The people behind RiverPark Place: David Karem

Bringing a 40-acre, $1 billion-plus commercial/residential project to fruition that will alter the landscape and lifestyle of Louisville’s riverfront requires top talent. Rock stars of design and development, if you will. In the coming months, we’re going to feature the “Rock Stars of RiverPark Place” to help you get to know some of the brilliant and dedicated people behind the project.

David Karem

The Ohio River is in David Karem’s blood, and he’s passionate about preserving the magic of life on the water’s edge for future generations.

Karem has been a driving force in the redevelopment of Louisville’s waterfront since 1986. The first and only president of the Waterfront Development Corp., he fell in love with the Ohio as a small child, spending summers with his family in a cabin on the water.

“I grew up by the river,” he said. “Once you have that kind of connectivity with the river’s edge, it remains indelible in your mind, and you have an affection for it.”

Karem earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Cincinnati College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning. Then, like others in his family, he went on to earn a law degree from the University of Louisville. He served four years in the state House of Representatives before spending 29 years in the state Senate, leaving that post in 2004.

Karem and the Waterfront Development Corp. were asked to develop a request for proposals for the site of RiverPark Place, handle the selection process and ultimately oversee the project that was chosen.

“It is one of the most beautiful sites in the area,” he said. “It leaps out and says ‘this is wonderful site for a residential marina development to take place.’ Because of Towhead Island, the marina is very protected. The setting is so green and so wonderful for residential development.”

Karem knew from the beginning that he wanted a project that would fit with the park’s mission.

“Our mission was to build a green, urban, 85-acre park that would then compel development around it,” he said. “And that’s exactly what has happened. RiverPark Place is a perfect example.”

He added that he wanted a world-class development that would complement what has become a world-class park.

“We’ve been visited by officials from all over the United States, Europe and Asia, studying the park,” Karem said. “USA Today did a national poll, and Louisville’s Waterfront Park was ranked as one of the top 10 riverfronts in America.” The park attracts 1.5 million visitors a year and hosts an average of 150 events, which is a huge selling point for RiverPark Place residents and visitors.

Poe Companies is an ideal partner in the project, he said. “It’s a synergy of two very supportive elements. They know they enhance Waterfront Park, and we know the park enhances their development.”

The mix of residential uses at RiverPark “creates the kind of community that we had hoped from the beginning would come to that site. It’s creating almost like a small city with lots of diversity, which is very appealing” to young people, empty-nesters and everyone in between, Karem said. “I think it’s woven together as a wonderful tapestry of offerings that make it available to a broad spectrum of customers.”

Those customers will expect the Waterfront Development Corp. to maintain the park in a quality way, he said. “They will become allies with us to continue the world-class maintenance that this park deserves. RiverPark is our next-door neighbor who will insist, long after I’m gone, that the public and government entities maintain this park in the highest possible way. From a very selfish perspective, RiverPark Place is a great favor to the park because the residents will become the engine that goes to the mayor, goes to the Metro Council and says, ‘this is a fabulous park, and you’ve got to support and maintain it properly.’ RiverPark is going to be our best friend.”

Karem is excited that RiverPark Place is continuing the transformation of the waterfront that he and his team started.

“One, it’s bringing more people into an urban setting. That’s a national trend. That kind of movement enlivens the core, it strengthens the downtown area. RiverPark Place is a huge engine for the kinds of urban development you want to see in your city,” Karem said. “These folks will go the arts, the restaurants, the museums, to the YUM Center for ballgames. They will bring friends from out of town to the Hillerich & Bradsby baseball museum. They will take their kids and their grandkids to the Science Center.”

With all those elements in place, it’s a no-brainer that RiverPark would be a success, he added. “The numbers speak for themselves. Before the first building was completed, it was all rented. The second one is well on its way. It’s doing exactly what we hoped it would do.”

That success is due, in part, to the excellent working relationship Karem has had with Poe Companies and other players in RiverPark Place from the start.

“While we monitor and oversee the project for Metro Government, we also really see ourselves as partners,” Karem said. “Have there been bumps in the road? Of course there have. By and large, working with these folks has been great. We never have any problems communicating. It’s an easy marriage. All marriages should be as easy as this one.

The people behind RiverPark Place: David Karem.

