Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Recent Bad News

Well, it can't be sunshine and rainbows everyday, now can it? Louisville has had two major announcements in past two weeks, and neither of them have been good.

Medco, the New Jersey-based pharmacy company, has decided that it will not locate a major 1,300 position facility in Louisville; the facility will instead be located in a suburban collar county of Indianapolis. The Medco project would have brought hundreds of very high paying jobs to the area, and would have been a major coup for a city that is branding itself as the next big logistics hub in America.

In choosing to locate in Indianapolis, Medco decided to forgo 30,000,000 dollars in tax incentives offered by the state of Kentucky. Indiana offered substantially less money to Medco at 18,000,000 dollars. It looks like that the key reason Medco picked Indiana over Kentucky was pretty simple: they currently couldn't operate in Louisville under current pharmacy laws. Indiana quickly changed their regulations, while Kentucky put it off at several meetings, until it was too late for Medco. The damage was done, and 1,300 jobs went 100 miles north.

The other major disappointment of the week is the sale of locally headquartered Genlyte to Netherlands-based Royal Phillips Electronics. Genlyte is Louisville's fifth largest publicly held company, and with strong growth, it was poised to break into the Fortune 1000 list. The sale is a serious blow to the local business community.

The silver-lining to this cloud is that Phillips has at least agreed to headquarter this new division of the company in Louisville. Current Genlyte management has all agreed to stay with the newly formed division of Phillips. Phillips has been on a buying spree, of sorts, in the field of light production, having acquired a Massachusetts and Canadian based company in recent months.

Monday, October 29, 2007

More Housing on Main Street

Downtown continues to show strength as local developers have announced plans to renovate three buildings along West Main Street into housing and restaurants. The buildings, located at the corner of Main and Second, are adjacent to the proposed Iron Quarter retail and office development, as well as across the street from the planned Louisville Arena. Plans call for up to 32 condominium units as well as a locally owned Irish pub.

The structures feature cast iron facades and were constructed in the late 1800's. The facades will be refurbished and brought back to their original states. Bill Weyland, a local developer with tons of experience, has signed on as the principal architect and as a partner. He plans to have the buildings put onto the National Register of Historic Places so he can get federal tax credits for being involved in the project. Weyland has had several major projects in downtown Louisville where he used the federal tax credits to help finance his buildings.

The project will include an interior courtyard as well as maintain entrances on both Main Street and Washington Street in the rear. The buildings will each have a penthouse unit on the top floors, and will feature an industrial/modern look with exposed brick, hard woods, and stone.

After Todd Blue announced his plans for a major retail and office project in several of the buildings adjacent to this project, we knew it would only be a matter of time before the remaining few structures were snatched up for reuse.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Hillard Lyons Work to Begin in November

A Florida developer with local roots has finally closed on a land deal that gives him control of the Hillard Lyons Center on Fourth Street in downtown. The Hillard Lyons Center, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, will soon be seeing a 60 million dollar renovation that will turn the mostly vacant office building into a new Embassy Suites Hotel.

Plans currently call for floors two through six to be renovated into 300 rooms, while the seventh floor would become class A office space. The first floor and basement will see lots of new activity, too. On the first floor plans are calling for three new restaurants and a coffee shop. The restaurants will include a jazz club, a sports bar, as well as a possible nationally branded "upscale" steak or seafood concept. The lobby of the new hotel will retain many of the details from the buildings early years, while bringing in new amenities that today's traveler demand. The basement will include a fitness center with a pool and spa, as well as meeting space and another possible bar.

Earlier this year trouble had been brewing for this project as a current tenant was suing so it would not be forced to leave the building. The tenant is a web-hosting and service company that would have a very difficult time moving their equipment to a new location. However, the developer and the tenant have both said they are in negotiations and fully expect to reach an amicable resolution.

Much of the funding for the new hotel has already been secured through two New York financial-service firms and through the New Markets Tax Credit and several different historic preservation tax credits. The hotel should be up and running by December 2008.

In a second deal, the developer also is eyeballing an adjacent vacant property on Third Street to become a new parking garage and mixed use condo tower. Preliminary talks are being held with different city officials to come to an agreement on who would own and build the parking garage component. PARC has offered to build the structure with tax dollars collected from a TIF district that is being created for the new Cordish Center City proposal. The developer has alluded to the new condo tower being "much taller" than the seven floor Hillard Lyons Center.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Share Louisville

Share Louisville - Ohio

Louisville recently embarked on a new campaign to brand itself around the country - My favorite of the spots being the Ohio ad. (Sorry Ohio, I like you, but I just think it's kinda humorous)

The point of the ads, I think, is to just get people outside of the region to just think about Louisville as a viable alternative to the booming places in the South, or large Midwestern and Northeastern cities. People aren't going to start packing their bags for Louisville tonight, but it may stick out in their heads if they ever want a new place to live.

What do you think of them? See the rest here at

Monday, September 10, 2007

Major Work Now Begins at RiverPark Place

RiverPark Place, the sprawling new mixed-use development along the Ohio River, is now moving into the heavy construction phase. The developer, Poe Companies of Louisville, plans to have the first unit available for occupancy in Summer 2008. Phase 1 of RiverPark Place includes two 16-floor condo towers, a large marina, and other low-rise residential and commercial structures.

Preliminary work at the site, which included the placement of utilities and work done for the foundations, was completed in August. The financial workings of the project have also been finalized. National City Bank has agreed to fund the 75 million dollar loan for the project because the developers have more than 50 percent of the condos reserved by buyers.

The project features more than 150 condos with a wide price range of 129,000 to 1.5 million.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Cordish Plans New “Center City”

Cordish has done it again. And wow.

The Baltimore-based developer of Fourth Street Live has announced plans for a new 250 million dollar mixed-use development in the heart of downtown. It will encompass the entire Water Company block, and include a renovated Louisville Gardens, and other assorted properties on six separate city blocks. In a word, this is HUGE.

The old Water Company will be the main focus of this development. At the site, Cordish has preliminary plans for buildings equaling over 500,000 square feet of space with a mix of uses. The block will be transformed into a retail hub/entertainment area/neighborhood. The project will consist mainly of building flush with the street with retail and dining options along the first level and residential or office space above it. There will also be a residential mid-rise of at least 15 stories. Officials have declined to mention exactly how many residential units will be included, but did say there would be at least “several hundred”.

In the new development, currently called Center City, Cordish plans to bring in small and medium sized national tenants, including restaurants, retail stores, and a large multiplex theatre. The company has not yet signed any tenants for the project, but they did say that national chains were responding favorably in negotiations. Cordish has hinted, however, that a major department store might not be a part of the final mix.

The other main component of this sweeping project is the renovation of the aging Louisville Gardens. The company plans to revive the space as an arena for a new minor league hockey team, and as a venue for smaller concerts and shows. The Gardens were built in early 20th century, and the building hasn’t been extensively renovated in years.

The price tag for the entire project is estimated at 250 million dollars, which will be completely fronted by Cordish. However, there is a catch. For the project to be built the city has been asked to approve a TIF district covering the area of the new developments and rebating up to 80 percent of future tax growth for 30 years to improve public infrastructure. The TIF dollars would be rebated back to Cordish for their work in rebuilding public amenities, such as streets, alleys, new lighting and streetscapes, and new parking decks. The rebate would be 130 million dollars over the life of the TIF.

The Metro Council will receive the official request for the TIF district on Thursday, and it is expected to breeze through the council. It will also have to be approved by state officials in Frankfort, which have historically rubberstamped municipal decisions in this type of situation. If the TIF district is passed without a hitch construction will begin in 2008.

Center City, if completed, will cost nearly 4 times that of nearby Fourth Street Live, and will dwarf it in scope. Cordish has long tried build on to their wildly successful project in Louisville, only for things to usually fall through. In 2005 they planned a phase two to Fourth Street Live in the former JCPenney building, only for other building owners to refuse selling their properties. Earlier this year Cordish reached a deal with the owners of the Starks Building to expand their center, but it will only add a few thousand feet of space.

The project is especially exciting for Louisville because it is the culmination of years of renewal in the core. The city has longed for a major retail destination that can serve the burgeoning urban population and provide conventioneers and other out-of-town guest a place to drop their money and spend their time. It has not been a secret that city officials have been pushing and kneading developers to build this sort of showcase project – and that they would not consider the downtown rebirth successful until this was done.

