David Karem
David Karem, Waterfront Development Corp. president since 1986, will retire in July. | Courtesy of Waterfront Development Corp.

David Karem, longtime president of the Waterfront Development Corp., announced Thursday morning that he will retire at the end of July.

In the post for 33 years, Karem’s most notable accomplishment was spearheading the effort to turn Louisville’s waterfront from an industrial junkyard into a public park that now serves as a central point for city events and activities.

The award-winning Waterfront Park is host to an estimated 2.2 million visitors each year, according to a news release announcing Karem’s retirement.

Karem was named the president of Waterfront Development in 1986 and has been the only person to serve in that role, overseeing the development and operations of the waterfront. Although he will retire this summer, Karem will remain with the organization as director emeritus for at least a year.

“The community has been lucky to have David as a visionary for Waterfront Park for over 30 years,” said Susan Moss, chair of the Waterfront Development board of directors, in the release. “We are fortunate to have him remain a part of our leadership team for the next year.”

Also in the release, Waterfront Development announced that it will rename its downtown office building the David K. Karem Building as a tribute to its namesake’s service to the city. Karem also served in the Kentucky General Assembly from 1972 until 2004 as a Senate leader.

“On behalf of the entire community, I want to thank David for his dedication and leadership over the past three decades reclaiming Louisville’s waterfront for the people by transforming scrap yards and heavy industrial sites into a world-class park that has played a pivotal role in revitalizing downtown Louisville,” said Mayor Greg Fischer in the release. “David is a true public servant, and our city will forever be changed by his incredible vision and commitment.”

Meanwhile, Waterfront Development also named Deborah Bilitski, previously a vice president, to succeed Karem as president, beginning Aug. 1. Bilitski joined the organization in January 2018 and previously practiced as an attorney at Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs, heading the firm’s real estate and lending team. She also served as director of the city’s Develop Louisville initiative.

“I’m honored to have the confidence of the Board and David,” Bilitski told Insider, “and consider it a great privilege to lead this organization. David has assembled an incredible team of dedicated professionals, and together we will carry on his vision for Waterfront Park as a beautiful, diverse and inclusive community gathering space.”

Moss called Bilitski “a natural fit for this position who will enable a seamless transition in Waterfront leadership.”

In addition, the longtime Waterfront Development employee Margaret Walker also announced her retirement. Walker joined the organization in 1989 and served in many different roles.

This post has been updated.

Kevin Gibson
Kevin Gibson tackles the 3Rs — retail, restaurants, real estate — plus, economic development. He loves bacon, loathes cucumbers and once interviewed Yoko Ono. Check out his books, “Louisville Beer: Derby City History on Draft” and “100 Things to do in Louisville Before You Die.” He has won numerous awards for his work but doesn’t know where most of them are now. In his spare time, he plays in a band called the Uncommon Houseflies.Email Kevin at [email protected]