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Hotel & Bar Announced for Highlands Site

A five-story hotel with a bar component has been proposed along Bardstown Road in the Highlands near the Cherokee Triangle.

Dustin Hensley, owner of Louisville-based Utopia Ventures LLC, has filed plans with Louisville Metro Government to build a 40-room boutique hotel at 1125 and 1131 Bardstown Road.

The project, tentatively referred to as The Hensley Hotel & Bar, would be located between Akiko’s and Nowhere Bar. The property is home now to the former Wash-O-Rama laundromat, which will be removed.

According to the city filings, the multi-story hotel would exceed 19,000 square feet and feature a bar inside that will total nearly 3,500 square feet. Hensley said by phone that the project is too small to attract a national hotel flag, but he plans to develop an independent hotel brand that he said will be creative and distinct.

He said a hotel management company may be hired to oversee operations. The bar, which will include an outdoor patio, will seat several hundred people inside and outside as a complement to the hotel. Hensley said he wants to develop a food and beverage concept that can stand on its own.

Construction costs have not been finalized and a general contractor has not been chosen because the project is still in its early phases. A timeline is also not in place, though Hensley said he could probably have it ready to go in 2021 if all the city approvals move perfectly.

The city filings show Hensley is working with Jeff Rawlins of Louisville-based Architectural Artisans Inc. on the design.

Hensley said his background is in apartments, primarily in Old Louisville. He first considered a mixed-use development with apartments here but believes this is the better use for the site.

"I've never done a hotel before," he said. "... I'm really pushing the boundaries."

Utopia Ventures purchased the property in January 2017 for more than $550,000, according to Jefferson County Property Valuation Administrator records. Jefferson County Clerk records show two liens totaling more than $1,000 have been levied against the existing building for code enforcement violations by the city. Hensley said the violations are related to cosmetic repairs needed for the building.

"Unfortunately there isn’t any sort of 'planning in process' type of permit that I could pull that would have suspended enforcement of code while this project was being designed. And I can’t get a permit to demolish the current building until the plans that were recently submitted are approved for what will replace the building being demolished," he said. "So, I was kind of in a catch-22 type of situation. It obviously doesn’t make sense to spend thousands making cosmetic repairs to a building you know you are going to demolish."

However, Hensley said he will pay the penalties if the city does not waive them as part of the approval process.

This is one of several smaller hotel concepts that has been proposed in Louisville in recent years.

Ben Botkins, owner of Louisville's Parkside Bikes, in August 2019 proposed turning the Highlands buildings at 1300 and 1306 Bardstown Road into a hotel and bar or restaurant. Botkins said then that he is planning 21 units with kitchenettes on the site that will average about 350 square feet. The bar or restaurant concept was still under development.

Botkins is also working with Architectural Artisans on his plan.

Furthermore, Louisville-based real estate development firm Weyland Ventures LLC is putting the finishing touches on Hancock House, a micro-boutique hotel that transformed the former Louisville Chemical Building in the 600 block of East Washington Street. Hancock House is equipped with more than a dozen units and several thousand square feet of commercial space.

We reported in November that the Seafood Lady, currently located at 107 W. Oak St., is relocating to Hancock House. The expanded restaurant will seat up to 120 people and include a patio space and private dining area. Hancock House is slated to open on Feb. 4.

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