I think downtown Louisville may have finally arrived.

More in Store for Downtown - Sunday, August 19

Monday, August 20, 2007

HOK Releases Arena Design

The New Louisville Arena

Monday, August 13, 2007

Newsbrief: Phillip Morris Finally Coming Down

Mayor Abramson and Representative Yarmuth were on hand this morning to mark the beginning of a major new development in West Louisville. The old Phillip Morris Cigarette plant at Broadway and 18th began demolition this morning at 10:30am. Fourteen buildings are being demolished at the site, which is slated for a major new retail and residential project.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Arena Rendering?!?

MurphysLAw over at SkyscraperCity posted this "leaked" rendering of the Louisville Arena. I wonder if this is our final product...we'll have to wait for the official unveiling.

Haymarket Could See 300 Million Dollar Development

The University of Louisville took two huge leaps forward last week in their bid to build a state of the art urban medical research park in downtown. Officials at UofL announced they were diving head first into plans to convert two blocks on the eastern fringe of downtown into a bustling research and business incubator with the help of Maryland based developer Wexford Science + Technology. Estimates put the full build-out of the project at 300 million dollars.

The Haymarket has been on hold for several years, and it has only been in the last few months that the university has revived the project. Current plans call for over 1 million square feet of space in several mid-rise buildings, but those numbers are not yet finalized. The center will offer research space to university scientists and space for small medical start-up companies that will collaborate with researchers.

UofL owns the majority of the land needed for the project, but is now entering into negotiations for the final few parcels that remain. All other land owners have expressed their willingness to sell their land quickly, and the James Graham Brown Foundations will be picking up the tab for the school.

Besides just making the plans, the university has also been working behind the scenes to get the needed funding mechanisms in place. On Monday city and state officials announced plans to create a TIF district in the Louisville Medical District to help fund 300 million dollars in public infrastructure. Several parking garages will be constructed, along with public green spaces and other improvements to the area. In addition to the TIF funding, the State of Kentucky has said it would spend 3 million dollars to help lure and retain businesses inside the new Haymarket medical park.
State officials estimate that the Haymarket project will generate up to 2.5 billion dollars in direct and spin-off investments and will lead to an increase of nearly 9,000 jobs, only 2,200 of which will be in the Haymarket site itself. State officials are expecting that UofL will make good on their plans to not only develop the Haymarket site, but to continue improving their offerings in the medical district.

The Louisville Metro Council is expected to approve the TIF funding this month making the Haymarket project the second “signature” project in Louisville that is capable of receiving the increased tax revenue under new Kentucky regulations.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Jeffersonville Approves Annexation

The city of Jeffersonville, Indiana has approved a sweeping annexation plan that will bring in 9,000 new residents and increase its area by 7,800 acres. Jeffersonville officials have been studying and pushing for this annexation for well over a year, and last nights vote was the final needed top make it all official. City leaders said this annexation is in preparation of expected growth in eastern Clark County after the East End Bridge is completed.

After the annexation is complete on January 1, 2008, Jeffersonville will have a set time period to equalize services between the old city and the new lands. Police service will have to be beefed up, a new firehouse is being considered, and the new area will be subject to more intense zoning and drainage laws.

Annexation, though, has been quite controversial. With annexation, the new residents will be subject to city taxes, and some residents will be forced to pay up to 2,800 dollars to hook-up to the city sewers. Annexation could not be legally opposed, however, because of a cleverly written clause that nearly all the homeowners in the area signed when they purchased their homes and hooked up to the city sewers. By signing the contract they forfeited their rights to oppose a future annexation by Jeffersonville, giving the city ample opportunity to take the land when they wanted it.

The newly annexed area will increase the city’s tax base by over 40 percent, but it will be a short-term drag on city finances. City taxes will not be levied in the new area until 2009, but Jeffersonville has a legal obligation to provide services to the expanded area in 2008.

Friday, August 03, 2007

River City News Briefs

PharMerica is Open for Business
The deal creating Louisville’s newest corporate citizen, PharMerica, closed earlier this week and the stock was traded on the NYSE for the first time. The new company was formed through the union of the pharmacy divisions of Louisville-based Kindred Healthcare and Florida-based Amerisource Bergen. The company is expected to have revenue is excess of 2 billion dollars, placing it on the Fortune 1000 list.

New Ice House Lofts?
The former Arctic Ice building on Main in downtown Louisville may finally be brought back to life. The developer of Byck’s Lofts on Fourth Street has announced plans for this newest conversion on his website, and the development is listed on the Downtown Housing Tour 2007 website. The building will feature heavy cork insulation, exposed brick, and a great location in the heart of the East Main residential corridor.

Arena Authority Sets Date for Design Unveiling
Jim Host expects to reveal the arena exterior design at a special meeting of the Arena Authority on August 20th. Representatives from HOK Sport will be on hand to show the authority and the public their plans for the new downtown centerpiece.

Louisville Housing Authority Plans 3.5 Million Dollar Project
The city plans to construct a 3 story retail and apartment development at the corner of Broadway and Shelby in Phoenix Hill to help fill a need for new subsidized housing units. The project will house people from several income brackets. A third of the project will be for subsidized housing, a third will be public housing, and a third will be market-rate. Funding for the project comes from money secured for the nearby Liberty Green renewal.

FBI Moving to the Suburbs
The FBI Headquarters in Louisville will soon be leaving the downtown core for a new building off Blankenbaker Parkway. The new building will provide the FBI will more room and better security. The FBI had been housed downtown since the 1930’s.

Friday, July 27, 2007

UofL Expanding Downtown

Dean Charles Moyer of the University of Louisville College of Business is committed to moving his business graduate programs from the Belknap campus to downtown; the question is where will they land? Early this week the dean sent out requests for proposals to three downtown developers asking them to find the college 30,000 square feet of new space along Main Street.

The college is looking at Museum Plaza, Iron Quarter, and a yet to be announced mid rise tower on the East Main corridor. Dean Moyer wants the program to move into new space versus rehabilitated space for the ease of converting it into large open conference rooms and auditoriums.

The search for new dig in the CBD isn’t new. The college has been attempting to move the graduate programs to downtown for nearly two years. There were plans for the school to move into renovated space at the Hilliard Lyons building, but that development fell apart. They also looked into building a free standing structure at the Haymarket site, but the cost was simply too high. Dean Moyer now hopes this latest attempts proves to be the final one.

If they chose to move to Museum Plaza, they won’t be the only group of students. The Masters of Fine Arts program has already committed to locating in the soon-to-be-started project. Their space will be in the “Island” of Museum Plaza, while the business program would be housed closer to earth in the historic buildings fronting West Main Street. If the business school picked Iron Quarter, they would be the first major anchor tenant in the project.

Dean Moyer has long desired to move the graduate program to the heart of the city – explaining that is gives the school a better chance to connect with local business leaders. Hopefully this latest attempt will flesh out and the MBA program will continue to mature

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Library SOS

Louisville’s new Library Tax

My Position: In Favor

In November, the citizens of Louisville will be asked in the voting booth if they are in favor of a two tenths of one percent tax increase on income for the ailing Louisville Free Public Library system. My sincere hope is that they vote “YES”. The Louisville library system is in dire needs of repairs, computers, and books. The city budget cannot fully fund all these needs as well as other city priorities.

To meet the need of the library system in the 21st century, Louisville wants to create a library control district that would be an independent group to oversee the growth of the system. Jefferson County is one of only a handful of counties in Kentucky that does not currently have a system like this.

With the estimated 40 million dollar a year levy, the city will build three new “regional” libraries, it will renovate several small branches, and will completely overhaul and modernize the aging downtown main branch. To put this 40 million dollar into perspective: the average family earning 40,000 dollars a year will pay less 7 dollars a month. That wouldn’t even buy two Big Mac meals from McDonald’s.

The city currently spends about 16 million dollars on the library system – and that keeps everything pretty bare boned. If this levy passes, the city will then have 16 million dollars freed in the budget to pay for other, very pressing needs. Anyone who keeps up with the city’s financial situation knows that a crisis in health care costs and pensions is only a few years away. Healthcare costs are expected to grow as fast, if not faster, than revenue growth. Essentially speaking, even if Louisville gets more tax income, those increases will be eaten by ballooning entitlement costs. Because of this, Louisvillians need to strike while the fire is hot, and save the library system from reductions later.

