Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Recent Sports Developments

There has been a spate of recent sports related news and developments in Louisville in the past couple of days.

To me, the most exciting in the proposal by Mayor Abramson to create Champions Park along the riverfront from Frankfort Avenue to Zorn Avenue on the property that had once been a country club. This is yet another great park initiative that is being pushed by the mayors office. The new park would encompass 166 acres of land and would fill a need for more field space in which to have soccer, cricket, lacrosse, et cetera, matches.

The centerpiece of Champions Park will be 34 sports fields that will be able to host the city's own soccer leagues, or host regional and national tournaments. Other amenities include a cyclocross, a dog park, a cross-country track, basketball courts, large open fields not devoted to a certain sport, restrooms, parking lots, bike paths, and a large wetlands rehabilitation. River Road will be expanded to 4 lanes in 2009 by the state of Kentucky to accommodate this and other local developments. The mayor proposes to spend 5 million dollars on the project in his 2008 budget, and another 5 million between 2009 and 2012.

Projects like this, and the City of Parks, are huge boosts to local quality of life, help save precious green space in the county, and offers a huge return for the minimal investment. I am a proponent of the new Louisville Arena, but in many regards this small investment will give the average Louisvillian more to do than the huge investment we're making in the arena will. But again, these are both important pieces in the puzzle for quality of life in Louisville.

In similar news, the Clements family of Elizabethtown has announced plans for a sports center that is devoted to persons with special needs in Kentucky. The center, to be called The MVP Zone, will be in the Floyd's Fork corridor and will be a centerpiece of the City of Parks plan.

The center will have an Olympic sized pool specially crafted for handicapped persons, a golf course with synthetic turf to allow easy access for those in wheelchairs, a large community center will provide an exercise room and courts for volleyball, basketball, et cetera, a computer lab, and a small movie theatre. The Clements family has said they will donate 3 million dollars to the project and will coordinate fundraising efforts to raise another 8 million. Mayor Abramson will propose a 1 million dollar gift of land to the center in his 2008 budget, and the founder of Humana and his wife have promised another 2 million. Backers of the plan hope to not only provide new services for local handicapped residents, but to bring in national competitions. With a lack of such facilities around the country, Louisville will be on the forefront with such an ambitious facility.

Switching gears just a bit - Blue Equity has purchased the sports agency of Joel Segal. Jonathan Blue, the man behind Blue Equity, and his brother Todd Blue are two of Louisville's youngest and most influential leaders. Todd is still focusing his efforts on downtown housing and retail developments, and while Jonathon is still collaborating with his brother, he currently has is eye on creating a world class sports agency and bringing it all home to Louisville.

Segal will remain with Blue Equity as president of the football division, which has quite a repertoire of high-profile clients. Blue Equity plans to continue purchasing and growing the sports side of the business, and despite Louisville's lack of national prominence in pro sports, he hopes to bring in the money and light to Louisville by continuing to grow his business of televising national sports events, and diverting events to the city.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

River City News Briefs

Fletcher Beats Northup and will Meet Beshear in General Election
Governor Fletcher was able to dodge a bullet yesterday and nudged past Anne Northup in the Republican primary. He enjoyed broad support in nearly every county of the state, except Jefferson, the home of Northup. Northup, who ran a campaign extolling her ability as the only Republican to be able to beat the Democrats this year, conceded early last night and lauded the governor in his victory. It is unknown how active she will be in the Republican campaign to keep the governor’s mansion in Frankfort.

Museum Plaza expects OK from Downtown Overlay Board
Tonight the developers of Museum Plaza will face the first of several government agencies which must give their blessings before the building can begin construction on September 27. The Downtown Development Review Overlay Board is expected to give the building their positive recommendations, but would like the developers to provide a few more details on several points, such as signage, more explanation of their landscaping and public art, and attempts to better connect the structure to the riverfront. Despite these questions, the building already conforms to nearly all standards for new development, and it is expected to pass all hurdles without issue.

Changes Along Bardstown Road
Louisville’s belovedly eclectic Bardstown Road is getting a small facelift. Phase 2 of a project that started last year will repave broken sidewalks and curbs, add new landscaping and decorative pavers, replace several bus stops, and add more trash receptacles. The project is being funded out of Councilman Tom Owen’s neighborhood development fund. In other local happening, the long abandoned Dillard’s at Bashford Manor may finally be razed and replaced by a small retail development to compliment the new big box stores that had replaced the majority of the old mall.

Henry Clay Finishes Up
Bill Weyland is putting in the final details of his 20 million dollar redo of the old YWCA. The building, which contains a mix of rentals and condos, is almost completely occupied – only 1 condo is left to be sold. First floor retail space is completely leased, and a new theatre is being installed for a local acting troupe. As a companion project, Weyland is renovating an adjacent building on Fourth Street into a Japanese restaurant, and rumors persist of a mid-rise hotel on the lot he owns directly behind the YWCA.