The people behind RiverPark Place- David Spillane, master planner

Bringing a 40-acre, $1 billion-plus commercial/residential project to fruition that will alter the landscape and lifestyle of Louisville’s riverfront requires top talent. Rock stars of design and development, if you will. In the coming months, we’re going to feature the “Rock Stars of RiverPark Place” to help you get to know some of the brilliant and dedicated people behind the project.

Principal_David-Spillane_Goody-Clancy-290x245David Spillane spent his childhood near the water in Ireland. No matter where he has lived since then, he’s never been far from it. In fact, as president of Goody Clancy in Boston and principal for the firm’s planning and urban design practice, Spillane has built his career on a passion for design that transforms waterfronts.

“We’ve worked a lot of places and done a lot of things, but the most exciting projects for me are waterfront projects,” he said. His firm has completed waterfront projects “all the way from Vermont to Texas.”

This lifelong passion is why serving as lead architect for RiverPark Place is an ideal fit for his talents. It also means Louisville is incredibly lucky to have him on board.

Fascinated by design since he was a child, Spillane earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture from University College Dublin (Ireland) and a master’s degree from Harvard University. His work has included planning in Mississippi and New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, replacing an aging interstate highway in Hartford, Conn., and redefining Boston’s Fort Point Channel waterfront.


His designs have been recognized with more than a dozen national awards from the American Institute of Architects, the American Planning Association, the Congress for the New Urbanism and the Waterfront Center, including the 2013 American Planning Association’s “National Planning Excellence Award for a Firm.”

As an extension of his affection for cities’ waterfronts, Spillane serves on the board of directors for Save the Harbor/Save the Bay, where he has been an active participant in promoting public access to a cleaner and more vibrant Boston Harbor and Massachusetts Bay. He has also served as a member of Boston’s Municipal Harbor Plan Advisory Committee and is a design advisor to the Capitol Center Commission in Providence, R.I.

Despite his experience with waterfronts across the country, Spillane believes there is always more to learn. That’s why he and the RiverPark team traveled to Boston, Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, Canada, to study what makes each of their waterfronts so successful.

“In all those cities, we saw principles of what it takes to create a great waterfront — providing public access along the water’s edge, creating public amenities with a mix of uses,” said Spillane. “Residential housing is a huge part of that, and so are open spaces and restaurants that draw people to the area who don’t live there. Also, they each provide water access for small boats, canoes and kayaks and have the ability to host events and other activities.”

As a result of these fact-finding trips, Spillane said he and the RiverPark team have been able to incorporate all of the very best elements from each city’s waterfront they visited, one of which is density.

“When Steve Poe invited us to be part of the team and the city started this project, I think that the kind of density that was envisioned was far less than what’s happening now,” said Spillane. “The density being envisioned now is like what we saw in Boston, Vancouver and Portland. It’s essential to RiverPark and what this project can ultimately become to the city. We’re seeing all around the country more and more interest in urban living and urban environments, where you can walk from your front door to a restaurant or a park or a marina and you don’t have to drive. Those are some the benefits we get from density.”

Spillane is proud that he’s had a hand in a project that brings people together in such a transformative way. “It’s a place that invites other people in, who don’t specifically live there, to have access to the restaurants on the water’s edge. I think the marina adds a whole other dimension to life, providing the ability to get out on the river.

“When you mix all those ingredients together — the mix of uses, walk-able areas, density, public access and access to the water, you have all the ingredients of a great waterfront. This is the vision we talked about from the very beginning — a place which is vibrant and active and dense.”

Spillane believes that an important part of the project, one that’s easy to overlook, is the way parking is being incorporated out of sight.

“Parking is below the building, and that creates far better views and access to the waterfront and the river. I think that’s really exciting,” he said. “There was a lot of very careful attention in design to maintain those views of the waterfront from as many units as possible, both the ones built to date, and the ones in the future.”

Though RiverPark is in its early stages, Spillane believes it already has lots of momentum. As it attracts more people and new amenities, it’s going to become even more compelling over time, he added.

“Louisville is a really vital place, and it’s become even more vital since I started with the project,” Spillane said. “At that time, Waterfront Park had just opened. I remember being in the offices of the Waterfront Development Corp., seeing the pictures of the wall of what it had been just a few years before where it was primarily industrial, and how quickly it has transformed into a major part of the city’s shared public space.”

Spillane added the he thinks the transformation of Louisville’s waterfront is an amazing story. “It’s one of the great waterfront transformations nationally, and it’s a model for many other communities. RiverPark is an incredibly important part of that story.”

