Dan and Susan Rhema had a long list of prerequisites when they started searching for a building six months ago. Susan, a psychotherapist, will receive her doctorate in social work in December. She wanted a place large enough to accommodate the Three Stones Center, a trauma facility she plans to open, and a gallery for Dan, who is a visionary artist. In addition, many of Susan’s patients are immigrants and refugees, so the building had to be on a bus line and, ideally, close to downtown. Lastly, the couple planned to finance their ventures by selling their Old Louisville home, so they also needed living space.
With all of these requirements, the Rhemas knew their options were limited, especially if they also wanted to find the property at an affordable price. They looked in Butchertown, Smoketown, and at several places along Broadway. Finally, they settled on two buildings near the border of the Russell and Portland neighborhoods – 1701 and 1703 W. Market St.
The buildings had been connected when they housed The HUB department store, but the Rhemas plan on returning them to separate properties. One building will house Susan’s trauma center and Dan’s art gallery, Altered Visions Art, and the couple will live on the remaining two floors. The second building will be rental property. Henry Yoffee, The HUB’s owner, has talked to the Rhemas about leasing space for a smaller version of his store. Dan Rhema likes the idea because he says the building has housed millinery or clothing stores for the last 100 years. There will also be two apartments above the store.
The Rhemas got all of this for a whopping $64,000. The combined rents should cover their mortgage. Dan says it is a deal you can only find in West Louisville these days.
“Not being from Louisville, we didn’t have any negative connotations about West Louisville or Portland,” he says. “When people think about Louisville it is not just one entity, it’s made up of all of these little components of neighborhoods: the Highlands, Frankfort Avenue. This is just another part of Louisville that is in need of some money being put into it.”
Dan plans to do most of the work on the two properties himself, but Shine Contracting will handle some of it. Dan grew up in public housing in Baltimore, where he and his brother refurbished old housing in several depressed neighborhoods. Susan grew up in Reading, Penn., but she has traveled the world in her work with nonprofits. The couple moved to Louisville in 1995, after Susan got a job with the Presbyterian Church. The Portland buildings are the Rhemas’ sixth renovation project.
“Seven, 10 years ago, people were questioning us for wanting to live in Old Louisville,” Dan remembers. “West Louisville has the exact same stuff that Old Louisville has. The exact same type of buildings: gorgeous, Victorian-era homes. And the parks – I can see Shawnee Park from my roof. If you describe it that way, it’s no different than what we have in Old Louisville. It has its rough areas. We are gambling, but we believe this is going to pay off.”