What should happen with the Foodport site? We asked an architect, a councilwoman, an urban planner and a community activist

Aug 31, 2016 at 12:54 pm
What should happen with the Foodport site? We asked an architect, a councilwoman, an urban planner and a community activist

With the failure of West Louisville FoodPort to launch, we are left — again — with no plan for the 24-acre, vacant parcel at 30th Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard.

FoodPort sought to bring jobs to the neighborhood and catalyze development. It claimed it would “unite Louisville with a state-of-the-art landmark that spurs economic activity in a historic, but under-invested section of our city,” according to its website.

Not all in the community were enthralled, and Seed Capital KY, the non-profit developer fueled by philanthropists, ultimately could not make good on its plan for a $31-million investment in the community.

FoodPort would have been built on the former industrial site at the intersection of the Russell, Shawnee and Portland neighborhoods, once home to the National Tobacco Co., which bought the property in 1905. The complex was demolished in 2012.

What should happen to this valuable piece of land?

What should be built there, or should it be left as open space? What are the possibilities, and what are the challenges?

We asked a range of people, including the councilwoman from the district, two designers and a community activist from the neighborhood.

Green space for FoodPort site?

The West Louisville FoodPort had unique potential for Louisville at-large and would have been a catalyst for other positive developments around the site between West Market Street and West Muhammad Ali Boulevard. I’m sorry that it will not go forward. That said, the project’s cancellation gives a new opportunity to listen more open-mindedly to the surrounding community. The neighborhood had already expressed concerns about the activities that FoodPort would bring to their community, and they should now have a greater voice in any subsequent proposals for the site.

The site has unusual constraints. The significant rail corridor and the Shawnee Expressway (I-264) to its west means that reconnecting the street grid through the site would not provide meaningful neighborhood connectivity. For better or worse, this will remain a very large parcel.

So, what — other than a large industrial development — could be appropriate?

A soccer arena for Louisville City FC has been suggested. I expect that — like FoodPort — such a proposal would face criticism for being a development desired by, and imported from, outside, not one intrinsic to Russell, or necessarily supportive of the neighborhood’s needs.

If there is any one thing that is demonstrably lacking in the area, it’s easily-accessible park space for the immediate community. If you look at a map for parks and green spaces that can serve Russell’s residents, you’ll see that their options are limited. Shawnee Park is farther west — a big anchor of the city parks system, sure, but it is 13 blocks at the closest point and upwards of 20 blocks from most of Russell’s residents. You probably wouldn’t walk or bike there. The much smaller E. Leland Taylor Park is to the northwest in the Shawnee neighborhood, but, like Shawnee Park, it’s cut off from Russell by I-264. A couple of larger green spaces are afforded by cemeteries in the neighborhood. Elliot Park and Westonia Playground are both very small. At risk of adding more burden to the already-underfunded Metro Parks, possibly the most transformative use of this 24-acre site would be provision of exciting recreational park space for Russell residents.

Is it feasible?

Obviously Metro Louisville had its eye on a revenue-generating use for the site, not another Metro-maintained amenity. And that’s right: Russell needs economic activity as much as it needs park space. An optimistic view would be that a park wouldn’t just enhance the community but would also catalyze nearby business activity. There’s no certainty this would happen.

Is a park something the neighborhood would welcome? Or do the residents see that the site could serve other needs better? They’d have to be asked — and be at the table as it develops. — Steven Ward, architect and LEO’s architecture critic

FoodPort parcel needs another bold vision

Needless to say, I am surprised and disappointed that Seed Capital KY will not be moving forward in developing and transforming this 24-acre brownfield site into the West Louisville FoodPort.

I applaud Stephen Reily and Caroline Heine, as Louisvillians, for boldly stepping forward with a bold vision and plan to invest in the revitalization of a site beyond Ninth Street, an area which, we all know, has suffered decades of disinvestment in West Louisville; and to put forth their time, energy and personal financial investment to address the demand for local food, jobs and training for area residents.

I hope whoever may come forward in the future to develop this prime location will build upon the foundation that Seed Capital Kentucky established by also involving the community from the beginning in the vision and guiding the development of plans for the site, including the Community Council and the innovative Community Benefits Agreement, which would have guaranteed substantial input from and benefits for residents of the area.