RiverPark aerial modified 11.28.11

Insider Louisville

The people behind RiverPark Place – The EdgeWater architect – Insider Louisville

Bringing a 40-acre, $1 billion-plus commercial/residential project to fruition that will alter the landscape and lifestyle of Louisville’s riverfront requires top talent. Rock stars of design and development, if you will. In the coming months, we’re going to feature the “Rock Stars of RiverPark Place” to help you get to know some of the brilliant and dedicated people behind the project.


Now a celebrated architect, Rob Chandler initially chose his field by accident. In fact, it happened while getting his hands dirty.

Chandler, principal with Goody Clancy in Boston and lead architect for the RiverPark Place condo towers, was pursuing a bachelor’s degree at Colby College in the late 1970s. The lack of jobs available to English majors prompted him to start a small construction firm. An architect with whom Chandler worked on home building in New England encouraged him to look into design as a career, so he did, earning a master’s in architecture from Harvard University.

Today, Chandler provides design leadership across a wide spectrum of Goody Clancy’s academic, civic and residential projects. His work for colleges and universities includes the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, Rawls Hall at the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University and the College of Informatics in Griffin Hall at Northern Kentucky University. His residential work features many award-winning housing developments in Massachusetts, notably the internationally acclaimed Tent City, with its 269 units of affordable housing in Boston. He also has designed all of the homes he has owned since college.

Chandler said that academic and residential styles “reinforce each other, although they are very different in use. Academic buildings are made of different size pieces — they have auditoriums and offices. They are not repetitive, they are singular or one off.

“Great housing takes advantage of the fact that there are multiple small pieces that build up into a larger pattern,” he added. “There is so much promise in housing to shape cities.”

Urban housing is particularly exciting to Chandler. He said it connects places, shapes outdoor spaces and creates gathering places for people.

“It’s not simply creating objects in the landscape, but it’s part of a larger system that makes streets compelling places to be,” he said. “The great thing about urban housing is that it builds outdoor spaces that people love to occupy, and it lines them with active public uses on the ground floor.”

RiveFront Place Chandler and the team at Good Clancy are known for transforming cities, and he said he was eager to use his expertise in urban housing to help transform Louisville’s downtown. “RiverPark is a destination that will reinforce the city’s investment in Waterfront Park. It’s going to build a community. Once it’s complete, it will be a neighborhood of its own with strong, memorable qualities that many of the other neighborhoods in the city have.”

Chandler was first introduced to Louisville when RiverPark’s lead architect, K. Norman Berry, brought Goody Clancy in on the project. Chandler is charged with designing the high-rise residential buildings at RiverPark Place, while Berry focuses on the low-rise structures. Chandler is currently in the process of designing the larger buildings’ core systems, character, appearance and building materials, and he’s excited to present the newest renderings in late April.

Chandler said he sees RiverPark as a chance to contribute to a development of comparable quality to the awarding-winning projects he designed earlier in his career. He also is thrilled to take part in the revitalization of downtown housing.

“I think Louisville needs even more people downtown,” he said. “There seems to be a larger number of young college graduates migrating to the city, and I think that’s going to continue to contribute to making it a vital place. Having housing and destinations like RiverPark are going to make the city an even more desirable and dynamic place for people who are young and starting their lives.”

When asked what his favorite elements of RiverPark are, Chandler said he couldn’t choose just one.

“I think the Plaza is going to be a great space,” he said. “I’d love to live in one of the units that are higher up because they are all going to have wonderful views. I also love the experience of moving up and down River Shore Drive, which visually connects to the river. You guys probably take it for granted, but we don’t have rivers of that scale in New England. It’s really beautiful and engaging.”

Chandler added that the marina, the paths on both the river level and plaza level, further connect residents and visitors to the Ohio, which he believes is a fundamental part of the RiverPark experience.

Density is a key element to the success of RiverPark, Chandler said. “By having the density, there are resources available to build public spaces, take advantage of the riverfront location. When you build that many units, you can also afford to build high-quality, open space and high-quality destinations that invite everyone onto the site.”

The high-rise buildings are large enough to accommodate retail, restaurants and other public-use components that will distinguish the development and make it truly an active, urban environment, Chandler added.

Through his work on RiverPark, Chandler said he has come to love Louisville. “Louisville has a great scale. I love walking around on Main Street — there are some great new developments there. 21c is a fun place; NuLu is really intriguing. Louisville has a really accessible social space for someone coming from outside. You walk up and down the streets and feel at home.”