Currently, Republicans on the Metro Council are opposed to this, and instead are offering a plan in which the city indebts itself with 175 million dollars in bonds issued over seven years. They claim the city will be able to absorb the added cost of the payments of these bonds with future projected revenue. Republicans on the council (Except Councilwomen Adams and Call) want to “borrow” this money, spend it to build new libraries, but not tell you that we’re looking at a fiscal crisis in only a few short years.

New taxes aren’t popular – and I fully appreciate and understand that fact. We all want an extra few bucks in our pockets. But this library expansion is a social good with a relatively low cost. It adds to the perception that Louisville is serious about increasing education – the key to reducing social ills such as poverty and crime. If you’re serious about the overall health of Louisville, please support this initiative!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Recent Arena News

The past two weeks have had several updates on the current state of the downtown arena’s development. Work continues on all fronts including design, bond issuance, and construction.

The first announcement was that the design of the structure is nearing completion and will be revealed at a special meeting of the Arena Authority before September 1. The interior designs were released several months ago, but the exterior remains a mystery to the community. The designers took many suggestions from the public, such as locations for entrances and exits, size of a public plaza, and a desire for the design to take cues from the river – but we’ll see how it all works together soon enough.

Earlier this week, Arena Authority Chairman Jim Host said he believes that bonds can be issued for the arena by mid-November at the latest, and preferably by mid-October. The earlier the date, the better, as current interest rates are below original estimates, and that could lead to significant savings on the cost. Bond underwriter Goldman Sachs will be ready to proceed as soon as the arena authority finishes the needed agreements, which could all be signed as early as September 1. The arena authority stills need to finalize deals with a concession provider, the University of Louisville, the Parking Authority of River City, designer HOK Sport, and the Kentucky State Fair Board. Any savings from the earlier selling of bonds will be collected into a “Rainy Day” fund that will be used in the event of a revenue shortfall before the city is asked to shoulder more of the burden.

Last week arena officials traveled north to Indianapolis to pitch their case to the NCAA for the chance to host the 2010 women’s volleyball tournament, as well as other future events in wrestling and ice hockey. Louisville officials appeared confident after the meeting and will travel to Indianapolis again in August to discuss Louisville's chance of hosting the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments (Louisville can't host the Final Four, but it is could host earlier parts of the tournament). Officials were buoyed by the meeting and the fact that early discussions in the arena’s design included recommendation from the NCAA to give Louisville a leg up on the competition.

Work continues at the future site of the arena. Humana is expecting to fully vacate their building on the site by mid-Fall. They are currently moving over 1,500 employees next door to new space in the Waterfront Plaza towers. Work also continues at the large LG&E transformer site, and is expected to be mostly finished there this fall as well.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

River City News Briefs

AT&T Adding 350 Jobs Downtown
AT&T is planning to add 350 new workers to their facility downtown on Chestnut Street. The new customer service jobs stem from the companies continued expansion the the realm of high speed internet. The announcement indicates there will be a 1.5 million dollar investment in their building and an annual payroll of 10 million dollars a year. Not exactly the best pay possible, but it will help some people

Haymarket Development to Have a September Groundbreaking?
The University of Louisville announced today they "hope" to break ground on an expansion of their life sciences campus downtown by September. The development was first proposed in the early 2000's, but has seen little concrete action. With UofL assuming almost total control of the Louisville Medical Center Development Corporation, they expect to push the project forward despite having no anchor tenant. Plans calls for four to five buildings on the block bounded by Jefferson, Market, Floyd, and Preston.

Louisville Zoo Break Attendance Record
The Louisville Zoo reported the largest number of visitors ever in the year ending June 30. The zoo had 810,546 visitors. The last record was set in 2003 after the zoo had finished the Gorilla Forest exhibit. Plans call for continued expansion at the zoo, with the development of the Arctic Run exhibit, which will replace aging enclosures for polar bears and other cold weather creatures.

University of Louisville Tops off Newest Building.
UofL held a ceremony for the topping off of their newest building in the downtown medical district. The seven story structure, at he corner of Preston and Chestnut, will be nearly 200,000 square feet and will house the offices of physicians and dentists who are members of the schools faculty. The structure is one the first buildings in the schools new master plan for the medical campus.

Jeffersonville Ramada/Sheraton Moves Forward
The decrepit Jeffersonville Ramada is finally starting to see better days. Much of the interior has been demolished, and build out of the structure has begun in earnest. A new facade will replace the gaudy yellow cladding that was once such a point of derision. The hotel is being rebranded a Sheraton, and rates will increase to reflect the new name and the complete overhaul.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Newsbrief: Cordish Confirms Starks Development

Cordish has finally signed the lease for the entire first floor of the Starks Building for the first expansion of the three year old Fourth Street Live complex. This expansion will take up 21,000 square feet of vacant retail space along Muhammad Ali that had formerly housed the Rodes store. Cordish expects to invest up to 6 million dollars in it's latest enterprise.

Cordish has also alluded to their plans to redevelop several properties south along Fourth Street.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Medical Towers North Comes Down

The downtown medical campus in Louisville has been undergoing some pretty radical changes. The University of Louisville is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on new research buildings and outpatient facilities, and Norton Healthcare has developed a plan to demolish and replace several of their aging office towers by 2010. Norton and UofL both plan to construct more green space and better pedestrian access to their buildings.

Phase 1 of the Norton plan is currently underway - the demolition of Medical Towers North. The building, which is nearly half a century old, was terribly outdated. Doctors were moved out of the building last November, and demolition started in late March. Due to the sensitive nature of the area the demolition has to be very carefully completed. There are no explosives or wrecking balls involved. Each floor has to be meticulously demolished and then hauled off for recycling. (Nearly 95% of the building scrap is being recycled) Once the land is cleared, it will give Norton the chance to expand Kosair Children's Hospital in the future.

Phase 2 of the project will be the addition of 10 floors to the parking deck that was immediately adjacent to Medical Towers North. There will be an addition of 4 parking levels and 6 office levels, making it a 14 floor midrise. Phase 3, to be completed in 2009, is the demolition of a small brick office building at the corner of Floyd and Chestnut. Phase 4 is the demolition of Medical Towers South in 2010.

These demolitions will give Norton Healthcare a cleaner canvas as it continues to expand in downtown.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

FBI Crime Statistics from 2006 Released

The Federal Bureau of Investigation last week released their annual numbers for crime in America. The report offered several different ways to splice the data, but in this case I just wanted to see how Louisville fared in 2006 when compared to 2005. Violent crime was essentially flat (down 1.6 percent), while property crime inched up by a little less than 6 percent.

Here are the raw numbers:

In 2005 the reported population was 623,735. There were a total of 3,896 violent crimes. The city had 55 murders, 209 forcible rapes, 1,822 robberies, and 1,810 aggravated assaults. There were a total of 27,727 property crimes. The city had 7,146 burglaries, 17,150 larceny/thefts, 3,150 car jackings, and 281 arson fires.

In 2006 the reported population was 626,018. There were a total of 3,836 violent crimes. The city had 50 murders, 175 forcible rapes, 1,738 robberies, and 1,873 aggravated assaults. There were a total of 29,431 property crimes. The city had 7,587 burglaries, 17,855 larceny/thefts, 3,694 car jackings, and 295 arson fires.

In 2005 there were 624.6 violent crimes per 100,000 residents
In 2006 there were 612.7 violent crimes per 100,000 residents

One thing that confuses me is how they're coming up with the city population. There was no explanation in the report, but my guess would have to be that because there are still several police departments in the county that have to report their own crime numbers (St. Matthews Police Department, for example) the FBI only uses the population of the county where the Louisville Police Department is the primary police force.

Louisville is obsessed with it's crime rate and the city is constantly worried that it is becoming some sort of crime haven - but when compared to some other regional cities, it doesn't look half bad for Louisville:

Indianapolis - 960.0 per 100,000
Nashville - 1,526.5 per 100,000
St. Louis - 2,480.6 per 100,000
Cincinnati - 1,218.4 per 100,000
Columbus - 810.5 per 100,000
Memphis - 1,988.2 per 100,000

Hopefully the mayors plan to fill 100 vacant police officer posts in the city can help bring the rate down even lower in the coming years.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Water Company Site Up For Grabs

The old Louisville Water Company block, which has stood mostly vacant for years, may finally be edging ever closer to an actual development. Since 1998, when the Louisville Water Company moved to their "new" headquarters just a block away, there have been expectations of eventual construction. For many years the community planned to build the new arena on that site, there had even been rumors of hotel large enough to rival the 1000+ room Galt House there. Now, the hot words are "retail development".

