Passport Health Plan will invest millions to move its headquarters to a vacant West Louisville site in what city and company leaders hope will anchor the neighborhood’s revitalization.
The nonprofit, which administers Medicaid benefits for Kentuckians, bought the property, southwest of the intersection of 18th Street and Broadway, for $9.1 million from New Bridge Development. It hopes to turn the 20-acre site into a state-of-the-art health and wellness campus.
The parcel previously was to have housed a Walmart store, but the retailer abandoned the project in October as a lawsuit against Walmart, Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government and then-property owner NewBridge Development, was pending.
Passport, city and community leaders said Wednesday morning that they hoped the new project would draw more commerce, jobs and pride to an impoverished neighborhood.
At a press conference held at the site, near the Brown-Forman Corp. headquarters, preachers and neighborhood leaders described the plans as a “miracle on 18th Street,” “the greatest comeback in the history of West Louisville” and a “great moment in the city’s history.”
The move will bring 550 employees to the area, including 200 from Passport and 350 from Evolent Health, a Virginia-based health care consulting company, which has partnered with the Louisville nonprofit to base its Medicaid business in Louisville.
Passport CEO Mark B. Carter told the audience that he expected the companies to add up to 100 employees in the next 18 months and that he envisioned the health campus to employ about 1,000 within five years.
To help make the project possible, the city intends to provide $500,000 in job creation incentives and another $762,000 to help with land acquisition and preparation.
Carter told Insider after the meeting that Passport expected to pay back the property’s purchase price with the help of a tax increment financing district, which would generate between $2.8 million and $4 million over 20 years. Property taxes from new developments in such districts do not support general government services but are pumped back into the district. In this case, the tax dollars would help defray the cost of the $9.1 million purchase price.
In addition, Carter said that as Passport and Evolent move to the site, they hoped to be able to sell other portions of the property to businesses including grocery stores, physician offices and health clinics. As the property value appreciates, those sales, too, would help defray the cost of the initial purchase, he said.
Passport officials said after the presentation that the size and cost of its HQ had not yet been determined, though they planned for it to run along Broadway. Details will be worked out after the nonprofit seeks input through neighborhood meetings. The building is expected to be occupied as early as 2020. Carter said he expects a developer to pay for building construction and Passport to occupy the structure through a long-term lease.
Carter said that he was inspired to propose Passport’s move after reading a column about West Louisville from the Rev. Kevin Cosby who bemoaned the “absence of social capital, connections, role models and institutions that pass on values needed to succeed in America.”
The CEO said that Passport leaders had been talking about expanding or moving because of significant growth, but Carter said that rather than working with a broker, he thought it might be better to pick a property that would benefit the nonprofit as well as the community.
Passport has a decadeslong connection to West Louisville, where it serves 33,000 of its roughly 300,000 Kentucky customers. Carter said he ran the idea of building the HQ in West Louisville by Passport board members, and about two weeks later called Mayor Greg Fischer, who liked the idea almost immediately and pledged his office’s support. While Passport considered one other property in West Louisville, the nonprofit settled on the site at 18th and Broadway “fairly quickly,” Carter said.
Many of the speakers who followed Carter thanked the CEO for his courage and commitment. The crowd thanked Carter with frequent applause and a standing ovation.
Cosby, senior pastor at St. Stephen Church, who lead the invocation, praised the proposed investments and said they would “stimulate the economy and activate hope.”
He also said the revitalization would inhibit further social degradation and benefit the entire city.
“If West Louisville goes down,” he said, “all of Louisville goes down.”
The Rev. Kirk M. Bush, senior pastor at Harrods Creek Baptist Church, thanked Carter for his vision, courage and commitment.
He called Passport’s proposal a “miracle on 18th Street.”
“This has been a long and tedious journey,” Bush said.
Mayor Fischer said that he supports the project because it will help revitalize a long-neglected part of the city.
Fischer said he and other city and community leaders for years had been working quietly behind the scenes to bring more developments to the neighborhood. That work now seems to be paying off. With other developments in West Louisville, such as the YMCA, the mayor said he expects the Broadway and 18th Street corridors to be teeming with life within five years.
“This is a tremendous win for West Louisville and the entire city of Louisville,” Fischer said.
However, Carter, also warned that it would take many years before the health of West Louisville’s residents changes.
About 80 percent of people’s health is determined by factors outside of their control, including education, availability of jobs, transportation and access to inexpensive and healthy foods. The most accurate predictor of a person’s health today is one’s Zip code, he said.
Passport’s announcement, Carter said, is but the first step in a “decadeslong journey before we see a real improvement.”