Friday, April 27, 2007

Clarksville, IN Continues to Sprawl

The Clark County, Indiana suburb of Clarksville continues to be an epicenter of god-awful new suburban schlock. The town, which already has a reputation as the shopping district for all of the Southern Indiana suburbs, has been going on a binge of new retail construction since the completion of Veterans Parkway in 2004.

The town, which originally had very unique plans for the Veterans corridor, completely let them fall by the wayside in search for new tax revenue. In the process they've created a road that is congested, ugly, and is nothing more than a copy of Lewis & Clark Parkway to the south. In the past 2 years developers have thrown up such amazing places as Target, Sam's Club, Olive Garden, Old Navy, Bed Bath and Beyond, and IHOP. Latest development plans include a Border's Books, the first free standing Starbucks in Southern Indiana, and no less than SIX hotels - Candlewood Suites, Holiday Inn Express, and ValuPlace are the currently known 3 of 6.

While the idea of these retail and lodging options is good (Everyone likes having decent shopping nearby) - the execution in Clarksville is incredibly poor. And worse yet is the sense of pride that town officials feel when they describe the new construction. It is almost as if they feel they've accomplished something unique, yet fail to notice that every single other town that is similar to Clarksville has the exact sames stores and look almost the exact same. (I liken Clarksville to Greenwood or Avon in Indianapolis in terms of general feel and retail options)

In spite of ordinances regulating the look of Veteran's Parkway, the road looks just about as cluttered and messy as Lewis & Clark. And traffic is pretty awful - unless it's 1 in the morning, then it's smooth sailing.

Unfortunately for Clarksville, it has fallen for what so many other similar communities in America have - that if you build these large auto-centric shopping plazas, then you will forever have a source of strong income and revenue. However, one only has to drive to Lewis & Clark Parkway to see that all the town is doing is cannibalizing it's other retail corridors, and it won't be but a few decades before yet another place is newer and nicer, and the residents of the town will be left with hulking, abandoned buildings. Greentree Mall on Lewis & Clark continues to decline, only while developers are planning a 1.2 million square lifestyle center less than a mile away.

Clarksville, instead of trying to implement a plan of development that would actually stand the test of time, has (and probably always will) chased after the easiest dollar and development.

I guess some places get what they deserve.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

IUS Adding Residences

Indiana University Southeast, the New Albany satellite campus of IU Bloomington, will take the huge step of adding on-campus student dorms. The dorms at IUS, which will comprise of seven apartment-style units, will have space for about 400 students and could be ready for occupancy by fall 2008. The dorms would be paid for through a $20 million bond issue from the state. The bond will be repaid by housing fees paid by students.

Officials at IUS have been trying for several years now to get the state of Indiana to approve and fund this project. It was only after a lengthy review by the state's higher education board that governor Daniels announced he would authorize their construction. This project will go a long way to giving the school a new reputation as one that is not just for local commuters, but that it is also open to people from all over the region. IUS also has plans for an expanded student union to give the new residents of campus a place to call their own.

The IUS plans are not the only exciting developments for Southern Indiana in regards to higher education - also in New Albany Purdue University has announced plans to construct a small campus and business incubator, with plenty of room to grow in the coming decades. These are the types of developments that help to continue to momentum of the whole area to get better educated.

Monday, April 23, 2007

River City News Briefs

Museum Plaza Sets Date for Groundbreaking
The lead developers of Museum Plaza announced last week the date for the beginning of official construction - Thursday, September 27, 2007. The announcement finally puts to bed the speculation around that aspect of the process, as people thought construction could start as early June or as late as December. During the construction there will be more than 500 worker at the site daily for nearly 3 years. Retail shops will line the historic buildings fronting Main Street, and the connector between Main Street and the tower. Developers at Museum Plaza promise several major announcements through the summer regarding residential sales, office space, and retail shops.

HOK Sport Unveils Louisville Arena Interior
Kansas City-based HOK Sport revealed their plans for the interior of the new downtown Louisville arena. Plans call for 22,000 total seats, split equally between an upper and lower bowl. Other plans include a sports bar that will be open to the public year-round, a large lobby with a UofL store, Hall of Fame, and ticketcounter. A public food court will also operate year-round. All seats in the arena will be cushioned and backed. Construction begins in Summer 2008, after the Humana Riverside Building is demolished later this year and the LG&E transformer station is moved and hidden.