Mayor in Vegas Bringing Home New Retailers
Mayor Abramson took a trip out to Las Vegas this week to convince national retailers that Louisville is a place they want to be. Abramson had several meetings lined up while there with McCormick & Schmick’s, Nordstrom, Trader Joe’s, Crate & Barrel, and several others. The mayor as joined by numerous Louisville businessmen, including Todd Blue who is trying to line up tenants for his planned upscale Iron Quarter development in downtown. Trader Joe’s has already expressed a desire for 3 Louisville locations, and McCormick and Schmick’s has displayed interest in the new Louisville arena.
Todd Blue's Sales Pitch for the Iron Quarter

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Louisville Orchestra Passes Milestone

The Louisville Orchestra yesterday announced that they had finally paid off its final 1.3 million dollars in bank debt. The orchestra, which has been in peril of collapsing under increasing debt and dropping revenues, has seen a recent reversal of fortunes.

At the end of fiscal year 2007, which will happen on May 31, the orchestra will actually has a surplus of nearly half a million dollars. Most of that extra cash is coming from supplemental revenue that was provided by the Louisville Fund for the Arts, and that extra income will actually continue for another year through fiscal 2008. This influx of cash will actually allow the orchestra to pay it’s 67 full time players a bonus weeks pay – and considering their recent decreases in pay, it is warranted.

Revenues in fiscal 2007 were up nearly 14 percent, and on June 15 the Orchestra’s administration office will move into the new ArtSpace on Broadway with the Kentucky Opera. New cost reductions and collaborations are expected from the move of the two art groups into the same offices.

This will be the first time in several years that the Orchestra has a somewhat promising short term outlook. Just a few years ago there were fears that the orchestra would be forced to fold it’s operations and the city might be left without a professional music group. At the time, players took a substantial cut in pay, banks stepped up with loans, and the city’s Fund for the Arts promised additional help. The Orchestra was also forced to reduce it’s schedule and play in smaller ensembles to reduce operating costs. Thankfully the future is looking much better at the moment, and it will be in the best interest of the community if they can continue their forward momentum.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Arena Hotel Plans Dropped

In a turn of events that doesn't particularly shock me, the Louisville Arena Authority voted unanimously to drop plans for a 425 room hotel at the downtown arena site. In recent months, all photos of the planned arena have been devoid of the hotel tower that had originally been a part of the plans - today's vote simply removes the hotel officially.

The members of the authority stated they are dropping the plans for the tower for several reasons: to make the design more pedestrian-friendly, to give the arena a better aesthetic, and because other hoteliers fear a glut of luxury hotel rooms downtown in 2010.

Personally, I really hoped the arena would get this tower, not so much for the skyline enhancement, but it was my opinion that if you're going to build an arena like this, you should do it up right. The market would absorb the hotel rooms, other hoteliers are simply trying to protect their markets, which is not exactly surprising. If it really is for aesthetic and pedestrian reasons, I would think they're ridiculous, and simply it's a lazy design - but I think that is simply a cop out by Jim Host. Whatever.

At the same meeting where they voted to scrap the hotel, they also received an updated financial statement reflecting the new reality. And who knows if this arena will make a profit, let alone break even, but today's financial report forecasts an operating profit of around 100k in the first year. I am of the opinion that even with a modest operating loss, the benefits of the arena outweigh the cost in new entertainment options and quality of life improvements for the area. Hopefully I will be proven wrong, but I fully expect the arena to lose money year after year, but as long as the amount isn't millions upon millions of dollars, then the investment will benefit Louisville.

As a small aside in the arena story, upscale seafood restaurant McCormick and Schmick's has expressed "strong interest" in locating inside the new arena. That would be a great tenant for them to land, and would keep the arena lively everyday of the year.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Humane Metropolis - Humane Louisville?

So recently I began hearing and reading about the concept of "The Humane Metropolis" as put forth in a new book with the same title, edited by Rutherford Platt and published by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. The title alone captured my attention. It was definitely an idea I wanted to explore and learn more about.

In discussing the book, The Washington Post recently wrote gave this concise blurb about the transformation of cities and what they were for: "Cities were once celebrated as ports of trade, railway hubs, seats of smoke-belching industries. Then they became known as office and banking centers. In the late 20th century, each big town had to have its own aquarium and stadiums. Recently there's been a new mantra -- cities as magnets for "young creatives'' in arts and entrepreneurship." Obviously, they are taking hundreds of years and condensing them into a few short sentences - but I generally agree with the sentiments. Now, a nascent movement is starting to push for cities to be more humane.

