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Group Buys Historic Landmark Building

November 24, 2006

Louisville’s historic Landmark Building downtown at Third and Liberty streets is getting new ownership and a new tenant that will make a significant improvement in occupancy.

A group called Liberty Landmark Group LLC purchased the property for $4 million in a deal that closed Nov. 21, according to partners in the group. The seller was Louisville’s Whittington Realty Partners LLC, a real estate company controlled by local insurance executive Norm Risen.

Liberty Landmark consists of Gant Hill, a broker with City Properties Group LLC; Sandra Frazier, a partner with Tandem Public Relations LLC; Jonathan Blue, chairman and managing director of the Louisville-based private-equity firm Blue Equity LLC; and Bart Miller and Mick Miller, brothers who are managing partners of First Omni Mortgage Lending, a fast-growing local brokerage firm that is in the Blue Equity portfolio.

The mortgage company has been a regular member of the Business First Fast 50, a listing of the fastest-growing, locally owned private companies, based on revenue growth. First Omni ranked No. 47 this year.

The Millers and Blue plan to move the firm’s Louisville operations from 301 E. Main St. to the 148,000-square-foot Landmark Building, where the company initially will lease 15,000 square feet. Frazier’s company, Tandem, also leases space in the building.

First Omni has 125 workers, including 70 in Louisville. The rest of the employees work at the company’s offices in Tulsa, Okla. They will remain at that site.

New location could help recruiting

When it moves early next year, First Omni will take 9,000 square feet on the first floor of the Landmark Building for its sales offices, according to Bart Miller. It will lease 6,000 square feet on the seventh floor for management, accounting, underwriting and lending.

First Omni might require another 5,000 square feet in the near term to accommodate growth, Miller said. He expects the firm’s new location — within walking distance of the Fourth Street Live entertainment complex — to help with employee recruitment. Most First Omni employees are in their 20s or 30s.

“It really is going to help us from a recruiting standpoint,” Miller said. Being at Third and Liberty “will bring more individuals in and attract local and regional talent who want to work downtown.”

Up to $1 million in upgrades planned

Hill, who will handle leasing for the Landmark Building, said First Omni will help “breathe some fresh new air” into the structure, which currently is less than 60 percent occupied. Most of the tenants are professional users, including law, engineering and architectural firms.

“First Omni will add a really fun dynamic to the building,” Hill said. “The goal is to make this place exciting. It’s got a lot going for it as it is.”

Hill estimated that the new owners will spend $500,000 to $1 million on initial improvements and tenant finishes at the site.

Risen was not looking to sell

The Landmark Building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, actually is two structures, one with four floors and the other with seven. It originally was the U.S. Customs House and Post Office.

It also has served as home to The Courier-Journal and WHAS-AM, as well as the old Louisville Area Chamber of Commerce, now known as Greater Louisville Inc.

Whittington Realty Partners bought the building for $2.4 million in 1999. The company renovated the property in 2000.

Risen said he wasn’t looking to sell when he was approached by the buyers. He said he changed his mind, though, and will set the proceeds from the sale aside for a future property acquisition.

“It was a spur-of-the-moment type of thing,” Risen said of the Landmark Building sale. “We’re proud of what we did there.”

Owner ‘confident’ he can lease space First Omni is leaving

First Omni Mortgage Lending has outgrown its space at 301 E. Main St., where it leases 9,000 square feet, according to co-managing partner Bart Miller. The firm’s lease expires at the end of the first quarter of 2007.

The building that currently houses First Omni’s local offices is owned by an affiliate of Cobalt Ventures LLC, a local venture capital and real estate development firm managed by Todd Blue, brother of Jonathan Blue, whose Blue Equity LLC is First Omni’s parent company.

The Blues had operated Cobalt Ventures together until they split their business interests last year. Jonathan Blue started Blue Equity at that time.

Todd Blue said he is “very confident” that he will quickly find a tenant to lease First Omni’s space in his building on East Main.

The 22,000-square-foot building also houses Genscape Inc., a company that operates a network providing real-time power-plant output and transmission information, and Metro Dental Group PLLC.

There is “a lot of interest” in taking space in the East Main and East Market street corridors because of new projects and redevelopment in the area in recent years, Blue said.

He added that a new tenant could have outdoor signage rights at the building, which currently sports First Omni signs.

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