Jeffersonville Contemplates "Retail Incubator" for Downtown
Jeffersonville, Indiana officials are looking into creating a retail incubator for local and independent retailers on that city's Main Street. The plan is being studied by a Washington, DC firm and the report is expected to be available in May. In the most basic sense, it would be a stretch of buildings where the city would offer new local retailers reduced rents and other services, until their businesses could succeed without their help - hopefully no more than 3 years. Downtown Jeffersonville, which is experiencing a small renaissance, has several celebrated local establishment such as Schimpffs Confectionery and Horner Novelty; but city officials want to increase the offerings for new downtown residents.

Louisville's 21C Hotel Concept to be Expanded in the Southeast
Louisville's posh 21C Art+Hotel concept will soon find itself in other cities. According to the local developers (who also work on Museum Plaza) they are moving ahead with plans to build a similar hotel under the same name in a yet to be announced Southern US city. (Austin, Raleigh are rumored locales) The developers will also take the hotel's restaurant, Proof on Main, and recreate it's ambiance and menu in their new hotel.

Humana Completes Major Expansion of Headquarters
It's hard to imagine that only 2 years ago much of the 500 block of West Main Street in downtown was derelict. However, thanks to Humana, 516-526 W. Main have been given a new lease on life. The health care giant is wrapping up it's 20 million dollar renovation of the formerly abandoned properties into new space for it's employees. Renovations included a health club, several food options, and increased meeting space on the upper floors, while the first floor on all the buildings remained retail outlets.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Louisville's Underrated!

It's always fun when media outlets put good press about your city out for others to read. Today MSNBC published a short puff-piece about the 10 Most Underrated Cities in America. Louisville made the list.

The author in his small blurb about the city lavished praise on the diverse arts scene in Louisville, our growing restaurant corridors, and of course, the Kentucky Derby. You look at lists like these and they're fun, but they're also pretty asinine and can't be quantified. While I agree with the majority of cities on the list, someone else could always disagree with them all - it's all a matter of personal taste, I think.

In similar new though, Louisville will be showcased in a 36 page spread in US Airways in-flight magazine. Reporters are currently canvassing the city for stories and pictures, and up to 5 million people will read it during their domestic and international flights. Good press is always appreciated!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Discussion on Growth

So a few weeks ago the US Census Bureau released their most current county population estimates. Armed with that information it only took about 5 minutes to tabulate the population growth of the Louisville Metropolitan Statistical Area between 2000 and July 1, 2006. Since 2000, the Louisville MSA has grown about 5.1% to around 1,222,000 people - or so they say. That is the addition of something like 60,000 people in 6 years. That ain't too bad I suppose, especially when you look at the absolute stagnation of the Louisville area just within my lifetime during the 1980's.

But when you look other regional cities, Louisville's growth looks pretty meager. Columbus grew by 7.0%, Indianapolis by 9.2%, Nashville grew by 10.9% , and Raleigh by an amazing 24.8%. Heck, the US grew by over 6% in the 6 year time period, and Louisville couldn't even match that!

So around this time of year is when the high growth cities all pound their chests about how great they're doing, while the slow growth cities hang their heads in shame and bemoan all their mistakes and lost opportunities. Nearly every major newspaper in the South and Midwest have carried stories about their cities growth - or lack thereof - and why they think it's happening.

There is a lot of self-congratulation by cities that are experiencing huge booms in population. I mean, if your city has grown by 25% in only 6 years, this must be an amazing place to live! One example of this is Raleigh. I had the pleasure of visiting Raleigh in summer 2005 - and the place was BOOMING. Every highway interchange had a new mall popping up complete with upscale chain restaurants and midrise condos. Raleigh has things that Louisville - a markedly larger city - doesn't even have. I went to Raleigh wanting to hate the place - I left not personally wanting to live there, but at least understanding the draw of the city. It is incredibly lush and green, it has amazing universities, tons of high paying job opportunities, and low crime and traffic. This perfect storm of ingredients has created a city as desirable and hot as Raleigh right now - and who knows when that will cool. But I look at a population gain of nearly 200,000 people in such a short time and I cannot help but wonder when Raleigh will hit the tipping point of being too big, crowded, et cetera, and will not be the "in vogue" city of the era. I always think that when you grow at such a fast pace you lose many of the qualities that drew people to you in the first place.

Raleigh is an extreme example of growth, so lets take a place that is a little bit more down to earth and that I know almost as well as I do my hometown - Indianapolis. I lived in Central Indiana for the better part of decade - and much of that time was spent working and playing in Indianapolis. (I lived in West Lafayette, Bloomington, and Franklin and I worked on East Washington Street in Indianapolis)

Indianapolis clocked in with an impressive growth rate of 9.2%. As is expected with those sorts of growth numbers, many residents of Indianapolis pointed to that as a badge of honor in showing how much better they're doing than the rest of the Midwestern US. And rightfully so. Indianapolis really is doing a heck of a better job in population growth and economic development than nearly all other Midwestern competitor cities. There is, however, a fallacy that nearly all high-growth cities fall prey to: and that is that they're genuinely better cities than the places around them that are growing at a more modest pace.