In the mayors most recent budget proposal for the 2007-2008 fiscal year, he has proposed dropping 1 million dollars in city funds (as well as some bonds) to secure 3 parcels of the block, equaling 40 percent, and "banking" them for future use. The other 60 percent of the block is owned by Midtown Enterprises and is being used as Skip's Parking Lot.

Currently, the city expects to secure their 40 percent of the block while negotiating with Midtown to sell their property to another developer and develop the whole block in one piece. Midtown has confirmed negotiations for their land is currently underway, and have said that if things progress at the current rate, the land deal could be finished in as soon as 6 weeks.

The effort to secure the Water Company site by the city is the first project for a newly proposed initiative called IDEAL - Investing in Downtown for the Economic Advancement of Louisville. The mayor is hoping this will be the first of many acquisitions by the city of underutilised properties in the central core. The city will then negotiate with developers to fill in the "missing teeth" along some of downtown's streetscapes. This program will give the city much more say over how and when downtown properties are developed.

In the meantime, the city is concentrating it's efforts on this huge barren wasteland in the middle of the core. Mayor Abramson expects this project to be the retail spark the core has been waiting for since the revitalization began in the late 1990's. Negotiations are already underway with national and local tenants for the mystery retail project - but the mayor did recently visit Las Vegas to woo large national retailers to locate in Louisville, and you have to expect he talked to many of them about this downtown project.

Despite the secret nature of the negotiations between the city and developers, the Cordish Company has previously expressed interest in expanding to Water Company site and building a new retail development there. Their Fourth Street Live concept is a much more entertainment based venue, and this sort of project would give them another opportunity to showcase their talents and pull the strings with their many corporate relationships. Cordish has on multiple occasions said that Louisville has gone way beyond their expectations and they've been trying to assemble land along Fourth Street for a phase 2, but property owners have not been willing to sell at a reasonable price. Cordish in February of this year expressed interest in the Starks Building, and converting the first floor into restaurants and retail, but nothing has since been announced. The Starks is between Fourth Street Live and the Water Company block.

One can never be sure of a development until the steel is actually rising from the ground - so you have to sit back and see what happens with it all. However, this could be one of the crowning acheivements for downtown development. Here's to hoping they do it up right.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

West End Makes Gains

It is no secret that Louisville's West End is an economically distressed and segregated area. However, I'm sure it isn't common knowledge that since 2000 the West End has had the city's largest gains in property values.

Since 2000 the average increase in property values has been 32 percent city wide, but some urban neighborhoods in the West End, and near to downtown, have seen property values more than double in less than 6 years. The West End neighborhood of Russell has seen some of the highest gains - 113 percent - in the city. Much of it is thanks to a 17 year effort to redevelop the area into a healthy neighborhood for the black middle class. In that time period 500 new homes and apartments have been built on formerly vacant lots and replaced abandoned buildings.

The reemergence of Russell as a viable neighborhood is a testament to what good can be done through government and private projects. Early on, the city of Louisville offered developers tax credits to build new, affordable housing and sold parcels of land it owned for only a dollar to qualified builders. Now, several builders are no longer requesting city assistance as the community continues to "clean up" and they're able to rent or sell their properties for closer to actual market rate prices.

Russell is not the only neighborhood in the central city to see such huge increases in value - Phoenix Hill and Park DuValle also saw a doubling of their property values, and Old Louisville, Portland, California, and Shively all saw increases between 75 and 100 percent. Park DuValle, which saw a jump in property values of nearly 250 percent, now is near parity with the city's average property value. Only six years ago Park DuValle had a property valuation 25 percent of average.

The city is continuing to push for continued regrowth in the West End. In the latest budget set forth by the mayor, he would like to spend nearly 1.5 million dollars to redevelop brown fields in the Park Hill neighborhood. The city is also working with developers to transform the hulking Phillip Morris plant into a community and retail magnet for the entire western section of Louisville. Hopefully, the recent gains will continue for the central city.

On a side note, only 3 tracts in the city had a decrease in property value. Minor Lane Heights was the largest and their decrease was due to the expansion of the airport and because the whole Minor Lane Heights neighborhood is being bought out by the state due to airplane noise. The other two, which are located in the CBD, surprised me. I am not sure exactly how much property values went down in the CBD, but with the billions in recent development, it was a shock none the less.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Recent Sports Developments

There has been a spate of recent sports related news and developments in Louisville in the past couple of days.

To me, the most exciting in the proposal by Mayor Abramson to create Champions Park along the riverfront from Frankfort Avenue to Zorn Avenue on the property that had once been a country club. This is yet another great park initiative that is being pushed by the mayors office. The new park would encompass 166 acres of land and would fill a need for more field space in which to have soccer, cricket, lacrosse, et cetera, matches.

The centerpiece of Champions Park will be 34 sports fields that will be able to host the city's own soccer leagues, or host regional and national tournaments. Other amenities include a cyclocross, a dog park, a cross-country track, basketball courts, large open fields not devoted to a certain sport, restrooms, parking lots, bike paths, and a large wetlands rehabilitation. River Road will be expanded to 4 lanes in 2009 by the state of Kentucky to accommodate this and other local developments. The mayor proposes to spend 5 million dollars on the project in his 2008 budget, and another 5 million between 2009 and 2012.

Projects like this, and the City of Parks, are huge boosts to local quality of life, help save precious green space in the county, and offers a huge return for the minimal investment. I am a proponent of the new Louisville Arena, but in many regards this small investment will give the average Louisvillian more to do than the huge investment we're making in the arena will. But again, these are both important pieces in the puzzle for quality of life in Louisville.

In similar news, the Clements family of Elizabethtown has announced plans for a sports center that is devoted to persons with special needs in Kentucky. The center, to be called The MVP Zone, will be in the Floyd's Fork corridor and will be a centerpiece of the City of Parks plan.

The center will have an Olympic sized pool specially crafted for handicapped persons, a golf course with synthetic turf to allow easy access for those in wheelchairs, a large community center will provide an exercise room and courts for volleyball, basketball, et cetera, a computer lab, and a small movie theatre. The Clements family has said they will donate 3 million dollars to the project and will coordinate fundraising efforts to raise another 8 million. Mayor Abramson will propose a 1 million dollar gift of land to the center in his 2008 budget, and the founder of Humana and his wife have promised another 2 million. Backers of the plan hope to not only provide new services for local handicapped residents, but to bring in national competitions. With a lack of such facilities around the country, Louisville will be on the forefront with such an ambitious facility.

Switching gears just a bit - Blue Equity has purchased the sports agency of Joel Segal. Jonathan Blue, the man behind Blue Equity, and his brother Todd Blue are two of Louisville's youngest and most influential leaders. Todd is still focusing his efforts on downtown housing and retail developments, and while Jonathon is still collaborating with his brother, he currently has is eye on creating a world class sports agency and bringing it all home to Louisville.

Segal will remain with Blue Equity as president of the football division, which has quite a repertoire of high-profile clients. Blue Equity plans to continue purchasing and growing the sports side of the business, and despite Louisville's lack of national prominence in pro sports, he hopes to bring in the money and light to Louisville by continuing to grow his business of televising national sports events, and diverting events to the city.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

River City News Briefs

Fletcher Beats Northup and will Meet Beshear in General Election
Governor Fletcher was able to dodge a bullet yesterday and nudged past Anne Northup in the Republican primary. He enjoyed broad support in nearly every county of the state, except Jefferson, the home of Northup. Northup, who ran a campaign extolling her ability as the only Republican to be able to beat the Democrats this year, conceded early last night and lauded the governor in his victory. It is unknown how active she will be in the Republican campaign to keep the governor’s mansion in Frankfort.

Museum Plaza expects OK from Downtown Overlay Board
Tonight the developers of Museum Plaza will face the first of several government agencies which must give their blessings before the building can begin construction on September 27. The Downtown Development Review Overlay Board is expected to give the building their positive recommendations, but would like the developers to provide a few more details on several points, such as signage, more explanation of their landscaping and public art, and attempts to better connect the structure to the riverfront. Despite these questions, the building already conforms to nearly all standards for new development, and it is expected to pass all hurdles without issue.

