What makes Louisville great? It’s the home of the greatest two minutes in sports, the greatest single piece of sports equipment, the greatest American liquor, the greatest urban park system, the greatest exurban park system, half of the greatest college basketball rivalry, the greatest little shortstop, the greatest Hunger Games heroine and The Greatest. But you knew that.
What makes it such an exciting place to live and visit is the fact that its attributes don’t end there. This city is on upswing—improving and evolving in many directions that point to a promising future. Steve Kaufman reports.
Louisville is a city on the move! So proclaimed The Lane Report this summer.
“With nearly 1.5 million residents in the metro area, Louisville is a competitive, inclusive, global city – one that is strategic about growing jobs in the knowledge economy and around innovation. Many cities tout growth and achievement, but Louisville has numbers to back it up.”
The Report continued: “With a focus on IT support and coding, many of Louisville’s companies are rapidly growing. The city continues to lead the way in its long-standing strengths in advanced manufacturing and logistics.”
And our city is dynamic. Louisville is expanding west and east, growing as an arts center and manufacturing hub, providing jobs and healthcare, science and technology. Here are some new reasons to cheer for your home team.
THE WEST SIDE STORY: Urban Revival
Portland is one of the most up-and-coming of Louisville neighborhoods.
That statement would only surprise people who don’t know Gill Holland. “Most people have no idea what’s west of Ninth Street,” says Holland who is well-known for redefining the East Market Street district known as NuLu. “I’ve personally given 1,000 tours, and given 10,000 people my slide show.” There are now a thousand people every week coming west of 9th Street.
Four years ago, Holland developed a 10-year, $24 million plan for the neighborhood west of downtown. “We’re getting close to $20 million and we’re only in year four,” Holland says. Holland is trying to fill the empty spaces in the area’s historic old buildings with tech start-ups, non-profits and artists – all the kinds of tenants who don’t want high overhead. “At last count, forty-five artists live or have their studios in Portland,” says Holland. “It has become a cultural center in Louisville in terms of sheer volume.”
But it’s not all small tenants being attracted to Portland. The University of Louisville recently acquired a building on Rowan and 16th streets for its new Hite Art Institute, home for the school’s new MFA program in studio arts. (See “Show Your Cards” by Kaufman on page 84.)
And, in some very big news for both Louisville and Lexington, the University of Kentucky School of Architecture will open a satellite campus in Portland this month. It’s true: The Big Blue is coming to Cards country—a surprise move that’s a game-changer for both the state university and the neighborhood where it will reside. According to Mitzi Vernon, UK’s dean of the college of design, discussions about the possibility began last year at a reception in Louisville with Holland and Mayor Fischer. According to Mitzi Vernon, UK’s dean of the college of design, discussions about the possibility began last year at a reception in Louisville with Holland and Mayor Fischer. The university’s Brown Forman Visiting Chair Endowment will be used to sponsor a keynote figure for each year of the studio. For this inaugural year, Jeanne Gang and her office, Studio Gang, will be the named recipient.
Also, Passport Health Plan has announced it will move its corporate headquarters to a 20-acre site at 18th Street and Broadway in West Louisville. It’s the centerpiece of a new Health and Well-Being Campus in the neighborhood.
Passport says it hopes to begin construction this fall on a headquarters facility for its 500 employees, with hopes to move in late 2019 or early 2020. The second phase will be the Health and Well-Being Campus, to serve the needs of the local community. Community “listening sessions” will be held, both to update residents on the status of the project and to get their feedback about the kinds of health-and-wellbeing-related services they’d like to see there.
While Holland has also tempted local companies such as Heine Bros. to move there – renovating a century-old building on West Main Street into its corporate office, roastery, warehouse and state-of-the-art training center – he is also attempting a residential renovation. “We’ve already bought and renovated 16 shotguns in the area that had been used for various illicit activities,” he says. “Our goal is to take away the negative ripple effect of the blight, and replace it with a positive ripple effect.”
DOWNTOWN IS UP
The Louisville Downtown Partnership has projected that Louisville’s downtown residential population is expected to grow by 10 percent. Currently, 4,668 Louisville residents live downtown. The Downtown Partnership expects to add 478 residents in the next two years.