Chandler said he has been especially impressed with Waterfront Park. “Louisville has a great park system that distinguishes it from a lot of other American cities. It has taken advantage of what was once an industrial waterfront and made it a central part of the experience of living there.”

RiverPark is simply a continuation of this great asset. “RiverPark isn’t a park itself, but it carries some of those same characteristics. It’s public, you can walk through it, it focuses on views to the river, and not just for the people who live there. It’s such a great spot … connected to the park, within walking distance from downtown, with those great views of the bridges looking out over the skyline. It’s really a distinctive and memorable public space.”

The people behind RiverPark Place – The EdgeWater architect – Insider Louisville.

RiverPark Place continues to grow on multiple fronts

Poe Companies has been hard at work during the 14 weeks of this series to make the RiverPark Place development a reality. With that in mind, it’s time for an update on all that has taken place:

One of the biggest stories on the Louisville restaurant scene was the closure of riverfront Tumbleweed on Nov. 15. Falls City Hospitality Group, which plans to open a restaurant at RiverPark Place, also reportedly is close to a deal to operate a Mexican restaurant at the 12,000-square-foot riverfront site.

That would give the group two restaurants within less than a half-mile. It operates Doc Crow’s on West Main Street and had La Coop, a French restaurant, on West Market Street, though it closed that operation on Jan. 1.

Taking on the Tumbleweed site won’t affect plans for the RiverPark Place restaurant at all, according to investor and attorney Chip Hamm.

“We had sort of settled on the RiverPark Place concept and menu before the Tumbleweed opportunity came up. We were already believers in the waterfront, so the Tumbleweed opportunity was an easy decision,” he said.

The RiverPark Place restaurant will serve roadhouse type of food – buckets of seafood and burgers – sort of like the chain Yard House, Hamm said, along with about 120 beers on tap.


Here’s the latest on the development overall from marketing director Nicki Sibley:

  • Construction on the restaurant began during the last quarter of 2014; it’s expected to open in the third quarter of 2015.
  • The first half of the new apartment building, Waterside East, is ready for occupancy and the first renters moved in last weekend. The second half should be ready within the next 60 days. About 30 percent of the units were pre-leased. The existing apartment building, Waterside West, remains 100 percent leased.
  • Five condos in the planned 16-story condo tower have been sold, and interest remains steady.
  • Poe Companies is close to securing the financing for the apartment tower, likely to be called EdgeWater East. “It’s quite possible we could be breaking ground on both towers this year,” Sibley said.
  • The marina has been open for just over two years and is nearly 60 percent leased/purchased. She has fielded inquiries about reserving boat slips for Thunder and four major events are already on the schedule for the marina this summer.
  • The amenity/pool area will be open by Memorial Day. “We expect it to be quite the hotspot with residents and their guests especially on nights of Waterfront Park events,” Sibley said. “We’re even looking at providing some kind of shuttle between RiverPark and Big Four or the Great Lawn for special events.”

For Louisville, the planned 16-story, 85-unit condo tower at RiverPark Place among the few luxury high-rise developments in the works.

The $289 million Center City project, to be developed by Omni Hotels & Resorts, however, has gained steam. The 30-plus-story tower, expected to be completed by 2018, will be topped by at least 225 swanky apartments. The complex also will include a 20,000-square-foot grocery store, a badly needed amenity for bolstering downtown living.


A lot of good things happening on the riverfront for urban dwellers

Forecastle is one of many festivals a walk away for urban dwellers in Louisville.

The growth of Louisville’s riverfront events, such as Forecastle and the recent Centennial Celebration of Riverboats, is one of the biggest success stories in the city’s waterfront redevelopment, according to David Karem, president of the Waterfront Development Corp.

Forecastle, for instance, drew more than 70,000 people to the Great Lawn over the three-day music festival, and presale tickets for the 2015 event, to be held July 17-19, already have sold out.

Come time for Thunder Over Louisville, invitations from those living downtown with balconies or river views are some of the hottest tickets in town. But for the myriad other downtown events, a downtown residence means not having to fight traffic or find parking. It also eliminates the need for a designated driver if you’re hoofing it to the events.

The ability to produce a crowd – possibly as many as 400 people at a recent marina event on a Wednesday when the weather was not that great – was among the things that convinced Chip Hamm the new restaurant planned at RiverPark Place could be successful.