Changes Along Bardstown Road
Louisville’s belovedly eclectic Bardstown Road is getting a small facelift. Phase 2 of a project that started last year will repave broken sidewalks and curbs, add new landscaping and decorative pavers, replace several bus stops, and add more trash receptacles. The project is being funded out of Councilman Tom Owen’s neighborhood development fund. In other local happening, the long abandoned Dillard’s at Bashford Manor may finally be razed and replaced by a small retail development to compliment the new big box stores that had replaced the majority of the old mall.

Henry Clay Finishes Up
Bill Weyland is putting in the final details of his 20 million dollar redo of the old YWCA. The building, which contains a mix of rentals and condos, is almost completely occupied – only 1 condo is left to be sold. First floor retail space is completely leased, and a new theatre is being installed for a local acting troupe. As a companion project, Weyland is renovating an adjacent building on Fourth Street into a Japanese restaurant, and rumors persist of a mid-rise hotel on the lot he owns directly behind the YWCA.

Mayor in Vegas Bringing Home New Retailers
Mayor Abramson took a trip out to Las Vegas this week to convince national retailers that Louisville is a place they want to be. Abramson had several meetings lined up while there with McCormick & Schmick’s, Nordstrom, Trader Joe’s, Crate & Barrel, and several others. The mayor as joined by numerous Louisville businessmen, including Todd Blue who is trying to line up tenants for his planned upscale Iron Quarter development in downtown. Trader Joe’s has already expressed a desire for 3 Louisville locations, and McCormick and Schmick’s has displayed interest in the new Louisville arena.
Todd Blue's Sales Pitch for the Iron Quarter

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Louisville Orchestra Passes Milestone

The Louisville Orchestra yesterday announced that they had finally paid off its final 1.3 million dollars in bank debt. The orchestra, which has been in peril of collapsing under increasing debt and dropping revenues, has seen a recent reversal of fortunes.

At the end of fiscal year 2007, which will happen on May 31, the orchestra will actually has a surplus of nearly half a million dollars. Most of that extra cash is coming from supplemental revenue that was provided by the Louisville Fund for the Arts, and that extra income will actually continue for another year through fiscal 2008. This influx of cash will actually allow the orchestra to pay it’s 67 full time players a bonus weeks pay – and considering their recent decreases in pay, it is warranted.

Revenues in fiscal 2007 were up nearly 14 percent, and on June 15 the Orchestra’s administration office will move into the new ArtSpace on Broadway with the Kentucky Opera. New cost reductions and collaborations are expected from the move of the two art groups into the same offices.

This will be the first time in several years that the Orchestra has a somewhat promising short term outlook. Just a few years ago there were fears that the orchestra would be forced to fold it’s operations and the city might be left without a professional music group. At the time, players took a substantial cut in pay, banks stepped up with loans, and the city’s Fund for the Arts promised additional help. The Orchestra was also forced to reduce it’s schedule and play in smaller ensembles to reduce operating costs. Thankfully the future is looking much better at the moment, and it will be in the best interest of the community if they can continue their forward momentum.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Arena Hotel Plans Dropped

In a turn of events that doesn't particularly shock me, the Louisville Arena Authority voted unanimously to drop plans for a 425 room hotel at the downtown arena site. In recent months, all photos of the planned arena have been devoid of the hotel tower that had originally been a part of the plans - today's vote simply removes the hotel officially.

The members of the authority stated they are dropping the plans for the tower for several reasons: to make the design more pedestrian-friendly, to give the arena a better aesthetic, and because other hoteliers fear a glut of luxury hotel rooms downtown in 2010.

Personally, I really hoped the arena would get this tower, not so much for the skyline enhancement, but it was my opinion that if you're going to build an arena like this, you should do it up right. The market would absorb the hotel rooms, other hoteliers are simply trying to protect their markets, which is not exactly surprising. If it really is for aesthetic and pedestrian reasons, I would think they're ridiculous, and simply it's a lazy design - but I think that is simply a cop out by Jim Host. Whatever.

At the same meeting where they voted to scrap the hotel, they also received an updated financial statement reflecting the new reality. And who knows if this arena will make a profit, let alone break even, but today's financial report forecasts an operating profit of around 100k in the first year. I am of the opinion that even with a modest operating loss, the benefits of the arena outweigh the cost in new entertainment options and quality of life improvements for the area. Hopefully I will be proven wrong, but I fully expect the arena to lose money year after year, but as long as the amount isn't millions upon millions of dollars, then the investment will benefit Louisville.

As a small aside in the arena story, upscale seafood restaurant McCormick and Schmick's has expressed "strong interest" in locating inside the new arena. That would be a great tenant for them to land, and would keep the arena lively everyday of the year.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Humane Metropolis - Humane Louisville?

So recently I began hearing and reading about the concept of "The Humane Metropolis" as put forth in a new book with the same title, edited by Rutherford Platt and published by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. The title alone captured my attention. It was definitely an idea I wanted to explore and learn more about.

In discussing the book, The Washington Post recently wrote gave this concise blurb about the transformation of cities and what they were for: "Cities were once celebrated as ports of trade, railway hubs, seats of smoke-belching industries. Then they became known as office and banking centers. In the late 20th century, each big town had to have its own aquarium and stadiums. Recently there's been a new mantra -- cities as magnets for "young creatives'' in arts and entrepreneurship." Obviously, they are taking hundreds of years and condensing them into a few short sentences - but I generally agree with the sentiments. Now, a nascent movement is starting to push for cities to be more humane.

What values and developments would this new, humane metropolis embrace? Buzz words are "green, sociable, civic, and inclusive". The idealists in the movement have no single solution for cities to adopt - but a whole range of big and small ideas to make our urban environment more friendly for all inhabitants - and the environment.

Perhaps the easiest idea of their ideas to explain is the 'green movement' which is meant to better connect people in the city to the biodiversity that is right outside their doors - and to help cities expand while saving their natural diversity. Most urbanites think that nature is somewhere that starts where the city ends - but proponents of the humane metropolis want to change your mind. In their opinion, cities should be striving to build 'green-necklace' park systems, better cultivating urban gardens and green rooftops, and setting aside land for urban forests. Even things such as medians should be converted to 'linear parks' that promote walking and healthy activity in the dense urban environment.

Advocates of this philosophy would also argue for rethought street plans and suburban developments in the expectation that when a community interacts more, it will become more inclusive and sociable.

The Humane Metropolis not only strives to better balance human needs with the natural world, but it also seeks to make the lives of the citizens in the city healthier. It looks to reduce air pollution as a way to help to quell an avalanche of new asthma cases, and to reduce the American obesity epidemic by creating urban green spaces that are inviting and offer recreational activities to all citizens.

These ideas aren't rocket science - it's what we should all be demanding from our civic leaders!

After I had researched the Humane Metropolis somewhat, I wondered if Louisville was doing anything to make itself more humane for it's inhabitants - and while it's definitely a mixed bag, Louisville is doing *some* good.

The easiest project to point to is the City of Parks initiative, which I briefly over viewed in March. It's a huge ring of parks that will encircle Jefferson County in an 'emerald-necklace' and provide the suburbs with some much needed recreational space. Not only will there be parks, but there will be more than 100 miles in biking and riding trails, and an expanded Jefferson Memorial Forest, which is already the largest such municipal forest in the US. The Indiana suburbs are even in the midst of building a similar park and trail system called the Ohio River Greenway, which will link Jeffersonville, Clarksville, and New Albany together, and even connect to trails in Louisville via the new pedestrian bridge being constructed as part of Phase 3 of Waterfront Park.

In lesser ways, Louisville is also forging ahead. The city recently adopted the 'complete streets' model of construction for new road projects. Essentially, the city will try to build all new roads with bike lanes, sidewalks, landscaping, and design standards that reduce speeding and increase safety. The city's STAR initiative to reduce toxic emissions that are not currently regulated by the EPA in the economically depressed West End recently won a prestigious national award, and compliments well the Humane Metropolis' goal of environmental justice for all citizens.

Many city developments are also highlighting a new push for environmental sensitivity - A proposed Poe development called Irish Hill would redevelop a brownfield and rehabilitate a section of Beargrass Creek, and a development by the Legacy Company in downtown called, uniquely enough, The Legacy Lofts, looks to reduce it's use of fossil fuels to zero, and have green roofing.

