Why not a West End VA?

In recent weeks, the chorus for building a new Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center in West Louisville, instead of The East End, has escalated to a riotous symphony.

They can add me to their list of advocates. The new hospital should be built at 30th Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard, the site of the failed FoodPort project.

Certainly, the No. 1 priority for the VA has to be the health and quality-of-life impact on the veterans. I believe the West Louisville site would provide better access and more services as a result of its proximity to other downtown hospitals.

When selecting a site, the Veterans Administration considers factors including accessibility, public transportation, parking and surrounding amenities for visiting veterans’ families. I believe this property checks all of these boxes, and what remains is an unprecedented, $1 billion chance to transform West Louisville.

Oh, and the VA can have it for nothing.

In terms of access, this 24-acre parcel is near the Watterson Expressway and ties into TARC routes. The East End site, also close to the highway, is in an already-congested section of Brownsboro Road. Access during rush hours, particularly in an emergency, would be a nightmare.

Another major concern is parking. The East End site plan provides for about 3,000 cars on its 36 acres. Even at two-thirds the size, the West Louisville site has plenty of space. Either would be an improvement over parking at the existing Robley Rex Medical Center off of Zorn Avenue, which has annex parking available at the Melwood Arts Center… 1.7 miles, or a 4-minute shuttle, away.

The economic impacts of a hospital in West Louisville would be immense.

It’s not just the $1 billion to build the hospital. It would create jobs for people in neighborhoods that need them most, and not just at the hospital. The hospital would bring hundreds of employees and countless visitors to the area, who would spend money locally. That means new shops and eateries. There would undoubtedly be some who see the affordable housing opportunities and decide they want to move closer to work. By comparison, The East End site already has plenty of groceries, shops and higher-priced properties. An analysis by OneWest, a nonprofit focused on West Louisville, estimated about $217 million in retail shopping leaves that area annually. This can put an end to that.

For West Louisville, new economic activity would boost property values, replacing other vacant (net-negative) properties — not to mention, fill one of the largest vacant properties in the city. Replacing empty, or dilapidated, properties with businesses and residences means more net wealth for existing property owners. All of this translates into economic stimulus that would not occur in The East End.

For those concerned about amenities in the area, I believe more would be built in anticipation of the hospital. Not to mention, Museum Row is 20 blocks away, and the abundance of downtown restaurants are superior to amenities around the current VA hospital.

Yes, veterans said during the earliest public hearings they are concerned about navigating a downtown facility. But this West Louisville location is no more downtown than is the Brownsboro Road site.

Consider this, the Obama administration changed the way federally-funded housing projects are selected, boosting blighted communities by bringing projects with potential to create economic activity outside of just building housing units. That is what brought the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative project to Louisville’s Russell neighborhood. The VA should follow that example of good government.

We’ve seen how local groups can disrupt plans that outsiders have for their neighborhoods. My father, U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, who represents the district and has worked with the VA on this project for several years, said that, at this stage in the process, he does not know who could change the location. But his best guess would be Mayor Greg Fischer and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

So at least now we know who to talk to … wink wink.