Mayor Greg Fischer in March called on developers to submit proposals for how they want to redevelop the 24-acre vacant lot of Heritage West. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

The public comment period closed last week on the four development proposals for the Heritage West project, in which the city will ultimately choose one or more winners to redevelop the 24 acres of vacant land on 30th Street and Muhammad Ali Broadway in Louisville’s West End.

After funding for the West Louisville FoodPort that was to go on this property imploded last August, the West Louisville Community Council surveyed residents on what kind of project they wanted to be located there, with the city soliciting plans from interested developers this spring. Four development proposals were submitted in May, which were each presented at a packed public meeting on June 19, with public comments able to be submitted until July 17.

A recommendation will be made to Louisville Forward by a review committee evaluating the proposals, after which the economic development arm of the city will begin negotiations with the development team or teams.

The four proposals include:

  • A $30 million indoors track and field facility, which was submitted by the Louisville Urban League. The developers hope to attract NCAA track and field events to bring in tourist dollars, in addition to providing year-round space for local college and grade school athletes to train. The construction of the facility is to be funded by bonding, corporate sponsorships and philanthropic donors.
  • A $241 million global biotechnology research park, which was submitted by Clifford Turner, the owner of Turner Realty and Management and a former planning commissioner. Turner said that in addition to biotechnology laboratories, the research park would include a 24-hour child development facility and possible STEM coordination with UofL and local schools. Up to a third of the funding for the project would depend on government tax credits and incentives.
  • A cooperative grocery store, which was submitted by urban planner Cassia Herron. The 15,000-20,000 square-foot store would cost $1.26 million and only take up a small portion of the 24-acre lot — hence, possible compatibility with other proposals — and could be completed by early 2019, according to her projection.
  • A $178 million multifaceted garden, which was submitted by Shawnee resident Denise Raine. The garden’s main source of revenue would be a hemp distribution center, but would also include a stable for horses, retail and mixed housing, a farmer’s market and open green space.

Louisville Forward posted the public comments submitted on the Heritage West projects, with the biotechnology research park receiving more positive responses than the other three proposals combined. The research park received 71 different comments expressing support for it — with many hailing its promise of 200 jobs and STEM education advancement — while the track and field facility received 22, the cooperative grocery store received 20, and the garden received just one.

A word cloud of the public comments submitted on the Heritage West project | Created by Pat Smith of the Civic Data Alliance

Develop Louisville spokesman Will Ford tells IL that each of the development proposal teams are currently being questioned by city officials and the review committee on the technical details of their project, adding that the review committee “will meet multiple times to discuss proposals and ask clarifying questions of the development teams” before making its recommendation to Louisville Forward.” He expects that process “to conclude in late summer/early fall.”

At the June 19 public meeting in which each team presented their development proposal, Louisville Forward policy adviser Theresa Zawacki told IL that the review committee’s job would be to “ask for clarification and additional information from each of the development teams, with the goal of learning enough about all of the proposals that are before the committee, and to be able to make a recommendation to Louisville Forward about which of the proposals ought to be considered for further negotiation.”

Zawacki said that the members of the review committee would be chosen by a group that includes herself and Louisville Forward director Mary Ellen Wiederwohl, while also receiving “input from the elected officials who represent the area.” However, she said that the names of the review committee members would remain a secret, as they wanted to avoid a situation in which those individuals are pressured or influenced on which project to recommend.

“Once we move into the review committee process, we’re going to start treating this like an economic development project,” said Zawacki. “So we don’t talk about who’s making the decisions, we don’t talk about who is participating in the conversation at that point. And we treat all of the conversations with developers as confidential.”

Zawacki added that “we remain committed to transparency and inclusion of the community in our process. So although I can’t tell you exactly who’s on the review panel, I can say that those are our values and those will continue to be our values through the process.”

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]