Louisville, like most cities, has a long way to go before it is humane to all those who live in it's borders - but just maybe, these current initiatives, and others, will make it just a little more livable for everyone.

Cities Not The Problem?

The Humane Metropolis: Are We Ready?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Louisville's Library Needs Your Money!

The Louisville Free Public Library system is a point of extreme shame for the city of Louisville. It is underfunded, doesn't have enough books, the buildings themselves are old and in need of renovations, and it offers few of the progrs that many other cities of similar size are able to offer. To put it bluntly: it sucks.

Luckily there is a plan that is being pushed by the mayor that would essentially remedy many of these problems in a few short years - but sadly, it needs a new tax to do it. (And we all know how well people love to vote YES on a new tax!)

Under a current proposal from Mayor Abramson, the county would establish a library tax district - which is already allowed by Kentucky law, and is used successfully is a very large portion of the state's counties - to raise the money needed to build three new "super regional" libraries in the suburbs (On Dixie Highway, Outer Loop Road, and Hurstborne Parkway), and a major overhaul of the downtown main branch. Other smaller branches would be remodeled and upgraded; books would be added, programs would be expanded, and staff would be better paid.

The tax increase would amount to two tenths of one percent and would be collected via the occupational tax. It would amount to about 80 dollars a year for a person earning 40,000 dollars. The tax will bring in nearly 35 million dollars for the county and will free up the current amount of 16 million that the city spends annually on the library system for other uses.

Similar laws failed in the mid-80's and early-90's, so don't expect a smooth passage. It will be a difficult campaign. However, the plan had the backing of all 24 council members in 2004, and the community is markedly different than it was 20 years ago - we witnessed that when merger passed a few years ago after decades of trying.

An excellent library system that is accessible to all citizens is a hallmark of a lively and well-educated community. Louisville needs to strive to reach that goal.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Clarksville, IN Continues to Sprawl

The Clark County, Indiana suburb of Clarksville continues to be an epicenter of god-awful new suburban schlock. The town, which already has a reputation as the shopping district for all of the Southern Indiana suburbs, has been going on a binge of new retail construction since the completion of Veterans Parkway in 2004.

The town, which originally had very unique plans for the Veterans corridor, completely let them fall by the wayside in search for new tax revenue. In the process they've created a road that is congested, ugly, and is nothing more than a copy of Lewis & Clark Parkway to the south. In the past 2 years developers have thrown up such amazing places as Target, Sam's Club, Olive Garden, Old Navy, Bed Bath and Beyond, and IHOP. Latest development plans include a Border's Books, the first free standing Starbucks in Southern Indiana, and no less than SIX hotels - Candlewood Suites, Holiday Inn Express, and ValuPlace are the currently known 3 of 6.

While the idea of these retail and lodging options is good (Everyone likes having decent shopping nearby) - the execution in Clarksville is incredibly poor. And worse yet is the sense of pride that town officials feel when they describe the new construction. It is almost as if they feel they've accomplished something unique, yet fail to notice that every single other town that is similar to Clarksville has the exact sames stores and look almost the exact same. (I liken Clarksville to Greenwood or Avon in Indianapolis in terms of general feel and retail options)

In spite of ordinances regulating the look of Veteran's Parkway, the road looks just about as cluttered and messy as Lewis & Clark. And traffic is pretty awful - unless it's 1 in the morning, then it's smooth sailing.

Unfortunately for Clarksville, it has fallen for what so many other similar communities in America have - that if you build these large auto-centric shopping plazas, then you will forever have a source of strong income and revenue. However, one only has to drive to Lewis & Clark Parkway to see that all the town is doing is cannibalizing it's other retail corridors, and it won't be but a few decades before yet another place is newer and nicer, and the residents of the town will be left with hulking, abandoned buildings. Greentree Mall on Lewis & Clark continues to decline, only while developers are planning a 1.2 million square lifestyle center less than a mile away.

Clarksville, instead of trying to implement a plan of development that would actually stand the test of time, has (and probably always will) chased after the easiest dollar and development.

I guess some places get what they deserve.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

IUS Adding Residences

Indiana University Southeast, the New Albany satellite campus of IU Bloomington, will take the huge step of adding on-campus student dorms. The dorms at IUS, which will comprise of seven apartment-style units, will have space for about 400 students and could be ready for occupancy by fall 2008. The dorms would be paid for through a $20 million bond issue from the state. The bond will be repaid by housing fees paid by students.

Officials at IUS have been trying for several years now to get the state of Indiana to approve and fund this project. It was only after a lengthy review by the state's higher education board that governor Daniels announced he would authorize their construction. This project will go a long way to giving the school a new reputation as one that is not just for local commuters, but that it is also open to people from all over the region. IUS also has plans for an expanded student union to give the new residents of campus a place to call their own.

The IUS plans are not the only exciting developments for Southern Indiana in regards to higher education - also in New Albany Purdue University has announced plans to construct a small campus and business incubator, with plenty of room to grow in the coming decades. These are the types of developments that help to continue to momentum of the whole area to get better educated.

Monday, April 23, 2007

River City News Briefs

Museum Plaza Sets Date for Groundbreaking
The lead developers of Museum Plaza announced last week the date for the beginning of official construction - Thursday, September 27, 2007. The announcement finally puts to bed the speculation around that aspect of the process, as people thought construction could start as early June or as late as December. During the construction there will be more than 500 worker at the site daily for nearly 3 years. Retail shops will line the historic buildings fronting Main Street, and the connector between Main Street and the tower. Developers at Museum Plaza promise several major announcements through the summer regarding residential sales, office space, and retail shops.

HOK Sport Unveils Louisville Arena Interior
Kansas City-based HOK Sport revealed their plans for the interior of the new downtown Louisville arena. Plans call for 22,000 total seats, split equally between an upper and lower bowl. Other plans include a sports bar that will be open to the public year-round, a large lobby with a UofL store, Hall of Fame, and ticketcounter. A public food court will also operate year-round. All seats in the arena will be cushioned and backed. Construction begins in Summer 2008, after the Humana Riverside Building is demolished later this year and the LG&E transformer station is moved and hidden.

Jeffersonville Contemplates "Retail Incubator" for Downtown
Jeffersonville, Indiana officials are looking into creating a retail incubator for local and independent retailers on that city's Main Street. The plan is being studied by a Washington, DC firm and the report is expected to be available in May. In the most basic sense, it would be a stretch of buildings where the city would offer new local retailers reduced rents and other services, until their businesses could succeed without their help - hopefully no more than 3 years. Downtown Jeffersonville, which is experiencing a small renaissance, has several celebrated local establishment such as Schimpffs Confectionery and Horner Novelty; but city officials want to increase the offerings for new downtown residents.

Louisville's 21C Hotel Concept to be Expanded in the Southeast
Louisville's posh 21C Art+Hotel concept will soon find itself in other cities. According to the local developers (who also work on Museum Plaza) they are moving ahead with plans to build a similar hotel under the same name in a yet to be announced Southern US city. (Austin, Raleigh are rumored locales) The developers will also take the hotel's restaurant, Proof on Main, and recreate it's ambiance and menu in their new hotel.

Humana Completes Major Expansion of Headquarters
It's hard to imagine that only 2 years ago much of the 500 block of West Main Street in downtown was derelict. However, thanks to Humana, 516-526 W. Main have been given a new lease on life. The health care giant is wrapping up it's 20 million dollar renovation of the formerly abandoned properties into new space for it's employees. Renovations included a health club, several food options, and increased meeting space on the upper floors, while the first floor on all the buildings remained retail outlets.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Louisville's Underrated!

It's always fun when media outlets put good press about your city out for others to read. Today MSNBC published a short puff-piece about the 10 Most Underrated Cities in America. Louisville made the list.

The author in his small blurb about the city lavished praise on the diverse arts scene in Louisville, our growing restaurant corridors, and of course, the Kentucky Derby. You look at lists like these and they're fun, but they're also pretty asinine and can't be quantified. While I agree with the majority of cities on the list, someone else could always disagree with them all - it's all a matter of personal taste, I think.

