Monday, June 18, 2007

Medical Towers North Comes Down

The downtown medical campus in Louisville has been undergoing some pretty radical changes. The University of Louisville is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on new research buildings and outpatient facilities, and Norton Healthcare has developed a plan to demolish and replace several of their aging office towers by 2010. Norton and UofL both plan to construct more green space and better pedestrian access to their buildings.

Phase 1 of the Norton plan is currently underway - the demolition of Medical Towers North. The building, which is nearly half a century old, was terribly outdated. Doctors were moved out of the building last November, and demolition started in late March. Due to the sensitive nature of the area the demolition has to be very carefully completed. There are no explosives or wrecking balls involved. Each floor has to be meticulously demolished and then hauled off for recycling. (Nearly 95% of the building scrap is being recycled) Once the land is cleared, it will give Norton the chance to expand Kosair Children's Hospital in the future.

Phase 2 of the project will be the addition of 10 floors to the parking deck that was immediately adjacent to Medical Towers North. There will be an addition of 4 parking levels and 6 office levels, making it a 14 floor midrise. Phase 3, to be completed in 2009, is the demolition of a small brick office building at the corner of Floyd and Chestnut. Phase 4 is the demolition of Medical Towers South in 2010.

These demolitions will give Norton Healthcare a cleaner canvas as it continues to expand in downtown.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

FBI Crime Statistics from 2006 Released

The Federal Bureau of Investigation last week released their annual numbers for crime in America. The report offered several different ways to splice the data, but in this case I just wanted to see how Louisville fared in 2006 when compared to 2005. Violent crime was essentially flat (down 1.6 percent), while property crime inched up by a little less than 6 percent.

Here are the raw numbers:

In 2005 the reported population was 623,735. There were a total of 3,896 violent crimes. The city had 55 murders, 209 forcible rapes, 1,822 robberies, and 1,810 aggravated assaults. There were a total of 27,727 property crimes. The city had 7,146 burglaries, 17,150 larceny/thefts, 3,150 car jackings, and 281 arson fires.

In 2006 the reported population was 626,018. There were a total of 3,836 violent crimes. The city had 50 murders, 175 forcible rapes, 1,738 robberies, and 1,873 aggravated assaults. There were a total of 29,431 property crimes. The city had 7,587 burglaries, 17,855 larceny/thefts, 3,694 car jackings, and 295 arson fires.

In 2005 there were 624.6 violent crimes per 100,000 residents
In 2006 there were 612.7 violent crimes per 100,000 residents

One thing that confuses me is how they're coming up with the city population. There was no explanation in the report, but my guess would have to be that because there are still several police departments in the county that have to report their own crime numbers (St. Matthews Police Department, for example) the FBI only uses the population of the county where the Louisville Police Department is the primary police force.

Louisville is obsessed with it's crime rate and the city is constantly worried that it is becoming some sort of crime haven - but when compared to some other regional cities, it doesn't look half bad for Louisville:

Indianapolis - 960.0 per 100,000
Nashville - 1,526.5 per 100,000
St. Louis - 2,480.6 per 100,000
Cincinnati - 1,218.4 per 100,000
Columbus - 810.5 per 100,000
Memphis - 1,988.2 per 100,000

Hopefully the mayors plan to fill 100 vacant police officer posts in the city can help bring the rate down even lower in the coming years.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Water Company Site Up For Grabs

The old Louisville Water Company block, which has stood mostly vacant for years, may finally be edging ever closer to an actual development. Since 1998, when the Louisville Water Company moved to their "new" headquarters just a block away, there have been expectations of eventual construction. For many years the community planned to build the new arena on that site, there had even been rumors of hotel large enough to rival the 1000+ room Galt House there. Now, the hot words are "retail development".

In the mayors most recent budget proposal for the 2007-2008 fiscal year, he has proposed dropping 1 million dollars in city funds (as well as some bonds) to secure 3 parcels of the block, equaling 40 percent, and "banking" them for future use. The other 60 percent of the block is owned by Midtown Enterprises and is being used as Skip's Parking Lot.