There’s an array of festivities within walking distance for the urban dweller in Louisville. “People [here] like to gather down on the river for any old reason at all,” as Ralph Ross, who rents an apartment at RiverPark Place, put it.

Among the possibilities:

Thunder Over Louisville Festivities – The myriad Thunder events would be just an easy walk from your front door. Indulge in a funnel cake at the chow wagons and catch an open-air concert. Another spectacular celebration and fireworks show takes place for Independence Day.

Waterfront Wednesdays –sponsored by radio station WFPK, these free concerts with a happy hour atmosphere take place on the last Wednesday of each month, April through September.

Hike Bike and Paddle — on Memorial Day and Labor Day, these events encourage local residents to be active as part of the Mayor’s Healthy Hometown initiative.

Abbey Road on the River –a five-day music festival honoring the music and spirit of The Beatles. This year’s event, May 21-25, will feature a stage dedicated to violinist Rachel Blanton, who passed away on Christmas Day.

WorldFest — one of the region’s largest international festivals, this three-day event at Labor Day celebrates global music, cuisine and culture. A similar event, Greekfest, takes place in June.

Humana Festival of New American Plays – downtown, but not on the river (you might have to catch the trolley), this nationally known event will feature six world premieres in 98 performances between March 4-April 12.

IdeaFestival – Held each fall at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts (you might need to catch the trolley for this, too), this series of thought-provoking talks celebrates innovation, imagination and world-changing ideas.

Ralph and Joan Ross enjoy walking to events or watching them from their apartment at RiverPark Place.

Charity events – An array of fund-raising walks, runs, and other events, such as Dare to Care Food Bank’sPaddle for Hunger, take place along the riverfront. RiverPark Place renters Ralph and Joan Ross said they enjoyed watching the Ironman Triathlon from their balcony.

Light Up Louisville – What could be more magical than the awesome light display that Louisville turns on each year the night after Thanksgiving? Though it might be a brisk walk, with a mug of hot chocolate, it can be an invigorating and inspiring outing.



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.


The keys to creating a vibrant downtown include trees, transportation


For the seventh year in a row, Nashville’s downtown residents cited the “urban experience” as the primary draw for living downtown. Many cities, like Louisville, are trying to hone in on that experience as they work to revitalize their downtowns.

The Nashville Downtown Partnership organization hasn’t really defined “urban experience,” but it’s been on its annual survey for several years, according to Andrea Champion, its communications director.

“I think it’s just that people like to be in the thick of things, being able to walk everywhere,” Champion said.

“Urban experience” outpaced “central location/convenience,” “nightlife,” being “close to work” and “arts and cultural events” in the survey.

The report asserts that baby boomers and millennials, the two age groups most likely to live downtown, are looking for cities that offer jobs, affordable housing options, walkability, and desired amenities such as alternative modes of transportation.

Survey respondents said they’d most like to see more grocery store options, chef-owned local restaurants, movie theaters and clothing stores.

For cities looking to revitalize their downtowns, a Brookings Institution report presents a 12-step plan, including developing a strategic plan and public-private partnerships. It calls for creating an urban entertainment district, including arenas, restaurants, specialty retail and festivals; building a rental housing market; and later, creating “for sale housing.

“Having an established for-sale housing market is the ultimate test of whether the downtown has achieved critical mass,” the report states.

While Louisville hasn’t always kept up with a growing rental market, there are plans recently announced for a $48 million, seven-story apartment building near Slugger Field, and the second phase of apartments are nearly done at RiverPark Place.

That leaves the planned 16-story condo tower at RiverPark Place among the few luxury high-rise developments in the works.

John Gilderbloom, director of the University of Louisville’s Center for Sustainable Urban Neighborhoods, predicts the RiverPark Place project will be “a huge success.”

“What they need is more walkability – to more businesses down there,” he said.

According to his team’s analysis, investment in the project will create 1,549 jobs – directly and indirectly related to the project – over one year, with 155 permanent jobs created through operation of the building as well as commercial activities such as the restaurant and other nearby businesses.

Louisville presents a difficult environment to gain funding and develop projects downtown, says Gilderbloom, who says he’s worked as a consultant for companies that have decided to focus on cities such as Cincinnati and Indianapolis instead.

Site_View_East_Elev-650In his “Ten Commandments of Green Planning,” Gilderbloom cites factors that Louisville and other cities can play up to make downtown more appealing, such as restoring the tree canopy and promoting walkability, bicycling and other alternate modes of transportation such as light rail.

