotel-art concept will work in the long term. "The hotel could be very successful as a tourist attraction, because it's a novel concept," she says. "Often we see more successes when people are moving back downtown to live, as artists are often pioneers who return to the core because they are desperate for affordable space."Link To Article
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