In similar new though, Louisville will be showcased in a 36 page spread in US Airways in-flight magazine. Reporters are currently canvassing the city for stories and pictures, and up to 5 million people will read it during their domestic and international flights. Good press is always appreciated!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Discussion on Growth

So a few weeks ago the US Census Bureau released their most current county population estimates. Armed with that information it only took about 5 minutes to tabulate the population growth of the Louisville Metropolitan Statistical Area between 2000 and July 1, 2006. Since 2000, the Louisville MSA has grown about 5.1% to around 1,222,000 people - or so they say. That is the addition of something like 60,000 people in 6 years. That ain't too bad I suppose, especially when you look at the absolute stagnation of the Louisville area just within my lifetime during the 1980's.

But when you look other regional cities, Louisville's growth looks pretty meager. Columbus grew by 7.0%, Indianapolis by 9.2%, Nashville grew by 10.9% , and Raleigh by an amazing 24.8%. Heck, the US grew by over 6% in the 6 year time period, and Louisville couldn't even match that!

So around this time of year is when the high growth cities all pound their chests about how great they're doing, while the slow growth cities hang their heads in shame and bemoan all their mistakes and lost opportunities. Nearly every major newspaper in the South and Midwest have carried stories about their cities growth - or lack thereof - and why they think it's happening.

There is a lot of self-congratulation by cities that are experiencing huge booms in population. I mean, if your city has grown by 25% in only 6 years, this must be an amazing place to live! One example of this is Raleigh. I had the pleasure of visiting Raleigh in summer 2005 - and the place was BOOMING. Every highway interchange had a new mall popping up complete with upscale chain restaurants and midrise condos. Raleigh has things that Louisville - a markedly larger city - doesn't even have. I went to Raleigh wanting to hate the place - I left not personally wanting to live there, but at least understanding the draw of the city. It is incredibly lush and green, it has amazing universities, tons of high paying job opportunities, and low crime and traffic. This perfect storm of ingredients has created a city as desirable and hot as Raleigh right now - and who knows when that will cool. But I look at a population gain of nearly 200,000 people in such a short time and I cannot help but wonder when Raleigh will hit the tipping point of being too big, crowded, et cetera, and will not be the "in vogue" city of the era. I always think that when you grow at such a fast pace you lose many of the qualities that drew people to you in the first place.

Raleigh is an extreme example of growth, so lets take a place that is a little bit more down to earth and that I know almost as well as I do my hometown - Indianapolis. I lived in Central Indiana for the better part of decade - and much of that time was spent working and playing in Indianapolis. (I lived in West Lafayette, Bloomington, and Franklin and I worked on East Washington Street in Indianapolis)

Indianapolis clocked in with an impressive growth rate of 9.2%. As is expected with those sorts of growth numbers, many residents of Indianapolis pointed to that as a badge of honor in showing how much better they're doing than the rest of the Midwestern US. And rightfully so. Indianapolis really is doing a heck of a better job in population growth and economic development than nearly all other Midwestern competitor cities. There is, however, a fallacy that nearly all high-growth cities fall prey to: and that is that they're genuinely better cities than the places around them that are growing at a more modest pace.

I have no quantifiable data to back up anything beyond this point, so you can take it with a grain of salt and I won't care in the least. After spending years of my life in Central Indiana I really saw a population of people that felt honestly superior to it's neighbors based largely on a growth rate. I saw and heard it continuously in nearly every form of media in Indianapolis, and in the people I would meet. If I wasn't in the car listening to radio stations that played, "world-class rock for a world-class city" I was watching WTHR do a story extolling the virtues of Hamilton County for passing a new benchmark in suburban growth or reading a Star story about how much better Indianapolis was than Columbus, Ohio - and population growth is always a central issue to that. It is as if Indianapolis, and other high growth metros, believe they are better simply because they're building more suburbs.

On the flip side, Louisville has as definite chip on it's shoulder about it's seeming lack of population growth in compared to others. Growth comes slow, and jobs don't seem as plentiful. Despite the size of Louisville, people don't hear much positive about the city's growth, and hence, they have less esteem in the direction of the city. To Americans today, the greatness of your city is measured in how far up the interstate you can get your suburbs to sprawl, and less in how solid you can build your central city. When you ask a Louisvillian which city is doing better, Louisville or Indianapolis, I would bet 4 out of 5 would pick the city 100 miles north on I-65. And their two reasons would be sports teams and a faster growth rate.

Personally, I would be that 1 in 5 person who would say Louisville is doing better than Indianapolis. And it is because I value reviving the central core more than building more suburbs. I would pick Louisville for things like Museum Plaza and RiverPark Place. Museum Plaza would never, not ever, get anywhere in Indianapolis. Louisville will build it starting this Fall. RiverPark Place is a whole master planned community of riverfront condo towers that is currently under construction. Add that to smaller projects like the Glassworks Tower, the Iron Quarter, and the soon to be announced expansion of Fourth Street Live into the parking lot behind the Marriott. In a few short years downtown Louisville will be a real rival to downtown Indianapolis.

Louisville is also continuing to stabilize the neighborhoods directly south and east of downtown. The neighborhoods of central Indianapolis seem to be either stagnant or regressing - with few exceptions, and all of which are very, very near to downtown. The dreaded "east side" isn't getting better, but only getting worse. Crime is escalating to record levels in many parts of the city, and the citizens of Marion County have to deal with a public school system that rivals the worst in the Midwest. Compare that to Louisville where the "west end" crime problem is definitely a drag on the city, but not near the levels of inner city Indianapolis. Jefferson County Public Schools are lauded for excellence in urban education, and affluent families choose public schools for the great magnet programs that are provided.

In terms of suburban growth, Indianapolis wins, hands down. And if that is what you want (which most Americans do) then Indianapolis will seems like a better fit. Personally, I find the urban developments in Louisville of higher quality, and hence, it is a better match for me.

I didn't mean for this to turn into a versus comparison, but to use the two cities as two examples on opposite sides of the growth coin - Indianapolis with a high growth rate, and huge booms in suburban development and a declining urban county and Louisville, with a slow growth rate, modest suburban growth, and a stabilizing urban county.

Many times perception is reality, so the fact that Indianapolis (or insert almost any city here) is growing faster than Louisville will make people think that place is inherently better, despite the fact that I would argue that Jefferson County is doing generally better than Marion County.

In a long, roundabout way, I wanted to simply make the point that higher growth rates do not imply a better city or standard of living. For some people, a high-growth city may seem more exciting and better for them, but give me an old, slow growth city like Louisville any day of the week.

Monday, April 09, 2007

River City News Briefs

Downtown Holiday Inn Completes Renovations
The much maligned Holiday Inn Louisville-Downtown has finally completed a much needed 7.5 million dollar renovation project that includes newly refinished guest rooms, lobbies, meeting space, and restaurants. The new features include high speed Internet throughout the building, new fitness room and indoor jacuzzi, new contemporary lobby, new beds, and new fixtures in bathrooms. The hotel now also boasts an "upscale" eatery with patio seating on Broadway. The Holiday Inn is one of the last hotel properties in downtown to complete a major overhaul in recent years. Since the opening of the Louisville Marriott-Downtown, nearly all hotel properties in the CBD have completed major overhauls to compete in a tightening market. And with 1,300 rooms to be added by 2010, including an upscale Westin, downtown hotels will again need to reevaluate their conditions, and plan accordingly.

Developer Plans Class A Space for New Albany
The Charlestown Road corridor of New Albany continues to expand with the announcement of a 16,000 square foot building of Class A Office Space. The building is not large, yet it is significant for the Southern Indiana suburbs, because while they have been able to land plenty of new retail establishments and industrial users, they have nearly no white collar office jobs. In fact, Clark and Floyd counties combined have less than 350,000 square feet of Class A space. A local developer though hopes to help change that fact. He is building his new development near the entrance of the planned Purdue University business incubator and campus. He is banking that "if you build it, they will come." I hope so - Southern Indiana could certainly use some more high paying, quality jobs.

Local Groups Assess Needs of Fort Knox
Fort Knox is going through some growing pains. In 2005 the BRAC realignment meant that the local army installation will be seeing a net gain of 3,500 position - which will translate into around 12,000 new residents in area by mid 2010. Fort Knox and it's surrounding communities (such as Radcliff) are not yet fully prepared for the onslaught of new residents. So local groups are completing needed studies to identify areas of growth potential before the new residents get to town. In the report they're updating the local land-use study for county and municipal governments, they're looking at the local road needs, housing needs, retail and job needs. These new positions at Fort Knox will be one of the largest spurts of growth for the base in a very long time and local governments do not want to be caught unprepared as the local population swells.

