Metro Councilman Kelly Downard, R-16, recently penned a letter, “VA hospital site is about vets,” that ran in The Courier-Journal. In it, he criticized an op-ed co-authored by Democratic council candidate Gill Holland, who suggested the controversial site selected for the new VA hospital is not a good fit for various reasons — including economic development.

In the commentary below, Grow Smart Louisville — a nonprofit opposed to the selected site of the new VA hospital — weighs in on the matter.

Image courtesy of Grow Smart Louisville

Image courtesy of Grow Smart Louisville

By Eric Gunderson | President of Grow Smart Louisville

I have known and respected Metro Councilman Kelly Downard, R-16, for many years, but for him to suggest the debate as to where a new VA hospital should be located is not, in part, an economic one is disingenuous. 

It’s an economic issue when a government agency decides to pay millions more than the assessed value for a piece of property: $3 million more than a 2010 appraisal, and a whopping $8 million more than its assessed value just a few years earlier.

It’s an economic issue when a government agency continues to spend hundreds of thousands of tax dollars on environmental and other impact studies that should have been conducted before property was purchased. All to figure out how to jerry-rig a project into an area where it should have never been put in the first place.

Eric Gunderson of Grow Smart Louisville

Eric Gunderson of Grow Smart Louisville

It’s an economic issue when a federal project actually will cost the community in which it is being built millions of dollars in lost research funds, infrastructure updates and emergency services — not to mention lost opportunity to build a hospital with room to grow and utilize technologies and procedures of tomorrow for veterans. Louisville could even become a hub for veterans across the United States suffering from brain injuries, post traumatic stress disorders and other ailments currently underserved by the VA.

And let’s not forget the economic hardship that is likely to occur for the veterans who actually use the VA hospital, most of whom live and work in the south, west and downtown areas of Metro Louisville. The VA plans to close all of its Community Based Outpatient Centers upon opening its new medical campus. This means all the vets who use the VA’s services will be forced to convene at one location, further from their homes and places of business to receive even a simple check-up or prescription for a head cold. This equates to more gas money, more personal dollars spent on public transportation, and more time off work to try and use a service veterans have earned and should not be inconvenienced to access. 

Our veterans didn’t serve and fight to protect our freedoms so government bureaucracies could use tax dollars to keep themselves employed with ill-conceived projects. An undertaking the magnitude of a new VA hospital should benefit the veterans and the community as a whole. This may not make political sense, but it should make common economic sense when we’re talking about how to get the greatest return on our investment — whether it be the taxes paid by civilians or the heroic contributions bestowed upon us by our veterans.

I’m also disappointed Councilman Downard would attempt to shame aspiring community leaders for stepping up to do what they believe is right in assuring a new VA hospital is constructed with the best possible outcomes for the veterans and the community as a whole.

Until Metro Councilwoman Angela Leet was elected in 2014, the city’s attitude regarding this boondoggle has been that it is a federal project and nothing can be done to stop or improve upon it. I commend Mr. Holland and Mr. Givens for speaking out against the chosen site, as well as Councilwomen Leet, for embracing this issue and speaking out when so many have chosen to ignore or comply with a potentially disastrous, and certainly unwise, public project thrust upon our community. We need more energized leaders like these individuals.

About the author: Eric Gunderson is president of Grow Smart Louisville, a nonprofit activist group opposed to the Brownsboro Road site chosen for a new VA hospital. He also is president of Gunderson Marketing and CEO of Guardian Owl Digital Marketing.

Correction: Insider Louisville’s introduction incorrectly stated that Metro Council candidate Gill Holland is Kelly Downard’s opponent in the upcoming election, when in fact Downard is retiring from his District 16 seat.