Louisville Metro Government signs letter of intent to redevelop the iconic Louisville Gardens building
Mayor Greg Fischer today announced that Louisville Metro Government (LMG) has signed a letter of intent with River City Entertainment Group, LLC to explore the transformation of the Louisville Gardens building into sound stages for music, film and digital production, a move that will bolster the city’s work to attract productions to Louisville.
“The restoration and redevelopment of the Louisville Gardens has remained a high priority throughout my administration, and I am proud to announce today that we have taken the next step toward giving this iconic property a renewed life. While the property has garnered interest from multiple investment groups and developers over the years, it was always important that the end use be something that will create a long-term economic benefit for the community and be with a partner that has a heart for our city,” said Mayor Greg Fischer. “This use will advance our existing arts and film industry by attracting more productions and creating additional job opportunities locally. We are excited to work with River City Entertainment Group, LLC team.”
The proposed project will include restoring the façade of the Louisville Gardens back to the original design of the Louisville Armory, restoring the balance of the exterior, the offices and upstairs black box theatre, and redeveloping the internal structure to construct sound stages, retail space, and a public museum that would highlight the significant cultural events that occurred at Louisville Gardens.
The next step is for LMG to negotiate the terms of a development agreement with River City Entertainment Group LLC, which will lay out a timeline for structural, environmental and other customary due diligence items related to the building to determine the estimated total renovation costs, as well as the assessment of community benefits, and the availability of incentives that will be necessary to commence the revitalization of the building.
“We love the City of Louisville, and the Louisville Gardens is a property that is at the heart of the City. Our development team loves adaptive reuse which restores the character and bones of buildings like the Louisville Gardens that are difficult to replicate today,” said Tony Guanci, a principal with the River City Entertainment Group LLC.
River City Entertainment Group approached LMG with their idea after learning about productions taking place in the state and 502 Film, a nonprofit that connects visiting productions with resources in the greater Louisville region. “The entertainment industry in Louisville is small but robust. This production space will fill a needed gap, allowing the industry to grow to new heights,” Guanci added.
In 2021, the Kentucky General Assembly passed and Gov. Andy Beshear signed into law a bill reinstating the Kentucky Film Tax Credit, allowing the state to approve up to $75 million of refundable tax credits annual for film and entertainment productions made in the state. The Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority Board (KEDFA) also approved $700,000 in state and local job creation incentives for the project on Thursday.
Gov. Andy Beshear applauded the project, citing its importance to growing the entertainment industry in the state.
“I am so pleased to see this project breathe new life into the Louisville Gardens, a venue that has hosted so many significant events over the years,” said Gov. Beshear. “Our state’s entertainment industry continues to grow at an incredible rate, and today’s announcement is a very important part of keeping that momentum going. Congratulations and a huge thanks to everyone who has had a hand in making this possible.”
The sound stage project will complement LMG’s work to promote Louisville as a premier location for film, television, and content creation team production. In 2015, Mayor Fischer created the Louisville Film Commission made up of a diverse group of local film industry experts who work with Louisville Forward to market and promote the city to the global film community. The Commission helps connect productions to local crew members, provides service support and assists with the permitting process.
“The Louisville Film Commission and 502 Film have been dedicated to working alongside Mayor Fischer and the Louisville Forward team to support and grow the film industry in our city. Kentucky’s lucrative film tax incentives, our talented local workforce, and our diverse locations have all helped to create an incredible film economy in Louisville, and now with soundstages and a studio presence, our city can elevate our film and media infrastructure similarly to New Orleans and Atlanta,” said Soozie Eastman, president of 502 Film and chair of the Louisville Film Commission. “This investment from the River City Entertainment Group LLC will not only allow our crew and creatives to remain local and flourish in our city, but it will also attract more productions and investments, growing our workforce and overall creative economy.”
The Louisville Gardens, located at 525 W. Muhammad Ali Blvd., opened in 1905 as the Jefferson County Armory home of the Louisville Legion militia battalion before becoming primarily an entertainment venue in the 1920s. The Louisville Gardens has a rich history of hosting marquee events, including Golden Gloves tournament with a young Muhammad Ali, rallies with Martin Luther King Jr. and President Harry S. Truman, and concerts headlined by Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan and Stevie Wonder. My Morning Jacket was the last concert held at Louisville Gardens.
The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Louisville Gardens closed in 2008 and is currently used for storage. Learn more at www.louisvilleky.gov/government/louisville-forward/louisville-gardens.
This project is part of the economic renaissance that downtown Louisville has experienced over the last decade that includes the opening of Lynn Family Stadium, the renovation of the Kentucky International Convention Center, the expansion of Waterfront Park into west Louisville, the revitalization of Whiskey Row, the creation of Bourbonism, and the opening of 15 new hotels, including the skyline-changing Omni Hotel Louisville.