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.
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.