People who live in the surrounding Russell, Shawnee and Portland neighborhoods helped shape the project, and I hope they will stay involved and committed to seeing this site transformed into something positive with a long-lasting impact for the West Louisville community. — Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton, whose district includes the FoodPort site

Build a foundation for the future

Seed Capitol KY, the nonprofit behind the West Louisville FoodPort, recently announced that their project on 24 acres of land is not going to happen. If you were for or against the project, at this point it doesn’t matter. What does matter is what’s next. What do you do with 24 acres of land in the middle of West Louisville?

On that site, I would love to see a year round indoor/outdoor permanent Haymarket. Something akin to the Findlay Market in Cincinnati. A grand structure that would have plenty of indoor booth space and a place for cafes with outdoor seating. Maybe a nice courtyard, where vendors can set up during those long summer days. I want our version of the Findlay to also serve as a catalyst for the rebuilding of the African-American merchant class. A place where a person can rent a booth for one year, and then, with the help of local agencies and programs, turn that into a full-time business and hopefully buy a storefront in west Louisville.

I would also like to see an outdoor semi-covered amphitheater with a play area. West Louisville has great parks, but it’s missing an outdoor event venue. This would be a great place to have concerts, plays, meetings and a gathering space.

Last, I would want to see housing at that site. Mixed-use, mixed-income apartment buildings with functional balconies that sit on Muhammad Ali Boulevard and Market Street. There should be ground-level retail with a rooftop garden or venue.

This may not provide the flash, be a transformative project or provide the number of jobs that city officials are looking for, but that’s OK. We would be building stronger neighborhoods, and a foundation for the future. — Haven Harrington III, sports talk-show host, writer and community leader who lives in the Russell neighborhood

KEEP food on FoodPort land

I’m pretty disappointed that the FoodPort didn’t work out.

A lot of good people spent a lot of time and resources trying to realize the project. In early 2015, I attended some of the West Louisville FoodPort Community Council meetings and continued to follow the progress. I know that there was local opposition, and I am sure that any place in the city would have opponents voicing their views and concerns, which would be equally valid and worth considering. From the beginning though, I thought the project would have been transformative for the local neighborhood, as well as the entire city and local agricultural community. I don’t know the details as to why the main tenant disengaged from the project, but if a version of the FoodPort could work on land half the size, like the 12-acre site at the Urban Government Center on Barrett Avenue, I’d love to see it happen … somewhere in our urban core.

If not the UGC, what about the impound lot on Frankfort Avenue?

Even though the FoodPort project won’t happen at 30th and West Liberty streets, I still think that the underlying model of an agricultural, educational and economical development project would work well at the site. I can envision a version of the model, after visiting Growing Power in Milwaukee in early 2009 and a subsequent trip in 2010. I don’t think I could adequately describe the experience, but those visits were some of the most memorable impressions that I’ve had that weren’t related to a family event. I remember standing alone in one of the greenhouses at Growing Power during a cold and dark February evening, the hum and glow of grow lights, the aquarium-like babble of the aquaponic systems nourishing the micro-greens above … it was magical. At that time Growing Power’s main facility was on less than three acres in an inner-core Milwaukee neighborhood that was previously considered a food desert. Will Allen, founder and CEO of Growing Power Inc., was teaching people to be self-sustaining through urban agriculture.

The original high-intensity agricultural operation of Growing Power was on less than three acres of land. Even if it is decided that the community would like to see other types of activity on the 24-acre FoodPort site, I would hope that a useful portion of the site could be carved out to follow Allen’s lead, creating a resource that brings people in the surrounding neighborhoods, as well as the entire city, together to celebrate and participate in our local food system.

I was fortunate as a child to have a grand-pop that devoted the small Croydon, Pennsylvania, property behind his home to a fertile oasis of tomatoes, eggplants, green beans, peppers and lettuce, among many other varieties of vegetables, flowers and even tobacco one year. His less-than-a-quarter-acre yard in an old north Philly suburb has been home to more than 150 tomato plants in a single season. Growing up and tasting a green bean right off the vine, or watching your grandmother make beautiful Italian red sauce from tomatoes and herbs you picked just hours ago, leaves a lasting impression on a person, and one that I think is invaluable to anyone who has the opportunity to experience it. Learning to grow and appreciate food doesn’t have to be expensive, you just need easily accessible examples and caring mentors to guide you.

I don’t know what is best for the now-former FoodPort site, but I hope that whatever happens to that vast amount of land will have a positive impact on the community. The kind of lasting impressions that Growing Power and my grand-pop’s garden had on me. — Patrick Piuma, director of the Urban Design Studio, part of the UofL’s Department of Urban & Public Affairs.