What values and developments would this new, humane metropolis embrace? Buzz words are "green, sociable, civic, and inclusive". The idealists in the movement have no single solution for cities to adopt - but a whole range of big and small ideas to make our urban environment more friendly for all inhabitants - and the environment.

Perhaps the easiest idea of their ideas to explain is the 'green movement' which is meant to better connect people in the city to the biodiversity that is right outside their doors - and to help cities expand while saving their natural diversity. Most urbanites think that nature is somewhere that starts where the city ends - but proponents of the humane metropolis want to change your mind. In their opinion, cities should be striving to build 'green-necklace' park systems, better cultivating urban gardens and green rooftops, and setting aside land for urban forests. Even things such as medians should be converted to 'linear parks' that promote walking and healthy activity in the dense urban environment.

Advocates of this philosophy would also argue for rethought street plans and suburban developments in the expectation that when a community interacts more, it will become more inclusive and sociable.

The Humane Metropolis not only strives to better balance human needs with the natural world, but it also seeks to make the lives of the citizens in the city healthier. It looks to reduce air pollution as a way to help to quell an avalanche of new asthma cases, and to reduce the American obesity epidemic by creating urban green spaces that are inviting and offer recreational activities to all citizens.

These ideas aren't rocket science - it's what we should all be demanding from our civic leaders!

After I had researched the Humane Metropolis somewhat, I wondered if Louisville was doing anything to make itself more humane for it's inhabitants - and while it's definitely a mixed bag, Louisville is doing *some* good.

The easiest project to point to is the City of Parks initiative, which I briefly over viewed in March. It's a huge ring of parks that will encircle Jefferson County in an 'emerald-necklace' and provide the suburbs with some much needed recreational space. Not only will there be parks, but there will be more than 100 miles in biking and riding trails, and an expanded Jefferson Memorial Forest, which is already the largest such municipal forest in the US. The Indiana suburbs are even in the midst of building a similar park and trail system called the Ohio River Greenway, which will link Jeffersonville, Clarksville, and New Albany together, and even connect to trails in Louisville via the new pedestrian bridge being constructed as part of Phase 3 of Waterfront Park.

In lesser ways, Louisville is also forging ahead. The city recently adopted the 'complete streets' model of construction for new road projects. Essentially, the city will try to build all new roads with bike lanes, sidewalks, landscaping, and design standards that reduce speeding and increase safety. The city's STAR initiative to reduce toxic emissions that are not currently regulated by the EPA in the economically depressed West End recently won a prestigious national award, and compliments well the Humane Metropolis' goal of environmental justice for all citizens.

Many city developments are also highlighting a new push for environmental sensitivity - A proposed Poe development called Irish Hill would redevelop a brownfield and rehabilitate a section of Beargrass Creek, and a development by the Legacy Company in downtown called, uniquely enough, The Legacy Lofts, looks to reduce it's use of fossil fuels to zero, and have green roofing.

Louisville, like most cities, has a long way to go before it is humane to all those who live in it's borders - but just maybe, these current initiatives, and others, will make it just a little more livable for everyone.

Cities Not The Problem?

The Humane Metropolis: Are We Ready?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Louisville's Library Needs Your Money!

The Louisville Free Public Library system is a point of extreme shame for the city of Louisville. It is underfunded, doesn't have enough books, the buildings themselves are old and in need of renovations, and it offers few of the progrs that many other cities of similar size are able to offer. To put it bluntly: it sucks.

Luckily there is a plan that is being pushed by the mayor that would essentially remedy many of these problems in a few short years - but sadly, it needs a new tax to do it. (And we all know how well people love to vote YES on a new tax!)

Under a current proposal from Mayor Abramson, the county would establish a library tax district - which is already allowed by Kentucky law, and is used successfully is a very large portion of the state's counties - to raise the money needed to build three new "super regional" libraries in the suburbs (On Dixie Highway, Outer Loop Road, and Hurstborne Parkway), and a major overhaul of the downtown main branch. Other smaller branches would be remodeled and upgraded; books would be added, programs would be expanded, and staff would be better paid.

The tax increase would amount to two tenths of one percent and would be collected via the occupational tax. It would amount to about 80 dollars a year for a person earning 40,000 dollars. The tax will bring in nearly 35 million dollars for the county and will free up the current amount of 16 million that the city spends annually on the library system for other uses.

Similar laws failed in the mid-80's and early-90's, so don't expect a smooth passage. It will be a difficult campaign. However, the plan had the backing of all 24 council members in 2004, and the community is markedly different than it was 20 years ago - we witnessed that when merger passed a few years ago after decades of trying.

An excellent library system that is accessible to all citizens is a hallmark of a lively and well-educated community. Louisville needs to strive to reach that goal.