Several members of the Paristown Pointe Neighborhood Association said they wanted to know why The Marian Group was chosen in December to redevelop the Urban Government Center and to find out more about the committee that selected it, citing aspects of the proposed plan they didn’t like.
“I don’t really understand why they were picked,” said Josh Pickrell, a member of the neighborhood association, adding that while there were some people in favor of The Marian Group’s plan, “it just seemed like more of us were not for that one.”
An advisory committee, whose members are unknown, reviewed the proposals and made a recommendation to city leaders, who ultimately chose the winning developer, Louisville-based The Marian Group. The developer beat out four others: Lifestyle Communities, Steve Smith, Underhill Associates and Weyland Ventures.
City officials declined Insider Louisville’s request for the score sheets that members of the advisory committee used to help rank the developers’ proposals and a request for the names of the committee members.
A spokesperson for the city also declined to provide any demographic data regarding the committee’s makeup, including how many were neighborhood residents and how many were government employees.
The Marian Group’s plan includes apartments, a boutique hotel, retail, restaurants, townhomes, condominiums, detached 21st-century shotgun houses, affordable housing through Family Scholar House, a senior living facility, market-rate apartments, a multi-use community center, a parking garage and green space.
The city hosted a public hearing at which residents could learn about and provide feedback on six proposals submit detailing how different developers wanted to redevelop the 12-acre Urban Government Center, a city-owned lot on Barret Avenue near Broadway. It also allowed residents to submit comments online and posted the developers’ proposals on the city website.
Neighborhood association member Joann Robinson told Insider Louisville that she was invited to be a member of the committee but was not ultimately part of the process after her fellow residents asked if she was on the advisory committee.
“I could not lie to my neighborhood. I said yes, and then I was asked to step down,” she said, noting that committee members signed a nondisclosure form. “It broke my heart, but I understand.”
Robinson said she thought residents of the Paristown Pointe neighborhood would be more involved in the selection process.
“My point of view — and this is speaking just for myself — I am not happy with it, and I am not happy the way it went down. I thought we’d be more involved,” she said. “It just seems like the government is coming in … and put in a development we don’t want.”
The city still hasn’t finalized a development agreement with The Marian Group. Officials said that they hoped to have a completed agreement in 45 days, but 70 days later, officials said they were still working on it.
The city also hasn’t made final an agreement with the Louisville Urban League, which was chosen to develop a track and field facility at the Heritage West site in Russell on Sept. 19.
“When working on multifaceted, complex projects such as these, it takes a significant amount of due diligence. We are still working on both projects and expect to be moving forward with development agreements soon,” Theresa Zawacki, senior policy adviser for Louisville Forward, said in an emailed comment.
Since some have raised concerns, Zawacki, who is spearheading the effort on the city’s end, and The Marian Group partner, Justin Brown, have agreed to attend a Paristown Pointe Neighborhood Association meeting later in March.
Brown, who told Insider that he cannot comment on the plans and negotiations with the city because of nondisclosure agreements, said that he would be on hand to answer residents questions at the association meeting. He added that most of the feedback the company had received had been positive, though people always identify “little things” they don’t like with any project.
In an interview, Councilwoman Barbara Sexton Smith, who represents Paristown Pointe, called the process around the Urban Government Center one of the best examples of the city seeking public input.
“I think anytime a decision is made and change is on the horizon, people will sometime navigate toward being uncomfortable with that,” she said. “It’s almost like no good deed goes unpunished.”
Sexton Smith said she did not weigh in on the final decision but that she looks forward to the development of the Urban Government Center property.
“I think all the proposals were very interesting and well thought out,” she said.
Councilman Brandon Coan, whose district abuts Paristown Pointe, applauded the process.
“I do think that the economic development department and all the people that really were the decision makers really bent over backwards to get public input and to arrive at the chosen proposal through a process that was inclusive and that worked,” he said.
Both Sexton Smith and Coan suggested people to be part of the advisory committee, though Coan said he was not sure who was chosen. The members’ anonymity, he noted, spared everyday residents from facing pressure or backlash from other residents, but he said the city should identify metro government employees who were part of the committee.
