Botanical gardens to enhance riverfront

Children's Garden, courtesy of Botanica and the Waterfront Botanical Gardens

The master plan for the proposed Waterfront Botanical Gardens was unveiled in November to much excitement. While “everyone wants the gardens to be done by spring,” as board president Brian Voelker put it, there’s still much work to be done to make the vision a reality.

Nevertheless, it promises to be yet another gem in the revitalization of Louisville’s waterfront.

Plans call for a visitor’s center, children’s garden, a tropical conservatory, an elevated platform overlooking Beargrass Creek and an educational pavilion among the garden’s key features.

The board behind the project – the group’s known as Botanica, originally composed from The Louisville Area Iris Society, The Louisville Area Daylily Society and Hostas of Kentuckiana – is busy preparing to launch its capital campaign. That means deciding exactly what will be part of each phase of the project and firming up the cost estimates, Voelker said.

The board expects to spend two years raising the projected $10 million needed for the first phase, then two to three years building it, Voelker said. Three phases are planned, he said, though that might be compressed if there’s enough contributor support. The full project is expected to require around $35 million.

It’s not the first effort to create a botanical garden in Louisville. Voelker said he knows of at least two previous projects that ran into trouble with acquiring land. The proposed property for this project, at the corner of River Road and Frankfort Avenue, was used as a dump for building refuse from damaged homes after the devastating flood of 1937. The landfill was closed in the 1960s. Though previously considered a Superfund cleanup site, it’s been removed from that list. The property now has a dirt fill cap 25 feet deep.

Voelker’s confident this effort will materialize, with the board having taken a lot of time to choose the 23-acre property.

“We’ve found a lot of excitement from a lot of different people,” he said. “People are really jazzed about it. I think it will be an important feature for the community. We’ve gotten a lot of support from Metro government, which is really important. The community is really rallying behind the idea. … I think this is the time.”

He said the proximity to downtown was considered a major plus.

Site of Waterfront Botanical Garden

“Tourists who are in the area, people who are working downtown – they can drive out and see it. We just loved the location. It’s handy for residents in the area, too,” he said.

A major focus among botanical gardens these days, he said, is inspiring people to care for the environment.

“This land had just been thrown away for 50 years. Reclaiming this land will be a wonderful addition to the community. It will be inspiring people to live their values of caring for the environment.”

The project starts off with a Founders’ Garden planted around the Heigold Façade, the structure that looks like a brick doorway just across River Road from RiverPark Place. Volunteers to the project will be recruited for work days during the spring and summer, Voelker said, while other volunteers can help with fund-raising events, marketing and other tasks.

With its Buy a Brick campaign, donors of $100 or more, can have an engraved brick placed in the Founder’s Garden.

Supporters Emil and Nancy Graeser also have offered to match every gift to the garden up to $225,000


An urban lifestyle perk – the ability to walk for fun, health, purpose

Beyond its more apparent attractions, RiverPark Place offers residents a walk in the park.

“I think this is one of the best places in the Midwest to live,” developer Steve Poe told those attending one of its recent meetups. “People want to live in a park or on the water. This is a park on the water.”

Site of Waterfront Botanical Garden

It’s also one of Louisville’s most walkable neighborhoods. With plans for a botanical gardennearby, the options for walking will only increase. And improved access by foot to the restaurants and shops of Frankfort Avenue from the waterfront remains on the city’s agenda, Poe said.

The health benefits of walking have been well-documented, but research from the University of Kansas linked walking not only with health benefits such as lower body mass and blood pressure, but also decreased cognitive decline as we age.

John Gilderbloom, director of the University of Louisville’s Center for Sustainable Urban Neighborhoods, also has published research linking neighborhood walkability with increased home values, less crime, fewer foreclosures and even longevity.

“Even during the economic downturn, housing values in The Highlands were not really affected because people value walkability,” Gilderbloom said.

“Walkable neighborhoods translate into more ‘eyes on the street,’ which lead to less crime. Demand is shifting from unwalkable suburbs to neighborhoods with characteristics such as safety, walkability, gentrification, environmental ethos, mixed uses and the proximity to jobs and school,” his paper states. “Relocating to a sustainable neighborhood means a better return on the initial investment, the option of being less dependent on automobiles, and the opportunity to live in denser neighborhoods with greater diversity.”

Waterfront ParkThe website rates the RiverPark Place area as the eighth most walkable area in the metro area, outdone by Old Louisville, The Highlands and similar areas.

“Walk scores aren’t really on the radar here,” Gilderbloom says, but more attention to walkability will help revitalize neighborhoods.

So, with brains in your head and feet in your shoes (apologies to Dr. Suess), here are some of the destinations you could choose (via Google Maps):

  • Slugger Field for a Bats game – 1.5 miles. (That was too obvious, but you can catch thetrolley there and go to 4th Street Live or even the downtown library. The trollies, by the way, are to be replaced with electric buses.)
  • Skateboard at Louisville Extreme Park – 1.3 miles
  • For a concert or to eat at the Chow Wagons during Thunder – 1.3 miles (For Thunder, watch from your balcony!)
  • Dinner at one of the NuLu restaurants – 1.5 miles
  • To appease a sweet tooth – 1.5 miles
  • Ride the Belle of Louisville – 1.7 miles
  • Yum Center for a Cards game—1.8 miles. Fleetwood Mac, Nickelback and Maroon 5 concerts are slated for the coming months.
  • Frazier Museum, Kentucky Science Center, Louisville Slugger Museum —2.2 miles
  • At 2 miles across, The Big Four Bridge opens up a whole ’nother range of walking options for frozen yogurt, craft breweries, restaurants and handmade candy.

While a grocery store isn’t too far away – the closest is the Crescent Hill Kroger – you’ll need a car for that. However, a planned Omni Hotel development that would include an upscale grocery store downtown reportedly is “on track.” That would put a grocery store roughly 2.2 miles away on more walkable streets.


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.