People may not have to pay to park in a Waterfront Park lot after all. | Photo by Tony Pacheco

An unnamed group of donors have joined together in an effort to keep Waterfront Park free of parking fees.

“It is our understanding that we will be able to keep parking at Waterfront Park free for two years,” Councilwoman Barbara Sexton Smith, D-4, told Insider.

In August, the WDC board voted to cover a $240,000 budget shortfall by instituting a $3 parking fee at all park lots. The fee was highly contentious, but WDC leaders said it was the only way they could viably bring in additional revenue without an new allocation from the state or city.

“I’m extremely happy that we are moving toward a short-term solution, and we are all committed to finding a long-term solution,” Councilman Bill Hollander, D-9, said of the donations.

Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton, D-5 called the news “a great development.”

“I am very appreciative of the community support,” she said.

Hamilton, Hollander, Sexton Smith and officials in the mayor’s office have been working with leadership at the Waterfront Development Corp., which oversees the 85-acre park, to find a short-term solution — other than parking fees — to cover the organization’s shortfall.

“They have communicated what the shortfall is, and we found donors to cover the shortfall,” Sexton Smith said.

The estimated budget shortfall for this and next fiscal year is $480,000 — pending no major funding changes.

David Karem, president of the Waterfront Development Corp., addressed the Louisville Metro Council budget committee. | Screenshot of MetroTV

“The state can give you money, the city can give you money, or private donors can give you money,” WDC president David Karem said in a phone interview. “We spend every day trying to figure out how we can raise additional money.”

Karem added that it’s “a great thing” for the private donors to step up and cover the budget gap while WDC continues to lobby those three sources for more funding.

WDC leaders regularly speak to state official about restoring funding to Waterfront Park, he said.

It is the loss of $420,000 in state funding in the current fiscal year budget that has caused the shortfall. The funding was including in the state budget the General Assembly passed but then was vetoed by Gov. Matt Bevin. The WDC was able to mitigate the impact some by increasing event fees and making other changes.

The organization also has been in continued talks with city leaders about increasing its allocation. Karem has said previously that back when the park was created, the city agreed to fund about 60 percent of the WDC’s budget; today, it funds about 40 percent.

“Can’t you look at getting closer back to the original agreement,” Karem said, describing his conversations with city leaders.

Chris Poynter, the mayor’s spokesman, noted that the city has a number of competing priorities every year as it compiles a budget but that additional money for WDC will be discussed.

The donors also are looking at other ways such as annual fund-raising events that could help keep the WDC from charging for parking over the long-term, Poynter said.

When first proposed, city officials and residents spoke out against the parking fee, saying it would prevent the city’s lower income residents from being able to enjoy the public park. The possible institution of a parking fee has had Louisville Metro Council members considering options to help WDC in the future.

“Additional city funding as far as I am concerned is an option,” Hollander said.

Bryant Hamilton also told Insider that she would be in favor of possibly increasing the city’s funding for Waterfront Park.

Councilwoman Cindi Fowler, D-14, said previously that had she know about the severity of the shortfall, she would have lobbied harder for more money for Waterfront Park in the budget.

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Caitlin Bowling
Louisville native Caitlin Bowling has covered the local restaurant and retail scene since 2014. After graduating from the Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Caitlin got her start at a newspaper in the mountains of North Carolina where she won multiple state awards for her reporting. Since returning to Louisville, she’s written for Business First and Insider Louisville, winning awards for health and business reporting and becoming a go-to source for business news. In addition to restaurants and retail business, Caitlin covers real estate, economic development and tourism. Email Caitlin at [email protected]