I have no quantifiable data to back up anything beyond this point, so you can take it with a grain of salt and I won't care in the least. After spending years of my life in Central Indiana I really saw a population of people that felt honestly superior to it's neighbors based largely on a growth rate. I saw and heard it continuously in nearly every form of media in Indianapolis, and in the people I would meet. If I wasn't in the car listening to radio stations that played, "world-class rock for a world-class city" I was watching WTHR do a story extolling the virtues of Hamilton County for passing a new benchmark in suburban growth or reading a Star story about how much better Indianapolis was than Columbus, Ohio - and population growth is always a central issue to that. It is as if Indianapolis, and other high growth metros, believe they are better simply because they're building more suburbs.

On the flip side, Louisville has as definite chip on it's shoulder about it's seeming lack of population growth in compared to others. Growth comes slow, and jobs don't seem as plentiful. Despite the size of Louisville, people don't hear much positive about the city's growth, and hence, they have less esteem in the direction of the city. To Americans today, the greatness of your city is measured in how far up the interstate you can get your suburbs to sprawl, and less in how solid you can build your central city. When you ask a Louisvillian which city is doing better, Louisville or Indianapolis, I would bet 4 out of 5 would pick the city 100 miles north on I-65. And their two reasons would be sports teams and a faster growth rate.

Personally, I would be that 1 in 5 person who would say Louisville is doing better than Indianapolis. And it is because I value reviving the central core more than building more suburbs. I would pick Louisville for things like Museum Plaza and RiverPark Place. Museum Plaza would never, not ever, get anywhere in Indianapolis. Louisville will build it starting this Fall. RiverPark Place is a whole master planned community of riverfront condo towers that is currently under construction. Add that to smaller projects like the Glassworks Tower, the Iron Quarter, and the soon to be announced expansion of Fourth Street Live into the parking lot behind the Marriott. In a few short years downtown Louisville will be a real rival to downtown Indianapolis.

Louisville is also continuing to stabilize the neighborhoods directly south and east of downtown. The neighborhoods of central Indianapolis seem to be either stagnant or regressing - with few exceptions, and all of which are very, very near to downtown. The dreaded "east side" isn't getting better, but only getting worse. Crime is escalating to record levels in many parts of the city, and the citizens of Marion County have to deal with a public school system that rivals the worst in the Midwest. Compare that to Louisville where the "west end" crime problem is definitely a drag on the city, but not near the levels of inner city Indianapolis. Jefferson County Public Schools are lauded for excellence in urban education, and affluent families choose public schools for the great magnet programs that are provided.

In terms of suburban growth, Indianapolis wins, hands down. And if that is what you want (which most Americans do) then Indianapolis will seems like a better fit. Personally, I find the urban developments in Louisville of higher quality, and hence, it is a better match for me.

I didn't mean for this to turn into a versus comparison, but to use the two cities as two examples on opposite sides of the growth coin - Indianapolis with a high growth rate, and huge booms in suburban development and a declining urban county and Louisville, with a slow growth rate, modest suburban growth, and a stabilizing urban county.

Many times perception is reality, so the fact that Indianapolis (or insert almost any city here) is growing faster than Louisville will make people think that place is inherently better, despite the fact that I would argue that Jefferson County is doing generally better than Marion County.

In a long, roundabout way, I wanted to simply make the point that higher growth rates do not imply a better city or standard of living. For some people, a high-growth city may seem more exciting and better for them, but give me an old, slow growth city like Louisville any day of the week.

Monday, April 09, 2007

River City News Briefs

Downtown Holiday Inn Completes Renovations
The much maligned Holiday Inn Louisville-Downtown has finally completed a much needed 7.5 million dollar renovation project that includes newly refinished guest rooms, lobbies, meeting space, and restaurants. The new features include high speed Internet throughout the building, new fitness room and indoor jacuzzi, new contemporary lobby, new beds, and new fixtures in bathrooms. The hotel now also boasts an "upscale" eatery with patio seating on Broadway. The Holiday Inn is one of the last hotel properties in downtown to complete a major overhaul in recent years. Since the opening of the Louisville Marriott-Downtown, nearly all hotel properties in the CBD have completed major overhauls to compete in a tightening market. And with 1,300 rooms to be added by 2010, including an upscale Westin, downtown hotels will again need to reevaluate their conditions, and plan accordingly.

