Courtesy of Gant Hill

After repeatedly hearing residents come out against developments like Topgolf and One Park, two commercial real estate agents are asking the question: Do residents want profit or loss?

“We feel very strongly about the fact that there is a huge contingent of people in the city that want to see the city prosper,” said the commercial real estate agent Tyler Chesser, later adding, “We can either become a city of blight or this great city of the next century.”

Chesser and Gant Hill, owner of the full-service real estate firm Gant Hill & Associates, together have created what has started as a social media post and a hashtag, Prosper Louisville, but what they together hope will become a rallying point, a grassroots campaign for people who are in favor of various developments to make their voices heard.

“It is just a brand, Prosper Louisville, that represents a train of thought, and a desire for things to go a certain way. We want others to pick it up and ride with it and carry it,” Hill said, adding that he and Chesser don’t aim to be the arbitrators of what is considered a good development for the city.

Chesser said he views Prosper Louisville as a forum, “something that allows people to join in and share their message … and push forward with what we agree is positive growth.”

YIMBY comes to Louisville

Tyler Chesser

The campaign, which they hope to expand with social media pages and possibly a website in the future, is the first sign of any type of YIMBY, or Yes In My Back Yard, movement in Louisville.

San Francisco pioneered the movement and other major cities including New York City, Seattle and others following suit as a response to their respective housing crises. Housing has become increasingly unaffordable in those cities, and there remains a dearth of housing options, which drives up rental and home prices, because of NIMBYs, the leaders of theses movements argue.

The YIMBY movements aim to provide a counterbalance to that by supporting new housing developments, with some taking stances on changes they’d like to see to city development code and offering political endorsements.

While Prosper Louisville isn’t solely focused on housing but broad development in general, the idea was born out of a similar irritation with, what Chesser and Hill see, as a loud minority blocking development.

“The people that are against projects are much louder than the ones that are for it,” Hill said.

Chesser and Hill said developers and commercial businesses are starting to talk about anti-development and anti-growth sentiment in Louisville.

“They are saying: ‘Well, is it really worth our time and effort, or does the city really not want us to be part of this? Is this a city that does not want to proceed forward into the 21st century of commercial real estate or just life in general?’ ” Chesser said. “The people who oppose these new developments don’t really realize that they are shooting themselves in the foot by blocking these new opportunities because down the line it becomes a cancer for the entire community, and it really impacts and it infects all of these different neighborhoods.”

Development can help spur other progress. Chesser said he’d like to see the NBA come to Louisville or have LouCity FC become an MLS team. It also will help attract young professionals too and keep them in Louisville, he added, by creating more job opportunities and improved quality of life.

Skewed public input


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Prosper Louisville A Movement for those that want more from our community “Profit or Loss?” …It’s a question our entire city should be asking ourselves right now. This week is paramount in the beginning of a series of events that could either make of break the future of the city of Louisville and the lives of our fellow citizens. Tonight, the domino starts to fall as public meets to discuss a proposal for Top Golf to redevelop the old Sears location at Oxmoor center. With a premier entertainment destination in a redevelopment of an obsolete big box retail property, the 21st century has graciously opened it’s arms to invite our city to join the party. The series of events continues in the near future as our city leaders consider “One Park” redevelopment of Lexington and Grinstead, one of the most iconic Louisville parcels. From there, a grassroots movement to bring the NBA to Louisville is grasping for steam, the bid for an eventual MLS franchise is on the fringe, and many other opportunities are within our grasp. But we must choose to own these opportunities and consider the downside of staying silent. We have a choice tonight and over the next few months in this city: 1. Overcome fear, embrace faith and support a bold vision for the future which includes prosperity, opportunity, and expansion for the lives of all in our community. OR 2. Succumb to fear and oppose any such change and improvement to our community that may not appear to be a mirror to our past. Those in camp #2 may pay an heightened focus on potential downsides of growth, and believe that unremitting miscalculation that growth brings along negative consequences. It’s a quite frequent criticism that new development such as these proposals bring fears of increased traffic, decreased access, increased noise and even crime. I would argue, without having the gusto to move forward with progress and prosperity, we’re opening ourselves and our community’s future up for decay, decline and blight. You either grow or you decline, there is no stagnation, even what may be fantasized by the most average minds – in life this is true as well as in economic growth. #ProsperLouisville #ProfitOrLoss

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The pair informally launched Prosper Louisville during the Planning Commission’s public hearings about the controversial Topgolf project, which lasted a total of 11 hours because of strong opposition, as well as a high turnout of supporters — something that is unusual at most Planning Commission hearings.

“A lot of times, there isn’t public engagement around these decisions and if there is, it’s typically minimal,” said Daniel DeCaro, an assistant professor in the Department of Urban and Public Affairs at the University of Louisville. “People usually only come if there is a problem, and that’s because they just don’t have the time to go to things that are a benefit. … That’s just the way it is across all political processes.”

