What would you say if a company was interested in coming to Louisville, bringing 500 jobs and $264 million over the next 10 years? Not only that, but it would occupy a massive, vacant department store space. Oh, and it isn’t asking the local or state governments for a single penny in tax-incentives or assistance.
It’s shocking that Topgolf’s proposal to build at Oxmoor Center’s abandoned Sears is controversial. For many reasons, the city must approve it — if for no other reason than to demonstrate we are the business- and worker-friendly, growing city we like to think ourselves to be.
For those who haven’t heard of Topgolf, it is a state-of-the-art entertainment complex, offering upscale food and drink, music and an interactive golf experience. The 40-plus Topgolf locations around the country have proven to be hugely popular with people of all ages — but particularly among younger people.
Falls City Brewing President Shane Uttich called Topgolf an “economic driver” that would “bring a new wave of vibrant youth” to the city, helping us compete with Nashville, Cincinnati and Indianapolis for new workers, the Courier Journal reported.
Some residents who live in the adjacent neighborhood — a quarter-mile away from the proposed site — don’t want this project to happen. Among their concerns are traffic, noise and light pollution.
A traffic study provided by Topgolf shows that traffic would be better with a Topgolf in Oxmoor than if it were another department store. And let’s not pretend these are residents who didn’t know they had moved in next to a mall. Shelbyville Road and Hurstbourne Lane have been notoriously miserable traffic thoroughfares for decades.
As for the sound and light concerns, Topgolf has already agreed to change its plan. It moved the project footprint 200 feet; adjusted the lighting plans; is working with acoustic experts for ways to keep more noise inside the facility; and it said it would plant 250 to 300 trees. I wish more Louisville developers recognized the importance of including trees in their developments.
The concerns voiced by Topgolf opponents were the same encountered when the driving range, Different Strokes, was proposed for River Road. Those concerns turned out to be unwarranted.
Topgolf wants to be a good neighbor. Think about it this way: Why would Topgolf want to alienate a sizable, wealthy-base of prospective customers?
The empty Sears department store in Oxmoor Mall is enormous. Louisville is fortunate that, at least in this case, a growing business is interested in moving in.
If the neighbors are successful in obstructing this project, there is no promise that the empty Sears would ever be filled. But the opposition group offers fantastical dreams of an IKEA, Publix or Crate & Barrel taking over the space. Those sound great, but it’s not realistic — a small neighborhood can’t dictate to corporations where they should develop. None of these companies had made a proposal publicly before Topgolf presented its plan.
The parking lot may continue to provide spillover parking for Oxmoor Ford Lincoln. How attractive will that make the neighborhood or the city?
Topgolf helps solve the problem, at least locally, of vacant retail stores. It brings jobs and economic activity. And it wants to be a good neighbor.
It is hard to overstate the potential impact of Topgolf on the city. Even more consequential is the negative impact on the future of Louisville if the project is derailed by angry neighbors.
So, Louisville, what kind of city are we?
A growing, attractive city that promotes tourism and encourages new business and development?
Or are we an aging, get-off-my-lawn, angry neighbor, unwelcoming and unwilling to change?