Reed Benet, the CEO of HeroHomes.com, has a big offer for the VA and veterans in South Louisville

Michigan businessman Reed Benet tells Insider Louisville that he and an unnamed investor have an option to buy over 500 acres of land in South Louisville — 50 acres of which would be offered to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs at no cost if it decided to build its proposed new hospital there. Such a move by the VA would only be possible if the agency chose to abandon its current preferred site for the hospital off Brownsboro Road, which is nearing final approval despite a growing number of voices in Louisville calling for the VA to reopen the site selection process.

If the South Louisville plan goes forward, Benet says 350 acres of the property surrounding the VA hospital would go toward mixed-use development, with housing and entrepreneurial opportunities possible for many veterans. The remaining 100 acres — which dips slightly into Bullitt County — would offer an employment training center and a sustainability center, also potentially geared toward veterans.

Benet — based out of Birmingham, Mich., just outside of Detroit — is the founder and CEO of HeroHomes.com, a venture capital-based start up that operates like “a Zillow.com for vets.” Through the company, veterans can learn about opportunities to leverage no-money-down loans of as much as $424,000 from the VA to buy and become a resident-landlord of multi-unit housing facilities or mixed-use developments with a commercial unit.

According to Benet, “up to 800 rooftops” could be built on the property surrounding the hospital for veterans to take advantage of with such federal loans. He also notes that 88,000 military veterans live in the Louisville MSA, which translates into “a potential $40 billion of buying power.”

Benet says the idea for the project was born a few months ago when he happened to meet several people from Louisville and was informed of the heated debate over the VA’s proposed hospital site on Brownsboro. After several more meetings, the project took shape, with Benet agreeing to take the lead. Benet says his interests overlapped with the project’s main investor, whom he described as “a very successful philanthropic individual who is very passionate about the vets, but who prefers to remain nameless.”

The property’s 506 acres encompass much of the land that is south of the Gene Snyder Expressway between I-65 and South Park Road, stretching just past the border into Bullitt County. Part of the land being offered to the VA for a hospital is the former plant of General Shale brick company, which stopped producing brick eight years ago and shut down entirely two years ago.

General Shale Brick previously operated on a portion of the site along South Park Road. | Photo via Google Maps

Benet says his vision for the proposed mixed-use community surrounding the hospital is similar to Norton Commons, noting that he has a connection to Andrés Duany — the architect of that development — on another 1,000-acre project.

If the VA changes course and his project becomes a reality, Benet estimates that over 60 permanent jobs would be created at the property, with the mixed-use development opportunities for veterans “not only creating jobs, but potentially creating ownership, and through ownership creating wealth. So that’s the type of virtuous circle we’re envisioning.”

The deadline to submit comments to the VA on its final environmental study of the Brownsboro project is Friday, but Benet says he plans to formally reach out to the VA soon and make them aware of an alternative that he argues would be better overall for veterans in the area.

“I do not doubt the well-meaning nature of (the VA’s) efforts to this point,” says Benet. “And I certainly have a dog in the fight, as I’m for-profit and that obviously must be taken with a grain of salt. But I’ve heard not everyone is happy (with Brownsboro), and if that’s the case and if the concerns are reasonable — and if our property is a possibility, and the price is right at free, plus all of the other things we hope to bring synergistically into the thing — I would be curious to know why this would not be seriously considered, if it is not seriously considered.”

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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]