Design Guru: Kevin CoganJanuary 1, 2021
This article was written by Dawn Anderson and originally appeared in Tops Louisville.
“Creativity has no boundaries,” declares Jefferson Development Group (JDG) CEO/Owner Kevin Cogan. His creative vision allows him to see potential in properties that others do not see or have the fortitude to carry out. Cogan has never let himself become overwhelmed by the enormity of a project, “From the beginning almost 40 years ago, I took on projects I could comprehend.” His process allows him to forge ahead step by step, piece by piece, without feeling intimidated, “To be able to scale the mountain, implementation is as important as aspiration.” He evaluates each stage in the process to stay within or reset reasonable expectations of budget, time scope, and all team members’ capabilities.
Kevin Cogan has a great affinity for the history of architecture and the history of the city of Louisville, and by extension, the “significant character” of Louisville architecture. As imaginative as JDG projects are, they always manage to reflect or give the nod to an era or design style in keeping with the neighborhood aesthetic. The majority of Cogan’s early projects were in the Highlands, including Worth Plaza in the late 1980s.
In the 1990s, the Deer Park Neighborhood Association was concerned about two properties: a Bardstown Road business called Plasma Alliance attracting unsavory elements to the area and the neighboring former insurance firm, which had stood empty for years. Cogan helped persuade Plasma Alliance to relocate. Architect Michael Cook’s new award-winning design would eventually become home to Chef Anthony Lamas’ Seviche restaurant.
A few years earlier, Kevin Cogan had saved the former AdPro/Standard Typewriter structure just down the street. JDG and Greystone Architects of Frankfort came up with a design to bring together the Fifties-era facades at 1702 and 1706, resulting in a more modern mix of glass, masonry, and stucco. The building now houses offices and the ever-popular Sapporo Japanese Grill & Sushi restaurant. Cogan says, “The desire to benefit an area and see potential where no one else had the vision leads to the opportunity for creativity and gives energy to the community.”
The evolution of real estate development, according to Cogan, is that the bureaucracy involved has increased exponentially. Along with all the red tape and permits, it takes a number of years for planning, site development, infrastructure, and construction. “The upside is that that allows time to develop art and creativity.” When he can “smell the sawdust,” Cogan knows that there is a real carpenter or craftsman at work. He also treasures details such as wrought iron, gas lanterns, stucco work, masonry, and bricklaying. “I always have a boutique project in my back pocket.”
More massive undertakings like the one at Old Henry Road receive a similar level of care. Developing 200 acres of farmland began when Cogan worked with the city and Metro Planning to design a road system, complete with an aesthetically-pleasing and traffic-quieting roundabout. The planned One Park development at Lexington Road, Grinstead Drive, and Etley Avenue is a vision that started thirty years ago. COVID-19 interrupted its progress, but Cogan is optimistic that it will go on to be “a magnificent project for the city for years to come.”
Kevin Cogan understands he is not alone in his passion for Louisville architecture past, present, and future. The saving of the Seelbach Hotel, the Belknap buildings converted for use by Humana, and the new Lynn Family Stadium have all been encouraging and inspiring to him. “How do we save a facade? How do we make something better? We need to cheer them on and take it to the next level. We can be as competitive as Nashville, and we’re as good as Austin, Texas. The Silicon Valley tech companies and New York banks need to know we are open for business. No one can beat our Main Street, and we have better bourbon!”