Developer Plans Class A Space for New Albany
The Charlestown Road corridor of New Albany continues to expand with the announcement of a 16,000 square foot building of Class A Office Space. The building is not large, yet it is significant for the Southern Indiana suburbs, because while they have been able to land plenty of new retail establishments and industrial users, they have nearly no white collar office jobs. In fact, Clark and Floyd counties combined have less than 350,000 square feet of Class A space. A local developer though hopes to help change that fact. He is building his new development near the entrance of the planned Purdue University business incubator and campus. He is banking that "if you build it, they will come." I hope so - Southern Indiana could certainly use some more high paying, quality jobs.

Local Groups Assess Needs of Fort Knox
Fort Knox is going through some growing pains. In 2005 the BRAC realignment meant that the local army installation will be seeing a net gain of 3,500 position - which will translate into around 12,000 new residents in area by mid 2010. Fort Knox and it's surrounding communities (such as Radcliff) are not yet fully prepared for the onslaught of new residents. So local groups are completing needed studies to identify areas of growth potential before the new residents get to town. In the report they're updating the local land-use study for county and municipal governments, they're looking at the local road needs, housing needs, retail and job needs. These new positions at Fort Knox will be one of the largest spurts of growth for the base in a very long time and local governments do not want to be caught unprepared as the local population swells.

New Albany Logistics Firm Adds 50 Employees
L&D Mail Masters, a local logistic firm, announced they will be adding almost 50 new employees to their workforce. The small, New Albany-grown business currently has 100 employees and 20 million dollars in revenue. Their expansion will mean an investment of 4.2 million dollars in buildings and equipment. Salaries will begin in the mid 30,000 dollar range.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Recent Announcements Promise 1000 Jobs

The past week has seen several announcements that promise to bring up to 1000 new jobs to the area. While they're not white collar jobs, they're still not too bad:

Solectron, a California-based manufacturer and repairer of electronics, will soon add 700 positions to their new and expanded space off of I-65. The company, which recently doubled it's capacity, will add these new jobs by the end of the year. The pay will range from 10 to 18 dollars an hour, based on the level of experience. Company officials noted that Louisville was picked for the expansion due to the location ofthe UPS WorldHub and the flexibility that it provides them in shipping.

CafePress, an online provider of customizable bumper stickers, tshirts, and other products, will add 120 positions to their Riverport facility. Average salary will be 15 dollars an hour.

RalCorp, a producer of frozen bakery goods, will add a new product line ot their Louisville operations, and add 120 workers. The average salary will be 18 dollars an hour.

LEO Steel is yet again proposing a new facility for Riverport that would employ 130 people and pay an average of 19 dollars an hour. It would be an investment of 220 million dollars and would prouce steel slabs and coils for export. LEO has been eyeing Riverport for nearly a decade now, and this latest proposal is number 4 since 2000. Don't hold your breath.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

New Life for a Corner on Fourth?

After multiple proposals and rumors, it appears the Hilliard Lyons Building may finally get a new lease on life. The building, which is the former home of Stewart's Dry Good's Department Store, is being sold by PNC Financial Services to a Kentucky ex-pat who plans on renovating the majority of the building into a 250 room hotel.

The sale will close by July 1 with a sale price of nearly 10 million dollars. Renovations could cost as much as 30 million.

The building, with nearly 350,000 square feet of space, will not entirely be turned into a hotel. Office space, residential, and a substantial retail portion, are all also possible. The renovations will maintain the historic facades, and bring life to corner that is seen as a lynchpin of further Fourth Street redevelopment. The developer has stated Hilton may possibly manage the new hotel as an Embassy Suites, but nothing of yet is set in stone.

The Hilliard Lyons Building has had at least one other development plan in the last year, and was the topic of yet more speculation. There was a plan in 2006 to turn the building into office space, UofL Graduate Program space, and several clubs; that plan quickly died. There was also a proposal kicked around to turn it and the nearby Starks Building into a massive 1000+ room hotel, but that dissolved when the Starks Building was purchased by a California investment firm with plans to renovate that building into Class A office space with restaurants on the ground level.

This hotel is yet another addition to the 1000+ rooms that are currently under construction or planned in the CBD. There is also a rumored midrise hotel that is planned at the corner of Fourth and Chestnut, directly connected to the Henry Clay Building. Developers there already own the cleared lot and are just finishing up with their renovations of the Henry Clay.