“If you look at the 10 cities with the best public transportation, they’re also the hottest real-estate markets,” he says.

While he praises the mayor’s bike lane initiative, he goes on a rant against one-way streets as a hindrance to creating attractive neighborhoods. (Actually, it’s not his only rant: He also claims the city relies on outside planners rather than consulting its own academic experts right down the street.)

“There’s a lot of conflict here between old-school suburban thinking, which is, ‘Let’s get people out of the city as fast as possible versus the new green look,’” he says. “Market Street and Main Street just feel like freeway on-ramps … Nobody wants to build on a fast street. … One-way streets are designed to get you out of downtown and into the suburbs.”

A multi-year U of L study of two downtown Louisville streets — Brook and First — that were converted to two-way streets in 2011 found fewer accidents, increased property values, and reduced crime.

As for planting more trees, he says, “We know that when there’s lots of tree canopy, people are happier, home values are stronger.

“One great asset Louisville has is its historic properties. Just the fact that people are organizing [to preserve them] is a great thing,” he says. The most viable, appealing places have strong community groups advocating for them.


Young professionals key to downtown residential development

Cities are wooing young, educated professionals as a key to their downtown redevelopment plans.

The young and the restless” is what a new report from think tank City Observatory calls these 25- to 34-year-olds with at least a bachelor’s degree.

The nation’s 51 biggest metro areas — all except Detroit — have gained young talent, either from net migration in or from new college graduates who stay, the report says.


“It’s a type of growth that feeds on itself — the more young workers you have, the more companies are interested in locating their operations in that area and the more young people are going to move there,” Enrico Moretti, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of “The New Geography of Jobs,” told The New York Times.

These young professionals, who tend to be unsettled in their jobs and relationships, are more likely than previous generations to choose to live in close-in urban neighborhoods.

They’re “looking for places that were interesting, diverse, dense, walkable, bikeable and well-served by transit,” the report states.

It’s a big demographic at the RiverPark Place apartments.

“We’re some of the only people here who don’t come home in scrubs,” renter Ralph Ross said, noting that many of his neighbors work in the downtown hospitals.

At the same time, developer Steve Poe said he’d been surprised by the 50-plus crowd’s interest in living downtown as well.

That’s a key demographic for the planned 13-story luxury condo tower at RiverPark Place.“They want to be down here where there’s energy and excitement,” he said. “One thing we know is that they don’t want to feel old.”

There’s a robust high-end rental market as well as the lower end, according to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. It noted in its 2014 report that the highest-income households accounted for nearly as large a share (23 percent) in rental growth as lowest-income households.

In Nashville, considered one of the most successful cities in downtown revitalization, 32 percent of its downtown residents are age 33 and under; 29 percent 34-39; and 35 percent age 50-67, according to the Nashville Downtown Partnership’s annual survey.

Fifty-two percent of downtown residents polled have a college education and an additional 36 percent hold postgraduate degrees.

Seventy-eight percent of downtown households earn more than $60,000 a year; 47 percent earn more than $100,000, and 25 percent earn more $150,000. Three percent earn less than $20,000 annually.

At the same time, Greater Louisville Inc.’s economic strategy report Advantage Louisville, noted Louisville’s gains, but also its challenges. It noted that 25.5 percent of Louisville residents overall hold at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with the national average of 28.5 percent.

“Greater Louisville is at a significant disadvantage in terms of educational attainment relative to its competitors, but it is gaining ground and improving faster than the competition,” the report states.

“Without a strategic combination of more in-migration of educated adults and an amplified number of post-secondary graduates retained in the region, Greater Louisville will become increasingly less attractive for quality, skilled technical and professional jobs.”

And it noted comments such as this one from its survey respondents:

“I recently moved back home from Chicago and was unable to find any decent apartments for rent near downtown that weren’t either a studio or a penthouse. Options in between are needed for young professionals.”


RiverPark Place residents enjoy the energy of living downtown

Ralph and Joan Ross pose with the RiverPark Place docks behind them.

There’s an unending parade off the balcony at Ralph and Jane Ross’s home.

“We never get tired of it,” said Ralph, speaking of the constant barge traffic on the Ohio River. “It’s actually a wet interstate highway.”

The Rosses are among the renters living at RiverPark Place. Their two-bedroom apartment looks out across the site where the new condo tower and restaurant are to go in, the marina beyond and farther on, the river with tugboats maneuvering loads in both directions.