Robinson, who is part of the neighborhood association, indicated that she was more in favor of the proposals by Underhill Associates and Steve Smith, two other developers who vied for the chance to develop the Urban Government Center, noting that both reached out to residents independently.
“No other developer did that,” Robinson said. “They chose to meet with us, and they were absolutely wonderful.”
Several members noted that The Marian Group never reached out to the association during the process of developing its plan.
“We haven’t had any communication with them at all throughout the process so we are really unclear how they feel about our ideas and wants and things like that,” Pickrell said.
The Marian Group plan doesn’t preserve any of the buildings on the property and doesn’t include a park, Pickrell said, which are two things that he wanted in a development proposal. “We don’t have a park, almost every other neighborhood does have a park.”
Even so, he said he was happy that the neighborhood’s community garden would be preserved.
Robinson also noted the absence of a park in The Marian Group’s plan. “Why couldn’t they set aside one little acre for us for a park?” she queried.
Neighborhood association member Cindy Pablo told Insider she wanted more green space in The Marian Group’s proposal but she is happy to see that the buildings on the property, which have mildew and mold problems, could be demolished. Still, Pablo agrees with others who feel like Paristown Pointe residents didn’t get enough input.
“We feel betrayed,” she said.
Not every member of the neighborhood association feels that way, however.
“I think the city’s done an excellent job reaching out. They’ve been in pretty constant contact with us and have tried to work with us to try to bring community members out, so they did a really good effort upfront,” Jason Fowler, an association member, said. “I think the city is doing a wonderful job and there is a lot of momentum.”
Fowler added that he thinks the city got it right by choosing The Marian Group, which he felt had “an interesting and green proposal” that addressed community needs, transportation and the prospect of commercial development.
“Change is scary, and this is a big change,” he said of the criticisms.
Pablo, Pickrell and Robinson all said they don’t want the nonprofit Family Scholar House to locate a low-income housing development at the Urban Government Center as part of The Marian Group’s plan, erroneously referring to the housing development as Section 8 housing.
“We already are a low-income neighborhood, low to mid,” Robinson said, adding that the neighborhood needs more higher-income housing.
The Marian Group’s plan does include higher-end housing along with affordable housing.
The low-income housing development proposed by Family Scholar House would offer roughly 36 apartments for single parents who are enrolled in college or vocational school. The nonprofit also provides programming and learning opportunities for its residents.
While The Marian Group has proposed building the campus with help from low-income housing tax credits, Family Scholar House funds itself through donations, not federal or state funding.
Fowler said he is concerned about neighbors being priced out and likes that Family Scholar House will provide affordable housing.
“I want my neighborhood to look like my society at large … and you can’t ignore that part of society,” he said.
Troy Burden, executive director of Highlands Community Ministries, said the nonprofit, which offers childcare and programming for seniors, is excited that the property will slated to be developed and will work with any developer. Highlands Community Ministries, which is across the street from the Urban Government Center, was part of Underhill Associates formal proposal.
“We were a little disappointed; however, that being said, that property is in our service area, we will serve any seniors or low-income folks,” Burden said, adding that Family Scholar House is an “excellent organization.”
Burden added that Highland Community Ministries was looking forward to working with Underhill Associates and its other partners.
“The Underhill proposal was more low-income senior housing, which we work with already. We just feel there is a need for more low-income senior housing in the area, and they were looking at putting significantly more than the Marian Group is proposing,” he said.
Sexton Smith told Insider that Family Scholar House is a proven model and national leader for helping single parents, those transitioning out of the foster care system and others.
Both Coan and Sexton Smith said they expect the plans laid out in The Marian Group’s proposal to be part of a continuing conversation and possibly shift some.
Coan said he would like to see some preservation of buildings if possible included in the plan and he is not sure how he feels about The Marian Group asking the city to help it build a parking garage. Still, Coan added that he wishes the development group luck and hopes the final plan makes sense for everybody.
“Let me be clear, I still have a lot of questions about the proposal,” he said. “I would have loved to have seen a proposal selected that tried to preserve certainly the Baptist Hospital in whatever form it could have been done.”
Sexton Smith said she’d like to see serious consideration of moving the Highlands-Shelby Park Library, which is currently located in Mid City Mall, to the site for increased accessibility.
“I would love to see that considered in this project,” she said.