More than 40 people attended the OneWest Community Conversation on Thursday. The event featured informational booths like this one for Vision Russell. | Photo by Michael L. Jones

OneWest hosted a Community Conversation on Thursday night at the Common Table Garden Cafe to give west Louisville residents an opportunity to ask questions and give input on planned development projects.

This is the third year OneWest has held the event. More than 40 people attended the Thursday talk, which included a free dinner, informational tables and two 45-minute breakout sessions.

West Louisville consists of nine neighborhoods: Algonquin, Park Hill, Park Duvalle, Chickasaw, Shawnee, Portland, California, Parkland and Russell.

OneWest was conceived by members of Leadership Louisville’s 2014 Bingham Fellows Class to attract commercial and retail development to the historically underserved area.

OneWest President Evon Smith said the Community Conversations were built into the concept from the beginning.

“They decided that they were going to focus on the problem of revitalizing west Louisville. But guess what they learned after they got started? They needed west Louisville. They needed to listen to what people that live in west Louisville had to say. They did it just like we’re doing it tonight,” Smith explained.

Louisville received a $30 million Choice Neighborhoods grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to revitalize the Russell neighborhood, but city officials hope to leverage the Russell investment into a positive transformation in all of west Louisville.

Councilwoman Barbara Sexton-Smith, D-1, said the Community Conversations are an opportunity for residents and developers to have a two-way dialogue about the future. Sexton-Smith, who is also a member of the OneWest board of directors, said these kind of conversations are necessary to make west Louisville revitalization a reality.

“Our vision at OneWest is to generate wealth-creation opportunities for the folks living in west Louisville. If we do that, we lift up the entire community,” she explained.

The topics of the breakout sessions were: Louisville Central Community Centers’ “BLVD” project, a commercial development along Muhammad Ali Boulevard between 9th and 14th streets; the Louisville Urban League’s plan for a “Sports and Learning Complex,” a $35 million track and field facility at 30th Street and Muhammad Ali; and the Phase IV development of Waterfront Park, which will extend the park past 10th Street.

Deborah Bilitski, deputy director of Louisville Waterfront Development Corporation, said participating in the Thursday’s event was part of an effort to get public input into the park development. She said Waterfront Development would like to tailor the new edition to the needs of area residents.

“We plan to make Phase IV every bit as first class as the first three phases of Waterfront Park but it’s not going to be a duplication,” Bilitski explained. “We are going to have different attractions and amenities in Phase IV.”

OneWest President Evon Smith talked to a west Louisville resident at her organization’s booth. | Photo by Michael L. Jones

Shirley Jackson attended Thursday’s talk because she wants to start a candy business and she was looking for help navigating the rules of Opportunity Zones tax credits and other incentives being offered to spur business development in west Louisville.

Jackson said she found the help she needed at an informational table staffed by the MOLO Village Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit organization started by members of St. Peter’s United Church of Church in the Russell neighborhood.

Jackson is going to meet with the group to discuss renting space once the construction is completed, but she said she also took the time to give her opinion to some of the session presenters.

“I don’t understand how people can complain about what’s going on if they don’t take the time to give their own input,” Jackson said. “I always appreciate the opportunity to talk.”

Thursday’s Community Conversation took place in the Portland, but Smith said OneWest will host similar events in the other eight west Louisville neighborhoods in the coming months.


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Michael L. Jones
Michael L. Jones, a freelance journalist and author, covers communities for Insider Louisville. His latest book "Louisville Jug Music: From Earl McDonald to the National Jubilee" (History Press) received the 2014 Samuel Thomas Book Award from the Louisville Historical League. In addition to his contributions to Insider, his writing appears regularly in LEO Weekly, Louisville Magazine, Food & Dining – Louisville Edition, and Who’s Who Louisville: African American Profiles. He also sits on the board of directors of the National Jug Band Jubilee. Jones and his wife, Melissa Amos-Jones, a physical therapist, live in the Kenwood Hills neighborhood near Iroquois Park.