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Tasty tourism: plan for 'Bourbon District' would transform Main Street

A friend of mine from Nashville visited me not long ago. After touring her around some of Louisville’s major tourist destinations, she said something that stuck with me: “Louisville doesn’t seem to have a sense of itself as a tourist destination.”

It gave me pause. I knew what she meant, coming from our home state of Tennessee where Memphis and Nashville have unmistakable tourist districts. The essential tourist pitch in those cities is reinforced by a plethora of glowing neon signs, restaurants, shops and venues, all screaming: “We are blues music!” “We are country music!”

Louisville has unmistakable historical and cultural identities and destinations too, but maybe our built environment doesn’t tie them together enough to coalesce memorably in the visitors’ mind.

Enter a new plan unveiled this month by the for the “Louisville Downtown Bourbon District.”

Fully realized, it would help tourists like my friend grasp what locals have known for years: Louisville and Kentucky are about bourbon.

Visitors would learn about the bourbon industry through historic signs, landmark features and other elements carefully placed along Main Street roughly from 10th Street to Hancock Street and along Fourth Street from its intersection at Main to Broadway. It would be like an outdoor museum experience along those two corridors.

“The plans are for a lot of interpretive elements, a lot of education, a lot of experiences using all five senses to tell that story of bourbon, ” said Tricia McClellan, a landscape architect with, the firm which prepared the plan.

The district would be anchored by three distillery projects currently underway. Michter’s Distillery and Heaven Hill Distilleries are planning small distilleries in historic buildings on Main Street and Beam Inc. plans to open a business center in the top of the former Borders Books space at Fourth and Liberty Streets. Those venues would offer their own tourist experiences, like tours and tastings.

Ethan Howard, business development and project coordinator at DDC, said there are three to six other similar projects that could happen in the future.

“We really wanted to celebrate the industry and find a way to enhance these private investments in the public realm, ” Howard said.

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