Riverfront development grows as it feeds on its success


Projects to develop Louisville’s waterfront create excitement and community support that feeds upon itself, according to David Karem, president of the Waterfront Development Corp. (WDC).

“Once you get started, you need for people to be seeing something happening. You have to be very strategic in how those early dollars are spent,” he said.

The larger overall project started with the children’s play area, he said.

“You have to do these projects incrementally. You have to make it believable to people, and let them participate in some way.

Beyond the continuing apartment construction at RiverPark Place and planned 13-story condo tower, there’s more going on along the waterfront.

Botanical garden

Visitor's Center, courtesy of Botanica and the Waterfront Botanical Gardens

The group behind plans to build a botanical garden in Louisville last week unveiled a master plan for the project.

The 23-acre garden is to be built at the intersection of Frankfort Avenue and River Road on reclaimed land that once was used as the Ohio Street Landfill.

The group, called Botanica, expects to spend the next two years raising the $35 million to $40 million it needs to construct the gardens. The following two years will be spent on constructing Phase 1, expected to cost $10 million.

The garden is expected to have a visitor’s center with a restaurant; a children’s garden with seed pod structures; an educational center for lectures and student visits; a steel-and-glass conservatory; and several specialty gardens.

Phase 4

WDC in July submitted to the Metro Council a master plan for continued development of the waterfront west of the Belle of Louisville’s dock.

WDC worked with MKSK Design on the plan, which so far has not been funded, Karem said.

Development of the 22-acre site, between 9th and 13th streets, would extend the park to the Portland neighborhood. The master plan calls for commemorating the first fort in the area, Karem said, and creates what WCD calls “exercapes” – areas planned for physical activities – plus even a Ferris wheel. Extending River Road to Rowan Street would be vital to the project, Karem said.

The projected $35 million cost, as with the waterfront’s first three phases, would have to be cobbled together from a variety of sources. State, federal and city funds paid for the first three phases – as well as nearly $40 million in private donations, Karem said.

Tumbleweed restaurant site

David Karem

It will be up to Tumbleweed’s landlord, Waterweed LLC, to find a new tenant for the restaurant at 1201 River Rd. after its eviction case, Karem said. Waterweed then will have to present the new tenant to WDC’s board, which does have some stipulations. It requires, for instance, that it be a full-service restaurant open at least six days a week with bar service.


Louisville’s waterfront events continue to be one of its great success stories, Karem said, pointing to its recent Centennial Festival of Riverboats, Forecastle and others. This yearForecastle attracted 70,000 people for the three-day music festival, and will return in 2015 on July 17-19.

“Once we get our events established, we want to make sure we maintain quality,” he said. “And anyone who ever says that a park is finished is out of their mind.”

Karem will be on hand to discuss ongoing developments at the waterfront this afternoon, Nov. 20, for Thursdays at RiverPark Place, 4:30-6:30 p.m., at Poe Companies’ offices, 1250 River Rd. Appetizers, beer and wine will be served.