Louisville’s Misplaced Hotel Boom

The hotel business is booming in Downtown Louisville.

It should be booming in another part of the city.

Last week, Dallas-based Omni Hotels & Resorts broke ground for the much-delayed, much-argued Omni Louisville Hotel, on 2nd Street between Liberty and Jefferson Streets. This massive project will bring over 600 luxury rooms and 200 apartments to the Downtown area, along with such amenities as a grocery store, a speak-easy, a rooftop pool, and meeting spaces. It will provide hundreds of jobs to the city and add possibly the crown jewel to the revitalization of Downtown Louisville.

However, it does nothing for the conventions and tourists that are at the Fairgrounds.

The Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center, for those not familiar with Louisville’s layout, is located a little south of the central part of town. The entire “fairgrounds” is located in a mile and a half area (give or take) between I-65 and I-264 (the interstate that encircles most of the old Louisville city borders). Some of the attractions out there are: the revamped Kentucky Kingdom Amusement Park; Freedom Hall, the 20,000+ seat arena that formerly housed the University of Louisville basketball teams; the Exposition Center, a massive area of buildings that have hosted everything from Comic Book Conventions to National Trade Conventions to major selling events, such as the RV, Boat, Home, and Vacation Show; horse and livestock stables, for the many farming conventions that stop in town (like the one coming in this weekend)…. and that’s about it.

There is not only a serious lack of hotels and hotel rooms – affordable rooms –  in the area but there’s also a bad need for restaurants and entertainment spots for the above conventions’ members to dine at and have fun at.
On the Central Avenue side:
– The Hall of Fame Cafe is a very nice dining area but the UofL theme appeals to a select group… and it’s not cheap
– there’s a Burger King and Arby’s basically across the street
– there is a Marriott Hotel and a Holiday Inn Express, within walking distance, as well as as a Sheridan Hotel, near Kentucky Kingdom
While there are more hotel options on the Airport/Phillips Lane side, those are not for the light-of-wallet tourists.

This lack of affordable hotel rooms and entertainment/dining areas at the Fairgrounds has already cost Louisville pretty heavily. The FFA convention, which had been coming to Louisville intermittently since 1999, announced last year that they would no longer return here. That was a big-time revenue generator for the city that is now setting up shop in Indianapolis.

The Omni Hotel, as well as the others recently built downtown, will definitely help the city – downtown, specifically – with bringing in tourist money, as well as new tenants for the Omni apartments. The amount of money that Louisville is losing by not building some of these hotels out at the Fairgrounds remains to be seen. Will city leaders pay attention before it is too late?

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