By Marty Finley, Business First
Feb 3, 2017, 11:19am EST
In the 1980s, the idea of creating a world-class urban park on Louisville’s waterfront came off like a far-fetched joke.
The waterfront at the time was basically a junkyard used by oil companies and barges, but a group of local residents banded together, pushed aside naysayers and came up with a plan that produced Waterfront Park, a site now visited by thousands of people each year.
Poe believes his colleagues in OneWest can wield the same type of influence in transforming the look and image of West Louisville in the next three decades, creating something the entire city can point to with pride when they highlight Louisville’s assets.
He hopes to be around 30 years from now to bear witness to the same type of transformation, Poe said during a community conversation held Thursday night at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage on West Muhammad Ali Boulevard in West Louisville.
During the meeting, OneWest leaders presented a strategic plan the nonprofit has been tweaking since meetings were last held in October. The plan focuses on four elements: Commercial and mixed-use development, capacity building, advocacy and ongoing community engagement.
As I reported earlier this week, ideas proposed in the strategic plan include the creation of mixed-use developments with retail, dining, entertainment and lodging options alongside partnerships with financial lenders that specialize in funding entrepreneurs and small and minority businesses.
OneWest also has pledged to advocate for the creation of a YMCA facility in the area, the relocation of the Veterans Affairs hospital there, the creation of an entrepreneurial tech hub and the expansion of the aforementioned Waterfront Park to the west, past 10th Street.
Other ideas were raised on Thursday night, including unifying a force behind OneWest that would put more pressure on landlords and residents to better maintain their dilapidated properties and the idea of implementing tax increment financing in the West End.
Residents also have told OneWest officials that they want to see more tax incentives offered for West Louisville businesses and more assistance in helping people own and maintain their homes. And OneWest has made it a priority to help developers gain possession of vacant and abandoned properties. Others want to see crowdfunding and other wealth-building measures explored.
Several residents at the meeting expressed fatigue with the number of abandoned and rundown West Louisville properties, saying they have worked for years to get landlords to respond to their inquiries about improve the buildings to no avail. But OneWest officials said funneling that effort through a larger unified force may reap results.
When it comes to commercial development, OneWest officials said Thursday that the group will pursue one significant mixed-use development between 2017 and 2019 with hopes to do at least two more between 2020 and 2022. As part of that, OneWest aims to create a mechanism in which it can reinvest profits from those mixed-use developments into new West Louisville development.
To get started on the first development, OneWest will need to find and take control of a site and then determine the best uses for the site. Doing so will involve the community, as OneWest leaders reiterated their desire to invest and develop in a manner that is “by the people and for the people.”
“It takes time,” said Pamela Stevenson, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who serves as a community advocate with OneWest. “There’s no instant gratification.”
Those in attendance were split into small groups to provide further feedback on each tenet of the plan, and many expressed enthusiasm for what OneWest is trying to accomplish.
Several residents said they hope OneWest is able to take the lead on community engagement in West Louisville in a way that not only unites the area’s neighborhoods but also creates positive messaging that beats back some of the negative stereotypes.
Nikki Jackson, a senior vice president and regional executive for the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis’ Louisville Branch and OneWest board member, pointed out the importance of attracting anchor developments into West Louisville because of their spin-off capabilities. For instance, an athletic facility in West Louisville could attract sports tournaments that draw people to the area. That, in turn, could spawn a Foot Locker or other type of supplemental sports retail alongside restaurants and maybe even a hotel.
OneWest officials said the first step is for the organization to find office space in West Louisville and hire a president and CEO, both of which could happen later this year.
“The work starts now,” Stevenson said. “We’ve done the easy part.”
Marty Finley covers economic development, commercial and residential real estate, government and sports business.