Where will they live? By 2018, the available number of residential units is expected to grow by 27 percent. Currently, there are 2,583 market-rate units downtown. All the current construction, plus recently announced plans, are expected to add 692 new units in the next two years. That will include, already underway, 260 apartment units at Main and Clay; 225 units as part of the Omni Hotel & Residences project; 100 units in the Canopy by Hilton project; and smaller amounts in the Fincastle Building, Ice House Lofts and at 111 Whiskey Row. There are another 12 new units announced for the Lofts on Hancock. “Many citizens, especially younger ones, are looking for neighborhoods where you can walk to shops, restaurants and entertainment, where commutes are short and community is strong,”says Mayor Greg Fischer.“The new vibrancy of downtown Louisville has made this a reality for downtown residents, and we expect living amenities to improve even more with the opening of a market as part of the new Omni Louisville Hotel.”
EASTWARD BOUND: New Urbanism
Clear at the other end of Jefferson County, Norton Commons rolls through its 20th year on its way to 2,800 residential units and 10,000 residents over 600 developed acres. It is currently 40 percent completed. Next up is The North Village Town Center, which will stretch into Oldham County, with slightly bigger lots than in its South Village, plus a dedicated retail portion and over a hundred and sixty acres of green and civic space. Norton Commons should be close to complete by the close of the next decade, with an estimated total of 2,800 residential units developed by that point.
The neighborhood’s landscape of sidewalks, street-front property, intermittent storefronts and integrated green spaces represents what developers are calling “the new urbanism.” So successful has Norton Commons been in creating an urban feel so far from the urban center that The Congress for the New Urbanism recently announced Louisville as host city for its 2019 international conference.
Another big project in the works on the East End is a 370-unit apartment complex proposed on Tucker Station Road near the Xscape Theatres movie theater and the Main Event entertainment complex in Louisville’s East End.
Indianapolis-based Cityscape Residential recently submitted plans to the city for the development, which could cost $50 million and get started later this year. Cityscape Residential also is putting the finishing touches on the 300-unit Axis on Lexington in Louisville now.
Other new projects joining the Project Watch list include an apartment redevelopment in the Highlands, a $20 million office development at Old Brownsboro Crossing and a new office at Commerce Crossings for a company that will bring more than 400 jobs to Louisville.
AN ENERGIZED ARTS SCENE
Paste Magazine earlier this year named Louisville as one of the “Best Theatre Cities in the U.S.” on a list that also included Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and Minneapolis. (New York did and will always top that list.)
“Louisville has one of the fastest-growing theatre scenes in the country,” the article said, “But it would earn its place on this list if only for the existence of the Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, a 30-show-a-year powerhouse that is also home to a year-round apprentice company as well as the Humana Festival—the premiere new American play festival in the country.” The Kentucky Center just up the street has an almost 35-year history of providing great musical theater, ballet, orchestra and opera performances attended by 500,000 people annually.
Earlier this year, the Louisville Fund for the Arts joined forces with a steering committee from various corners of the community to produce the blueprint for “Imagine Greater Louisville 2020: Arts and Culture Vision to Transform the Region. ”We’re working on an economic impact study with American for Arts,” says Eric Gurevich, director of communications and marketing for the Fund for the Arts. ”In 2016, it has been estimated that the impact of attending arts and culture venues was $326 million. There’s an estimated $25 in ripple spending for each dollar spent on a ticket.
AND THE LIVING IS REASONABLE
Business developers, prospective employers and chamber of commerce types are always lauding Louisville as a place to live because of its low cost of living. So how low is it?
According to the web site BestPlaces.net, our cost of living is 87.9 on a national average of 100. Housing, in particular, is well below the national average, at 77.
Our cost of living is 9 percent lower than Cincinnati’s, 5 percent lower than Indianapolis, 23 percent lower than Nashville, 44 percent lower than Chicago, 92 percent lower than New York.
According to another web site, Movoto.com, the cost of living index gives Louisville a value of 92, eight points below the national average.
Groceries are four points below the national average, average healthcare costs are 10 points lower, and the cost of housing is 23 points below the national average.
Interestingly enough, the cost of goods and services in Louisville is 2 points above the average. “For example,” says the site, “the cost of a trip to the beauty salon in Louisville averages $35.33, while the cost for this service nationwide averages $34.68.” So, if you’re moving here, it’s probably a good idea to get your hair done before you move.
TALKING POINTS FOR TALKING UP LOU
Below, some fresh numbers and accolades that give our city civic bragging rights.