A long-gestating plan to create a commercial district along Muhammad Ali Boulevard in the Russell neighborhood is in flux while the Louisville Central Community Center (LCCC) and McCormack Baron Salazar, a St. Louis development company, negotiate design and development conflicts.
Louisville received a nearly $30 million Choice Neighborhood grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2016 to revitalize the Russell neighborhood, including money to raze Beecher Terrace and replace it with mixed-income housing.
The city’s grant application included McCormack Baron Salazar as the project’s master developer and contained seed funding for LCCC to create an arts and culture corridor along Muhammad Ali Boulevard, which was once home to the bustling Walnut Street Business District.
Kevin Fields, president of LCCC, told Insider that his organization had planned to develop four contiguous blocks on Muhammad Ali Boulevard, between 9th and 14th streets, into a commercial district called the BLVD as a precursor to a longer arts and culture corridor.
The community center has formed The Walnut Street Group LLC with several individuals and organizations to finance the project, but Fields said the group cannot proceed at present because two of the blocks it wants to develop are on Beecher property and McCormack Baron Salazar needs them for housing units.
The HUD grant calls for a one-to-one replacement of the Beecher apartments, which means McCormack Baron Salazar must build 640 units on the housing complex site. Fields said allowing the BLVD project to proceed as originally envisioned would cause McCormack Baron Salazar to be short the number of units the grant requires.
“Being that our plan called for all four contiguous blocks, it required McCormack to redesign the footprint in a way that it freed up those two blocks. When they redesigned it, they were about 41 units short of their goal. So, we are trying to figure out how the project still goes forward with McCormack doing the 41 units,” Fields explained.
McCormack Baron Salazar also has become a partner in the BLVD project. Fields said the Louisville Metro Housing Authority told him this was necessary because, as master developer, McCormack Baron Salazar has full site control of the Beecher Terrace property.
“Because they have site control, we have to have an agreement with them. That’s where the co-developer idea comes from. We executed a number of agreements with McCormack Baron, the last of which was a memorandum of agreement that spelled out a development process with a set of milestones that our group would need to achieve as a test of feasibility for the project,” Fields added.
Some in Russell are uncomfortable with an outside company having so much control over the Russell revitalization, and they want to know why McCormack Baron Salazar did not include the LCCC’s needs in its original site design for the Beecher Terrace footprint since the community center has been a part of the Russell revitalization effort since the beginning.
“This is not the process that the housing authority described to us when the revitalization effort began,” said Rev. David Snardon of Joshua Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church.
“It appears from what’s going on, that the housing authority has taken itself out of the decision-making process. They act like we should be happy that millions of dollars are flowing into Russell, but I don’t see a vision of how this is going to help the neighborhood,” Snardon continued.
Snardon also said he would like to see the Master Development Agreement the city has with McCormack Baron Salazar.
LMHA Director Lisa Osanka told Insider that the authority’s board of directors passed a draft of the agreement at a meeting in August 2018.
McCormack Baron Salazar could work on the property and have site control without a final agreement, Osanka said, because they were part of the original grant application.
LMHA released the final version of its Master Development Agreement with McCormack Baron Salazar last Friday afternoon. Under the agreement, the company “is responsible for providing a plan for the execution of the On-Site Housing Strategy, including: (1) detail of the division of the development into Phases and the planned mix of units within each Phase as between Replacement Housing Units, affordable units which are not Replacement Housing Units, and market rate units … .”
Osanka said the housing authority has no role to play in the negotiation between McCormack Baron Salazar and LCCC because as they have a “developer to developer” relationship.
Johnathan Coates, vice president of construction management for McCormack Baron Salazar, would not talk to Insider about the BLVD project or the discrepancy with the housing units, though he did say that he thought his company and LCCC would be able to move forward together.
“Everything is going fine. It’s a process. Ultimately, we’ll work it out,” he added.
Fields echoed those sentiments.
“As we continue to chip away at this feasibility determination process, we’ve actually strengthened the plan. The information on it is still embargoed because it is still under negotiations with McCormack Baron, and we’re still in a vetting process with them. But the housing authority will get the 640-units that McCormack Baron is doing, and we’ll develop the four blocks,” he said.
Fields will be giving a presentation on the BLVD at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 17, at a community conversation hosted by the west Louisville economic development nonprofit OneWest. The event will be held at The Common Table Garden Cafe, 2234 W. Market St.