Children in Smoketown enjoying cups of Comfy Cow ice cream. | Courtesy of The Wheelhouse Project

It all started in 2015, when Louisville Slugger manufacturer Hillerich & Bradsby Co. donated the original Slugger bat factory property at Jacob & Finzer streets to the Community Foundation of Louisville.

At the time, John A. Hillerich IV, H&B’s president and CEO, said, “It’s been a 43-year vision of my dad – our chairman, Jack Hillerich – who has always wanted to do something special with this piece of property.”

The two-acre parcel, valued at $1 million, led to the formation of The Wheelhouse Project in Smoketown, a community effort to revitalize the 150-year-plus neighborhood near downtown.

Next came the Comfy Cow ice cream, and lots of it, as The Wheelhouse Project asked residents for community ideas about what to do with the property over two years.

The group’s founder, Heather Farrer, explains: “More than 1,500 suggestions came from people living in Smoketown who took part in 15 events that served up nearly 2,000 idea-generating scoops of Comfy Cow ice cream.”

Several central themes emerged, she says: Residents wanted a safe space for children to play, a place for programming to benefit family learning, community green space and a place to foster economic activity.

Last Friday, during the annual Smoketown GetDown for Democracy, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Kentuckiana and the Community Foundation of Louisville in partnership with The Wheelhouse Project, announced a collaboration to build a Boys & Girls Club on the property.

“We determined Smoketown has the fewest number of services to support a community with tremendous need,” Farrer said in an email exchange. “This inspired the idea to build Louisville’s first new Club on the old Hillerich & Bradsby factory site.”

Rick Redman, vice president of corporate communications for Hillerich & Bradsby, said the project would be “transformational” and have “a positive and lasting impact.”

“This is a really big deal for the Smoketown neighborhood to have something significant planned for the old Hillerich & Bradsby factory site where Louisville Sluggers were made for 70 years, from 1901 to 1974,” he said in an email.

There is no estimate on the cost of the project, which expects to break ground next year, according to Kelsie Smithson of the Community Foundation.

“The construction details, partners, and budget estimates will be provided shortly,” Farrer said. “We will continue to gather community input as it has been a governing principle for our project.”

Jennifer Helgeson, president and chief executive of Boys & Girls Clubs of Kentuckiana, said in the announcement, “Through The Wheelhouse Project’s partnership with the Community Foundation of Louisville, we can work with great partners as advocates for local kids.”

The organization said it began its third school-based club at Meyzeek Middle School this school year and that the partnership allowed it to extend its reach to serve the community.

“We want the community to know that we’re listening and we’re willing to establish a place that promotes safety and offers programs geared toward the success of our youth,” Helgeson said.