New Albany Logistics Firm Adds 50 Employees
L&D Mail Masters, a local logistic firm, announced they will be adding almost 50 new employees to their workforce. The small, New Albany-grown business currently has 100 employees and 20 million dollars in revenue. Their expansion will mean an investment of 4.2 million dollars in buildings and equipment. Salaries will begin in the mid 30,000 dollar range.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Recent Announcements Promise 1000 Jobs

The past week has seen several announcements that promise to bring up to 1000 new jobs to the area. While they're not white collar jobs, they're still not too bad:

Solectron, a California-based manufacturer and repairer of electronics, will soon add 700 positions to their new and expanded space off of I-65. The company, which recently doubled it's capacity, will add these new jobs by the end of the year. The pay will range from 10 to 18 dollars an hour, based on the level of experience. Company officials noted that Louisville was picked for the expansion due to the location ofthe UPS WorldHub and the flexibility that it provides them in shipping.

CafePress, an online provider of customizable bumper stickers, tshirts, and other products, will add 120 positions to their Riverport facility. Average salary will be 15 dollars an hour.

RalCorp, a producer of frozen bakery goods, will add a new product line ot their Louisville operations, and add 120 workers. The average salary will be 18 dollars an hour.

LEO Steel is yet again proposing a new facility for Riverport that would employ 130 people and pay an average of 19 dollars an hour. It would be an investment of 220 million dollars and would prouce steel slabs and coils for export. LEO has been eyeing Riverport for nearly a decade now, and this latest proposal is number 4 since 2000. Don't hold your breath.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

New Life for a Corner on Fourth?

After multiple proposals and rumors, it appears the Hilliard Lyons Building may finally get a new lease on life. The building, which is the former home of Stewart's Dry Good's Department Store, is being sold by PNC Financial Services to a Kentucky ex-pat who plans on renovating the majority of the building into a 250 room hotel.

The sale will close by July 1 with a sale price of nearly 10 million dollars. Renovations could cost as much as 30 million.

The building, with nearly 350,000 square feet of space, will not entirely be turned into a hotel. Office space, residential, and a substantial retail portion, are all also possible. The renovations will maintain the historic facades, and bring life to corner that is seen as a lynchpin of further Fourth Street redevelopment. The developer has stated Hilton may possibly manage the new hotel as an Embassy Suites, but nothing of yet is set in stone.

The Hilliard Lyons Building has had at least one other development plan in the last year, and was the topic of yet more speculation. There was a plan in 2006 to turn the building into office space, UofL Graduate Program space, and several clubs; that plan quickly died. There was also a proposal kicked around to turn it and the nearby Starks Building into a massive 1000+ room hotel, but that dissolved when the Starks Building was purchased by a California investment firm with plans to renovate that building into Class A office space with restaurants on the ground level.

This hotel is yet another addition to the 1000+ rooms that are currently under construction or planned in the CBD. There is also a rumored midrise hotel that is planned at the corner of Fourth and Chestnut, directly connected to the Henry Clay Building. Developers there already own the cleared lot and are just finishing up with their renovations of the Henry Clay.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

2006 Census Estimates

The Census Bureau reently released their annual county population estimates for 2006. Here is how the Louisville area shaped up.

Louisville Metropolitan Statistical Area
Indiana Counties
Clark - 103,569 +1,944
Floyd - 72,570 +545
Washington - 28,062 +252
Harrison - 36,992 +263

Kentucky Counties
Jefferson - 701,500 +2,449
Bullitt - 72,851 +1,411
Oldham - 55,285 +1,826
Shelby - 39,717 +1,501
Henry - 16,025 +199
Meade - 27.992 -263
Nelson - 42,102 +1,036
Spencer - 16,475 +838
Trimble - 9,071 +38
TOTAL: 1,222,211 +12,039

Elizabethtown Metropolitan Statistical Area:
Hardin - 97,087 +262
Larue - 13,791 +128
TOTAL: 110,878 +390

Scottsburg Micropolitan Area
Scott - 23,704 -45

Louisville Combined Statistical Area: 1,356,793

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Iron Quarter

Todd Blue announced today that he and his company will soon invest more than 50 million dollars to build a mixed use office and retail complex in downtown Louisville. The project, to be named The Iron Quarter, will occupy the block bounded by West Main to the south, Washington to the north, First to the east and Second to the west. This plan replaces an earlier redevelopment plan that had been hatched in 2000 by another local developer.

Blue sees huge changes for the property, including a 14 story office tower (that can be expanded to 23 floors if the need arises), a parking garage, retail space, restaurant space, and bar space. The project will be largely pedestrian oriented and will help bridge the new Louisville Arena to residential development in the West Main neighborhood.

The project will require the demolition of the interiors of the buildings, but all the historic facades will remain and be restored to their original lustre. Some people are critical of this practice, but I feel it is perfectly acceptable. Buildings have to constantly change to be usable - and these buildings simply do not have floor plans that still work for the uses of today. The main consideration is for the facades of the buildings - and those will be perfectly restored. You will never be able to tell that the buildings ever fell into disrepair and they will look as if they had been continually used for more than a century.

The most exciting aspect of the project is perhaps one of the smaller components - the retail. Retail has been lacking in downtown for decades, and this is the first project that promises at least some retailing options such as clothing, gaming, home decor, et cetera, in the CBD. Hopefully this portends of things to come.

This announcement is incredibly exciting for Louisville. This block was one of the very last major eyesores of downtown. And it has been a constant reminder of how much work downtown still has to do to revive itself.

Monday, March 19, 2007

News in Brief

Kentucky Home Life Gets a Makeover
Business First of Louisville is reporting this week that the historic Kentucky Home Life Building will be seeing new owners and new investment. In their article, they are reporting that the 19 floor structure will change hand officially next week to a group of local investors. The investors are reportedly planning on investing upwards of 12 million dollars in the old structure. The building will be turned into a mixed-use structure, as the bottom floor will marketed at retail, the middles floors will turn into office condos, and the top 2 floors will be renovated into 8 penthouse units, selling for 500,000 dollars or more.

UofL Center for Predictive Medicine to Break Ground Next Month
The University of Louisville held one of the last public "Question and Answer" sessions relating to the new Center for Predictive Medicine that is being build on the Shelby Campus off of Shelbyville Road. The center, which will be in full operation in early 2009, will study many of the viral and bacterial agents that have been identified as possible bio terrorism threats. Residents of the area have been very concerned since UofL announced this project nearly 2 years ago. Despite the economic benefits and health breakthroughs this center could pioneer, locals are still vociferously opposing it. The center has already received all needed zoning clearances, and it will be a partner with the CDC, which helped UofL design the facility and it's safety checks. The site is 1 of 14 that the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has helped to fund since September 11, 2001.

New Albany's Scribner Place Enters New Phase
New Albany, Indiana's new Scribner Place project has moved into the next phase of construction - much to the chagrin of downtown locals. Scribner Place is a local government initiative in downtown New Albany to build a new YMCA and help kick start the rebirth of the city's core. With support pilings finally installed, the incessant clanging of metal being beaten into the earth can stop. The foundation is being laid this month and the metal skeleton will begin to rise in April. Project leaders expect to have the building ready for swimming lessons and weight lifting in Fall of 2008. Other parcels of land around Scribner Place, which are owned by the city, will go on the market in the coming months, with the hopes that local developers will step forward with plans for more downtown retail and housing.

Fourth Street Live! Get 2 New Occupants
Fourth Street Live, the downtown retail and entertainment complex, announced last week that in addition to the new upscale Hotel Lounge they're adding to the complex's first level, they will also be adding two new bars to the upper level. Angel's Rock Bar and Tengo Sed Cantina will occupy space in the former Palm Bar and Parrot Beach Club. Those bars, along with Red Cheetah, were evicted last month after their parent company filed for bankruptcy. All 3 new bars will up and running before he crowds of Derby rush to town.

Also, be on the look for details of the pending Fourth Street Live expansion. It's already been announced they're close to inking a deal with the Starks Building for more space, and they're also in negotiations with the mayor about building a large addition on the former Water Company site. Stay tuned for that mega development.