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.

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.