View of Thuder Over Louisville from the Ross' balcony.

The Rosses say they have a terrific view for Thunder Over Louisville, and had a bird’s-eye view of the triathlon this year.

They moved to Louisville in January 2012 from Jacksonville, Fla., when Ralph took the job as district director for the Small Business Administration. They initially took a third-floor walkup apartment in The Highlands, but over time, the stairs became too much, they said.

“We wanted to live downtown,” Jane said. “We looked at all the properties, but there really wasn’t that much available.” But all the time they were living in The Highlands, she was riding her bike downtown and watching the Poe Companies’ development going up.

They had taken a beating on the sale of their Florida home and weren’t eager to dive into home ownership again with Ralph’s retirement not too far out of sight, so they opted to rent. They plan to retire in a home they own in Omaha, Neb.

Twin granddaughters Lucy, left, and Evie Roane, age 2, ride in a "surrey with the fringe on top" down on the waterfront.

Jane’s daughter’s family also has moved to Louisville, where she’s pursing a PhD at the University of Louisville. Jane drives her twin 2-year-old and 4-year-old grandchildren to school three times a week.

“They love to come to Grandma’s house and do bubbles off the balcony,” she said.

Married just three years, in Florida they had merged her 3,000-square-foot household and his 1,800-square-foot condo.

“We thought that was really downsizing,” Ralph said with a laugh. “The real issue here was whether we could live in a 1,000-square-foot apartment.”

But they’ve managed. Ralph had to give up his Barcalounger, but they’ve gained an uber-friendly Wheaten terrier named Izzy, who believes everyone in the park wants to pet her. It helps that they live in a park.

Though people think there’s no shopping nearby, the Crescent Hill Kroger and CVS on Brownsboro Road are only about a mile and a quarter away. “People don’t realize how close they are,” Jane said.

A planned Omni Hotel development that would include an upscale grocery store downtownreportedly is “on track,” though developers sought to delay a deadline associated with that project.

The Rosses moved in before the Big Four Bridge opened, though it has opened up an array of opportunities for them.

“It’s like the paseo in Madrid,” said Jane, who has traveled extensively in Europe. “People come out to walk the bridge. You see old people, you see teenagers, you kind of see everybody. You can walk there and watch the sun set.”

They love to walk across to the Indiana side for dinner – it’s about 8,000 steps on her Fitbit step counter, Jane said – and by the time you get back, you’ve walked off part of the calories!

They enjoyed being able to walk to a restaurant even when they lived in The Highlands.

“If we walk to a restaurant and share a bottle of wine between us with dinner, no one’s driving,” Ralph pointed out.

The Rosses also have bicycled extensively in Europe and enjoy taking their bikes across the bridge and connecting up with the Ohio River Greenway or taking the Beargrass Creek Trail to Cherokee Park.

During the recent Centennial Festival of Riverboats, they walked down to ride the Belle of Louisville. They joined hundreds, if not thousands in the Mayor’s Healthy Hometown bike ride to Iroquois Park.

“Louisville’s a town that has a fun public life,” Ralph said. “It’s a town that likes to do things together. People like to gather down on the river for any old reason at all.”


Urban living a growing trend in Louisville

Louisville made Forbes’ list of cities with emerging downtowns, and USA Today readers named it among the best American riverfronts. Yet those redevelopment projects were a long time in coming. Meanwhile, neighboring cities have been forging a parallel path to wooing both their own residents and visitors to cleaner, safer, more livable downtowns.

Here’s a glimpse at what our neighbor cities have been up to:


" I remember buying tomato plants there just a few years ago; now it’s a nice restaurant," says Craig Owensby of the Acme Farm Supply building in the heart of Nashville's riverfront entertainment district. Nashville's switch to form-based code in its downtown allows developers more flexibility in building use as tenants change, says Owensby, public information officer in the city's planning office.

“Nashville is the hottest Southern city now for young people. It’s all about transportation, connectivity, bike lanes …” says John Gilderbloom, a professor at the University of Louisville and director of its Center for Sustainable Urban Neighborhoods.

It’s on a lot of Top 10 lists, including the Milken Institute’s America’s Best Performing Cities, .Mic’s“15 Cities for Creative 20-Somethings (that aren’t New York or Los Angeles)” – Louisville made that list, too – and MSN Real Estate’s “10 Most Popular Cities for Millennials.