Currently, the city expects to secure their 40 percent of the block while negotiating with Midtown to sell their property to another developer and develop the whole block in one piece. Midtown has confirmed negotiations for their land is currently underway, and have said that if things progress at the current rate, the land deal could be finished in as soon as 6 weeks.

The effort to secure the Water Company site by the city is the first project for a newly proposed initiative called IDEAL - Investing in Downtown for the Economic Advancement of Louisville. The mayor is hoping this will be the first of many acquisitions by the city of underutilised properties in the central core. The city will then negotiate with developers to fill in the "missing teeth" along some of downtown's streetscapes. This program will give the city much more say over how and when downtown properties are developed.

In the meantime, the city is concentrating it's efforts on this huge barren wasteland in the middle of the core. Mayor Abramson expects this project to be the retail spark the core has been waiting for since the revitalization began in the late 1990's. Negotiations are already underway with national and local tenants for the mystery retail project - but the mayor did recently visit Las Vegas to woo large national retailers to locate in Louisville, and you have to expect he talked to many of them about this downtown project.

Despite the secret nature of the negotiations between the city and developers, the Cordish Company has previously expressed interest in expanding to Water Company site and building a new retail development there. Their Fourth Street Live concept is a much more entertainment based venue, and this sort of project would give them another opportunity to showcase their talents and pull the strings with their many corporate relationships. Cordish has on multiple occasions said that Louisville has gone way beyond their expectations and they've been trying to assemble land along Fourth Street for a phase 2, but property owners have not been willing to sell at a reasonable price. Cordish in February of this year expressed interest in the Starks Building, and converting the first floor into restaurants and retail, but nothing has since been announced. The Starks is between Fourth Street Live and the Water Company block.

One can never be sure of a development until the steel is actually rising from the ground - so you have to sit back and see what happens with it all. However, this could be one of the crowning acheivements for downtown development. Here's to hoping they do it up right.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

West End Makes Gains

It is no secret that Louisville's West End is an economically distressed and segregated area. However, I'm sure it isn't common knowledge that since 2000 the West End has had the city's largest gains in property values.

Since 2000 the average increase in property values has been 32 percent city wide, but some urban neighborhoods in the West End, and near to downtown, have seen property values more than double in less than 6 years. The West End neighborhood of Russell has seen some of the highest gains - 113 percent - in the city. Much of it is thanks to a 17 year effort to redevelop the area into a healthy neighborhood for the black middle class. In that time period 500 new homes and apartments have been built on formerly vacant lots and replaced abandoned buildings.

The reemergence of Russell as a viable neighborhood is a testament to what good can be done through government and private projects. Early on, the city of Louisville offered developers tax credits to build new, affordable housing and sold parcels of land it owned for only a dollar to qualified builders. Now, several builders are no longer requesting city assistance as the community continues to "clean up" and they're able to rent or sell their properties for closer to actual market rate prices.

Russell is not the only neighborhood in the central city to see such huge increases in value - Phoenix Hill and Park DuValle also saw a doubling of their property values, and Old Louisville, Portland, California, and Shively all saw increases between 75 and 100 percent. Park DuValle, which saw a jump in property values of nearly 250 percent, now is near parity with the city's average property value. Only six years ago Park DuValle had a property valuation 25 percent of average.

The city is continuing to push for continued regrowth in the West End. In the latest budget set forth by the mayor, he would like to spend nearly 1.5 million dollars to redevelop brown fields in the Park Hill neighborhood. The city is also working with developers to transform the hulking Phillip Morris plant into a community and retail magnet for the entire western section of Louisville. Hopefully, the recent gains will continue for the central city.

On a side note, only 3 tracts in the city had a decrease in property value. Minor Lane Heights was the largest and their decrease was due to the expansion of the airport and because the whole Minor Lane Heights neighborhood is being bought out by the state due to airplane noise. The other two, which are located in the CBD, surprised me. I am not sure exactly how much property values went down in the CBD, but with the billions in recent development, it was a shock none the less.