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.


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 rentjungle.com.

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.


RiverPark Place continues rising, turning dreams and plans into reality

So far, the waterfront project RiverPark Place has a lot in common with the Panama Canal, the Eiffel Tower and the Coliseum in Rome.

Steve Poe

“We’ve been at this for a decade, and it will take another decade before we’re done,” says developer Steve Poe of the 40-acre, $1 billion-plus commercial/residential enterprise designed as part of Louisville’s waterfront revitalization.

(Actually, the aforementioned landmark construction projects were completed in 10 years. At 20 years, the project would be on par with the Great Pyramid of Giza.)

Yet like those earlier landmark construction projects, RiverPark Place promises to vastly alter the landscape and life in the surrounding area.

The waterfront before Waterfront Park or RiverPark Place (top left).    -- Photo courtesy of Waterfront Development Corporation

With the first 167 apartments completed and fully occupied, the second 160 units are expected to be available as soon as Dec. 1. Now Poe’s ready to begin construction on a 16-story condo tower.

It’s been a long slog for the project, and Poe says he’s been fortunate his company has been able to keep at it.

Poe’s real estate development company submitted the winning design for high-density housing outlined in a 2004 RFP for the project to connect Eva Bandman Park with the green space and recreational land of Waterfront Park.

Even then, the waterfront was being reclaimed from its industrial past and years of neglect but had yet to become the green space of today, or that which is continuing to evolve.

Poe said he went into the project assured that all the necessary permits were in order for the planned marina and housing. Not so, he found out. Nevertheless, they broke ground on the project in 2007, began installing infrastructure and pre-selling condos.

Rendering of the view from RiverPark Place toward the city.

“We knew it would take 10 to 15 years to complete this project, and we planned for some bit of downturn during that time, but I didn’t anticipate having to stop before we’d even started,” he said, referring to what many refer to as “The Great Recession.”

Nevertheless, he said, “I had about 16 million reasons not to quit.”

By 2008, that’s the dollars he had invested in infrastructure and permitting for the site, without yet erecting any buildings. With financing drying up in the softening economy, Poe decided to mothball the project. At the time, he already had collected $38 million in deposits on condos and marina slips.

Years passed. Work finally resumed on the project in 2011 as the economy picked up and federal and state tax credits paved the way. The $10 million 150-slip marina was completed in May 2012, and the first phase of RiverPark Apartments was completed in May 2013. The next phase – most units are less than 1,000 square feet and rent for less than $1,000 a month – are being leased now.

Overall, the project is expected to provide 2,500 housing units, along with ground-level commercial space for several restaurants, shops and offices. A 12,000-square-foot restaurant (run by the same folks that manage Doc Crow’s) is due to open next summer.

To find out more about the project and tour a model condo unit, join Insider Louisville for Thursdays at RiverPark Place, 4:30-6:30 p.m. on Oct. 30. Appetizers, beer and wine will be served. You can register for the free event here.

Steve Poe will be on hand to meet and talk about the history of the project and the amenities of the new urban community. Thursdays at RiverPark Place will continue on Nov. 6, 13 and 20 at Poe Companies’ offices, 1250 River Road, from 4:30-6:30.