Some residents said they'd like to see public spaces, retail and/or mixed-income housing built on the property. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling
Some residents said they’d like to see public spaces, retail and/or mixed-income housing built on the property. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government is using conversations around the repurposing of 12 acres along Barret Avenue to figure out how it will shape future discussions regarding the reuse of city-owned land.

Before accepting any proposals from developers, city officials have hosted meetings with Louisville residents to gather feedback on the front end about what people in the neighborhood would like to see happen to the 12-acre site. The second round of meetings kicked off Tuesday night.

The buildings on the property are nearly vacant. The last of the metro employees working in the Urban Government Center, 810 Barret Ave., are expected to be out by the end of this year. The city moved the offices previously in the center to Old Louisville after a mold infestation was found.

Prior to this, residents could comment on proposed developments only after the ball was rolling, when the city had already reviewed proposals from developers and a project plan was unveiled.

“What we are exploring is turning that process outward,” said Theresa Zawacki, senior policy adviser for Louisville Forward, the city’s economic development department. “It is something we want to get right, moving forward, and something we are spending a lot of time and attention on.”

The city is exploring the idea of creating a resident review committee that would assess developers’ proposals for how they would repurpose government-owned land. Or the city may have developers submit a statement describing their development proposal and implement a polling-type system to gauge how residents feel about the various proposals, she said.

No step-by-step process is firmly in place, Zawacki said, so city officials are researching how other cities gather resident input and reviewing best practices, in addition to testing out new models for getting feedback as city leaders try to decide how to renovate and revitalize the Barret Avenue site.

“We are still thinking through what that means for us as a local government and looking through other models for how this has happened in the country,” she said. “It is our goal to have this kind of community visioning process as a driver of our thought process and as a driver of our internal process for understanding how we dispose of public property.”

At a meeting Tuesday, attendees wrote things they’d like to see the property used for on Post-It notes and also used dot stickers to vote on which of six elements — diversity of housing, mixed use/local retail, sustainable design, walkability, green space/community gardens and arts and education — they felt were most important. The six elements were the top “asks” among resident who attended the first round of meetings or commented online, said Gretchen Milliken, director of Advanced Planning.

“We don’t want to do anything hastily,” she said.

The city will start accepting proposals for the Barret Avenue site in January, and the review process will take three to six months. Metro officials expect developers to submit proposals for sections of the property, or a group of developers to come together with a joint plan.

“This is a giant piece of property,” Zawacki said. “It seems unlikely that one developer is going to be able to come in and take on the property in a meaningful and impactful way.”

Efforts to change the city’s modus operandi regarding community comments came out of critiques surrounding the West Louisville FoodPort. Louisville Metro Council agreed to sell 24-acres of city-owned property to the nonprofit Seed Capital Kentucky for $1. The nonprofit planned to gather food-related businesses that would support the local food movement and build a place in which food could be stored, cleaned and packaged for sale. The project was called off after an anchor tenant pulled out.

Throughout the more than yearlong process, however, some people criticized the city for making a deal with Seed Capital Kentucky without asking nearby residents what they’d like to see happen with the longtime vacant land.

“We were really inspired by the conversation that happened around the FoodPort. There’s been a lot of criticism about that process, but one thing that really happened — and happened in a big and meaningful way — was the West Louisville Community Council formed as a conduit for community input into that project,” Zawacki said.

The FoodPort is kaput, but the West Louisville Community Council remains intact. City officials are talking with council members, Zawacki said, about what they would like to see at the 18th Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard property. People have reached out about the site, but don’t expect any announcements soon.

“At this point, we are entertaining conversations, but we are not making any commitments,” she said. “We are very respectful of and very appreciate of the work the West Louisville Community Council for us is doing around visioning, around community prioritizing and around rebranding the property, and until that process concludes, we really don’t want to get too far down the road in having conversations in a more specific and meaningful way with the development community.”

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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]