The new checkbook

A group of people — mostly men, mostly white, hovering about middle age — have gathered around a slick placard bearing details of a new plan to gentrify a mostly industrial and forbidding neighborhood, 1,400 raw acres situated southwest of downtown.

There are 53 people in the library of McFadden Elementary, a Park Hill neighborhood school, listening on a recent Monday to a few city bureaucrats give a virtual walk-through of this rather inspired post-Bush vision for a mixed-use development the city says could generate $336 million in economic impact annually.

Seeing business owners, neighbors, consultants, housing advocates, politicians and activists arguing over the PowerPoint version of a major dirt-shoveling project is nothing new. But the context is a little different. We are in the age of the stimulus, and neighborhood reinvestment is suddenly coming into vogue with financial backing, which makes dreamy placards like the ones showing railroad tracks studded with linear parkland seem just a little more serious.

Two opening acts of the Park Hill project will be funded with federal stimulus dollars, totaling about $1.5 million. That’s not much in the grand spreadsheet — as of this week the city was reporting about $305 million in total receipts of stimulus cash. But it provides a new guarantee, and a catalyst for moving quickly on projects that often become foot-draggers when funding depends on cash-hemorrhaging city governments.

Corporate America during the Bush years was a delinquent adolescent, embarrassing his well-to-do family with antics that became increasingly alarming and, eventually, illegal. He wrecked an otherwise decent home, stole enough money from his siblings to bankrupt them, and scared the living shit out of his parents. He threatened violence — used it, on occasion, to get his way.

But somehow, his father — that vein of goodness that still runs through the American character, no matter how far we fall — showed up at jail when the hammer came down, clenching a fistful of bail money, a sort of half-smile hung across his face, which showed a difficult mix of unconditional love and soulful rebuke. The son promised to do better, but it didn’t matter; the knowledge that Dad would always bail him out quickly eclipsed whatever “better” used to mean.

If the bailouts were Corporate America’s inherited deed of indemnity, then the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act was what Dad gave the other kids to make them feel worthy in comparison. The $787 billion largesse is paying for all manner of shortcomings in states and cities strapped by the recession.

Metro government released an interactive map last week showing sites of stimulus spending, distributed in a surprisingly even field across the city. Back in February, the Mayor’s Office assembled 11 committees to decide how to spend the stimulus money. Of the $600 million Metro applied for, it got a little more than half.

Jefferson County Public Schools gets the biggest chunk, about $77 million. According to the Office of the Chief Financial Officer at JCPS, that money is being spent across the board: buying more textbooks, hiring more instructors, expanding health services in schools, and upgrading hardware, software, classrooms and buses, among other things.

Some $75 million is going toward transportation and infrastructure improvements, almost half of which is being spent on road maintenance, like that mess you’ve been running into on I-65 lately. Much of the money will go to TARC, to improve its main station, buy eight more hybrid buses, retain 28 jobs and pay the salaries of its drivers.

In fact, the job of the American worker — the little brother Dad is trying to win back after years of abuse — has been the lead justification for the stimulus. According to an analysis by the public interest news outfit ProPublica, it has cost about $267,000 in stimulus spending to create one job for one year. In May, the White House estimated it would cost $92,136. A federal report last week estimated about 30,000 jobs had been created or saved since the stimulus was passed in February.

Mayor Abramson’s office expects a couple thousand of those in Louisville. At this point, Louisville At Work estimates some 500 full-time jobs have been created (867 in Kentucky so far), but that figure does not include jobs in public schools, which received the biggest chunk of stimulus money. A full accounting of Louisville’s stimulus workforce is expected in about two weeks.

Visit for more on stimulus spending.