A big factor in the city’s popularity is its strong economy – it wasn’t hit as hard in the economic downturn as many others, according to Craig Owensby, public information officer in the city’s planning office.

“Nashville isn’t a smokestack economy,” he explained. “It’s an entertainment, education and healthcare town.”

Another big factor was the 2010 switch in downtown zoning to form-based code, which regulates how buildings look and fit in with others more than merely a traditional land-use approach. It places a premium on being pedestrian-friendly.

“You used to go down to the entertainment district in the middle of the afternoon, and there’d be no one around. Now there’s people there at all hours, with shops and restaurants,” he said.

Developers can’t build residential units fast enough, even with $720 million invested in residential development since 2000.

Rents keep rising with occupancy rates at 98 percent for the past three years. Though an additional 1,606 units are expected to come on the market by 2017, that won’t be enough to keep up with demand, according to a report from Nashville Downtown Partnership.

The city is pressing for an express bus system that would go through downtown, but that project faces opposition and the incumbent mayor has passed it on to his successor. 


Indianapolis ranks among the cities that have gained more people in the less than four years since the 2010 Census than for the entire previous decade.

More than 3,100 apartment units have been added in downtown Indianapolis in the past five years. That represents an 87 percent increase and a $400 million investment. About 3,600 new units are slated to be added by the end of 2017.

An 8-mile urban bike and pedestrian path called the Indianapolis Cultural Trail opened in 2013 linking downtown neighborhoods.

Indianapolis ranked sixth among 12 peer cities in a 2014 report on economic indicators from the University of Cincinnati Institute for Policy Research and the Northern Kentucky University Center for Economic Analysis and Development. That report, which looked at indicators such as net migration, cost of living, venture capital and educated workforce, ranked Cincinnati 9th and Louisville in last place. Nashville was not on the list.


Young adults ages 19 to 35 are flocking to downtown Cincinnati, according to real estate firm CBRE.

It reports that the population in Cincinnati’s central business district (CBD), Over-the-Rhine and Pendleton neighborhoods has grown by 150 percent in the past 15 years, while median household incomes in the CBD have increased 204 percent. The number of residents with a Bachelor’s degree or higher is up 123 percent in the past decade.

Downtown Cincinnati Inc. reports $491 million in completed projects in the past year, $566 million in projects under construction — including 618 residential units — and $382 million in proposed projects. With a reported 8,777 residential units, its inventory far outpaces that of Louisville, Nashville or Indianapolis.

It’s won praise for The Banks, an 18-acre entertainment district anchored by stadiums of Cincinnati’s two major sports teams, The Reds and the Bengals. The completed Phase 1 includes 300 luxury apartments that are fully leased plus 97,000 square feet of retail. The ongoing annual economic impact of Phase 1 has been calculated at $91 million in Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

Work has begun on Phase 2, which will add nearly 300 more apartments and 20,000 square feet of retail space. And GE announced this summer plans to locate its global operations center at The Banks in an office building for up to 2,000 workers.

Meanwhile, in Over-the-Rhine, a 19th-century neighborhood just north of downtown, 103 historic buildings are being restored, adding 466 new and rehabilitated residential units to the market.

The indoor Findlay Market provides a nearby food source for the area and a $133 million streetcar project, projected to be completed in 2016, will connect Over-The-Rhine, the central business district and The Banks in a 3.6-mile loop. A downtown bike-sharing service also launched in September.

Back to Louisville

apartment occupancy


Louisville Downtown PartnershipDowntown IndyDowntown Cincinnati Inc.Nashville Downtown Partnership

The bright spot in the aforementioned report on economic indicators ranked Louisville No. 2 behind Columbus in cost of living. While Insider Louisville has detailed some of the difficulties of developing residential properties downtown, including too few luxury units to meet demand, downtown living can pay off for renters.

Louisville is among the cities in which downtown rents are growing more slowly — about 3 percent or less — than in the suburbs, according to market research firm Axiometrics. Indeed, in October, the average rent in Louisville’s central business district was $866, compared with $884 in the city overall, according to

And projects such as RiverPark Place will be among the those filling that demand for luxury condo properties.

If you’d like to look out at those river views from the full-size, two-bedroom unit model, join Insider Louisville for Thursdays at RiverPark Place, at Poe Companies’ offices, 1250 River Rd., where speakers active in the project will be on hand at events on Nov. 13 and 20.