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General Assembly cuts Waterfront Park funding from budget, cancelling 4th of July fest


Waterfront Park

How low is Louisville on the list of state priorities?

Well, low enough the General Assembly just cut funding for Waterfront Park, the jewel in the crown of the downtown revitalization.

Waterfront Development Corporation officials learned yesterday the General Assembly of the Commonwealth eliminated all funding for Waterfront Park from their 2014/2016 biennial budget, according to a WDC news release.

This move by legislators will cut $420,800 from the park’s annual budget of $2.4 million, “forcing serious cuts and the cancellation of some events,” according to the release.

The elimination of state funding will “force difficult decisions regarding certain Waterfront Park events,” according to the release.

Two major park events will be drastically affected. “Absent any new private or public funding sources,” the annual Waterfront Independence Festival, a free two-day community event on July 3 and July 4, will be cancelled, according to the release.

In addition, the Centennial Festival of Riverboats, a six-day event planned to coordinate with the Belle of Louisville’s 100th birthday in October, will be “significantly scaled back.”

Last October, Steve Poe, far left, makes his RiverPark Place announcement six years later than planned.

Last October, Steve Poe, at podium, told IL his projected $1.5 billion investment in RiverPark Place wouldn’t have happened without the Waterfront Park. To his left are Metro Councilman David Tandy, Mayor Greg Fischer and Waterfront Development Corp. President David Karem.

The Belle birthday celebration will go on, but will be “a more local, hometown affair,” according to the release.

By the tone of the release, it’s clear the cut caught David Karem, Waterfront Development Corp. president, by surprise:

Throughout the General Assembly’s budget discussion, Waterfront Park’s funding was included at historic levels. Apparently the funds were removed at some point during the final budget conference committee hearing. There had been no communication from the General Assembly to WDC on this development.

“We had no indication that the long partnership that we had with the state on our park was in jeopardy,” Karem stated in the release. “We will assess all options to adapt to this fiscal shock.”

WDC representatives are in discussions about this situation with Louisville Metro, according to the release.

The state had been a major funder of waterfront development and park operations since the inception of the project in 1986. At that time, the state, then-Jefferson County government, and the City of Louisville combined to incorporate the Waterfront Development Corporation. The partnership planned and developed the 85-acre complex, then funded maintenance.

A number of developers have told Insider Louisville the waterfront complex, which runs from Second Street on the west to Edith Lane on the east, led to their making major investments in the city center and on River Road just east of downtown.

Developer Steve Poe told IL last October his projected $1.5 billion investment in RiverPark Place apartment, condo, marina and restaurant complex is a direct result of the public-private WDC development.

The release stated WDC will remain dedicated to the mission of “preserving the highest possible quality of maintenance for a park that is welcoming and available for public enjoyment.”

In addition, events staff will concentrate on expanding opportunities for the types of significant events that are major economic engines for the city, such as the Forecastle Festival, Ironman Triathlon, Kentucky Derby Festival, and the Waterfront Wednesdays concert series.




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