Louisville developer turns neighborhood’s toxic blight into pizza and 120 jobs

The Mellow Mushroom pizza restaurant beckons passersby with its sleek, mostly black exterior, lots of windows and sharp angles.

The building’s current appearance stands in stark contrast to its dilapidated predecessor: a defunct dry cleaning business. Paint peeled off the building’s front. Faded letters, barely visible, hinted at the business’ name. A dingy basement hid grimy walls and rusty pipes.

For years, fears about potential environmental contamination had kept buyers away from the property, which sits on a prime stretch of real estate.

But now, the combination of 1) an Environmental Protection Agency grant, 2) some new state legislation that limits property buyers’ liability for pre-existing contamination, and 3) the presence of a motivated local developer has solved the problem.

Louisville developer Andy Blieden tried to buy the property twice before, but balked at the initial cost and worried about being liable for the potential contamination.

I was sick of driving by this place and seeing it fall down in my neighborhood,” he said.

Kentucky’s brownfield coordinator, Herb Petitjean, says that The Mellow Mushroom, is a prime example of the revitlalizing power of brownfields remediation and redevelopment, since it removed a defunct business that was a detriment to the entire neighborhood and replaced it with one that employs 120 local people.

That’s been a big turnaround,” Petitjean said.

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