This word cloud shows the most common words found in the residents’ comments. | Graphic by Pat Smith

Based solely on online comments submitted to Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government, residents seem to have a definite favorite for which developer they’d like to see tackle the 12-acre government-owned property at 810 Barret Ave.

In 54 separate comments, people listed the proposal submitted by Louisville-based developer Underhill Associates as their favorite.

Underhill Associates’ proposal includes a 230-unit senior housing facility, a 76-unit student housing center, a library, a restaurant, a gym, 54 three-story townhomes, a neighborhood green, a bike-sharing facility, a plaza on Barret Avenue and a 6,500-square-foot grocery. It also would attempt to renovate three of the existing buildings on the property.

“There seems to be only one developer who chose to preserve these beautiful buildings and structures and not only preserve green space but actually increase the percentage of green space,” one commenter wrote. “Only one developer has agreements in place to populate these great preserved structures with those who are underserved (the elderly) as well as those who are in need of a quiet, peaceful neighborhood (Bellarmine grad students at the old Police HQ building) and both these populations would make solid neighbors and active participants in community engagement, while stressing the transportation grid the least (less parking needed for seniors, etc. =Brilliant).”

Underhill Associates said it would look for a local grocery company to locate at the site. | Courtesy of Underhill Associates

Multiple commenters liked that the proposal included a tentative space for a public library and the green space, but a few other commenters also noted concerns about the Underhill Associates, deriding one of their past projects Westport Village as “fake” looking and a “flop.”

The second most favorite proposal came from Steve Smith, owner of Louisville Stoneware. Twenty-one comments identified his as their top choice.

Smith’s proposal features a public bike-sharing station, 900 parking spaces, green space, a 125-room boutique hotel, 20,000 square feet of commercial space, brownstone townhomes with attached efficiency apartments, modern camelbacks, 35 live/work spaces for an artist community, and a 125,000- to 150,000-square-foot modern Class A office building.

Several commenters called Smith’s proposal “bold” and “ambitious.”

“We need to plan for the next 100 years of the neighborhood and not merely try to recapture what we liked best about the previous 100,” one commenter wrote.

Another commenter raised concerns about Smith overextending himself between plans for the Urban Government Center and the Paristown Pointe redevelopment just down the street. However, others noted Smith’s involvement in the community as a plus.

Louisville-based developers The Marian Group and Weyland Ventures ranked third and fourth, with out-of-town developer Lifestyle Communities only having one person who commented that their proposal was their favorite.

On The Edge is a modern Class A office building designed by wHY Architecture. | Courtesy of Steve Smith

The comments do not include feedback that the city received at its public meeting in April or any verbal comments made to city officials about the proposals. At the public meeting, attendees that Insider Louisville spoke with seemed to favor the proposals by The Marian Group and Underhill Associates.

Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government received a total of 124 online comments related to the Urban Government Center redevelopment from April 12 to June 9. The comment period was originally supposed to wrap-up on May 22, but Louisville’s Office of Advanced Planning announced on May 23 that it was extending the deadline.

“There has been tremendous response, so we are extending the deadline to give more opportunity for community engagement,” Will Ford, communications specialist for Develop Louisville, said in an email at the time.

As of May 23, city officials said they had received more than 70 comments, and the city received roughly 44 more comments following the extension.

The document detailing the comments lists them in order of receipt, except for a couple of comments related to saving the community garden, according to a city spokeswoman. It does not identify who submitted what comment.

The document shows that Underhill Associates received a last-minute push after the deadline for comments was extended by 18 days. Looking at the last 44 comments submitted, thirty-two noted that Underhill Associates proposal was their favorite.

If those are filtered out, it shows that the commenters favored Steve Smith and Underhill Associates plans nearly the same before the deadline extension.

Those comment will be used by an evaluation committee that also will look at the feasibility of a project and how it aligns with seven ideals in the plan Vision Louisville: sustainability, economy, livability, connectivity, creativity, health and authenticity.

When asked how much weight the comments will carry during the decision-making process, Theresa Zawacki, senior policy adviser for Louisville Forward, said members of the committee would factor in the submitted comments when looking at how each proposal aligned with the seven ideals.

The committee will meet from June to September of this year to gather more information and deliberate on the proposals. She declined to say who is on the committee or what type of roles they may play within Louisville, such as a developer or Paristown Pointe resident.

“We really have been very, very quiet about who has been participating,” Zawacki said. “Part of the need for confidentiality is so folks aren’t subject to undue pressure” when making a decision.

She noted that the committee could recommend one or multiple proposals, or even parts of different proposals, to Louisville Forward, the city’s economic development arm. Louisville Forward will look over the recommendation and begin negotiations with one or more of the developers.

Louisville Forward is expected to make a decision before the end of this year, Zawacki said.

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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]