People typically turn up at meetings about development only when they have strong negative feelings about it, he said. They also are more likely to be well-off, which can give them the luxury of time to go to meetings during the day or night hearings, he added, leaving out demographics of people who simply can’t afford to attend, particularly minorities.

Daniel DeCaro

Research highlighted by CityLab found that the majority of people who attended meetings were there to oppose projects. The study, which looked at planning and zoning meetings in 97 towns in the Boston area, found that those who commented in such meetings tended to be older (with an average age of nearly 59 years old), politically active homeowners.

Sixty-three percent of comments at analyzed meetings were negative, while only 15 percent were positive, the research found, with the top complaints related to traffic, environment and flooding.

Louisville is no different when it comes to feedback at planning and zoning meetings. Comments about increased traffic, safety concerns, environmental impact and changes in neighborhood character are regularly heard points of contention against proposed projects in Louisville, including Topgolf.

Development or blight

Hundreds of people showed up at the Planning Commission’s first night hearing about the proposed Topgolf development. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

Hill questioned what residents who spoke out against Topgolf would want more: a Topgolf or blight. Topgolf, if approved, would replace the vacant Sears store at Oxmoor Center.

“Sears at one time was a very strong anchor, and it helped the restaurants and the jewelry stores and the pretzel places and all the things in the corridor. It helped drive business to them, but when you have a shuttered mall anchor, you literally chop off an appendage,” Hill said. “Oxmoor would probably not recover without something dramatic or dynamic happening.”

Some residents of Cary, N.C., similarly came out against a Topgolf development at the Cary Towne Center mall, and the company decided to look elsewhere. For a while, the mall had an IKEA on the hook, but the Swedish retailer backed out as it announced plans to scale down its brick-and-mortar presence given the increasing popularity of online shopping. Now, the publicly traded real estate investment trust that owns Cary Towne Center, CBL Properties, is selling the property and has an agreement with its mortgage lender to avoid foreclosure.

“That is a very strong market otherwise, but it’s a great example that shows even in an extremely strong market, a growing market, a technology hub and a medical hub, that they cannot fill that vacancy,” Chesser said. “We have got to take advantage of these opportunities while they’re here.”

Prosper Louisville wasn’t created as a direct response to the Topgolf backlash, they said, but it’s an example of a NIMBYist attitude that has delayed or stopped development in the past such as the Walmart at 18th Street and Broadway and Willow Grande.

Attorney Steve Porter, in particular, has gotten flak as a development killer after he sued the city following approval of the Walmart; the company ultimately backed out. Porter has threatened legal action in the Topgolf case if approved as well. Porter has argued that he is simply protecting residents from unwanted development and fighting against violations of city development code.

Gant Hill

Hill said, “We need to support the growth and development and prosperity of our community, and we can’t do it by just sitting there and trying to kill opportunities.”

A group of Cherokee Triangle neighbors were not happy when 1400 Willow, a luxury condominium tower, was constructed decades ago, he said, but after existing for a while, it now feels like a natural part of the neighborhood. “I think we are all proud of it today.”

Hill expects a similarly public fight over developer Kevin Cogan’s One Park, which has already drawn adverse reactions from some residents, though others have expressed support.

But without visionary developments like One Park, the city won’t move forward, he and Chesser argued.

“You hear this all the time. ‘This is going to change the character of our neighborhood.’ Well, in our opinion, you either grow or you decline, you cannot stay stagnant. It’s just not possible,” Chesser said. “I think a lot of people have fear for the unknown of growth. I have fear for the unknown of decline.”

A development like One Park, which will include luxury apartments and/or condominiums, will give more people the change to live near Cherokee Park, a popular urban amenity.

“We want everybody to be able to share in that, and we don’t want it to just be — OK, well now you lived in this neighborhood 30 years ago, and you are already here, and nobody gets to share that. We think everyone should be able to have the opportunity of sharing in Cherokee Park and sharing in Oxmoor corridor and all these things,” Chesser said. “We have the ability to become a great city. It’s just a matter of are we willing to step up and speak up?”

Kelly Kinahan, an assistant professor in the Department of Urban and Public Affairs at the University of Louisville, said that while citizen engagement at Planning Commission hearings and the like is a good thing, a key to conversations about how the city should develop is neighborhood plans, which set standards for different areas including Belknap, Glenview, the Dixie Highway corridor, Mockingbird Valley and others.

“I think the neighborhood planning process is really important to that. It gives a community or neighborhood the opportunity to engage over time. It is not about going to one Planning Commission meeting or public hearing,” she said.

Kinahan said crafting neighborhood plans gives residents a space to provide feedback for what type of projects they’d like to see and what type of development they don’t feel fits the character of the neighborhood.